“The sociological Imagination is defined as the ability to understand the one’s own issues are not caused simply by one’s own beliefs or thoughts but by society and how it is structured.” (Mills, The Sociological Imagination, 1959). Therefore, one can never solve their problems until they understand that they cannot be solved simply on an individual level but must be addressed on the social level. It is the ability to see how society is structured and how things such as societal norms influence people into performing certain actions. It involves observing outcomes from a different perspective in order to understand what influenced those outcomes.
Growing up in one’s environment is likely to play as a factor in the way they go about things in the life. People cannot change their environment so they sometimes have to change themselves in order to become to fit in with their societies or to become successful person. The sociological perspective better known as the sociological imagination helps individuals see through a broader scope of the society. Being a part of a general category like a working class youth or a student, you must learn how to view the world through by society. My agent of socialization belongs to my university and friends or peer who surrounded me recently because I believe the service-learning that we will be taking part in will help to expand our sociological imaginations.
For myself, my parents are born into a certain environment and depending on how the utilized their sociological imagination, play a part in the environment we become a part of. As I’m coming from the working class family, there is an assumption that you have to go to the school or university for your social status or prestige of your life in my society. My parents always wanted more for me so they enlisted me in a catholic elementary and private high school in my county. So I saw how different I was compared to my other friend’s not in intelligence but in wisdoms. I knew that I was capable of doing more and becoming more because not only I did I believe in myself, my parents did too. It’s correct because when you are in private high school or catholic school, you have to pay tuition fees and a lot of people do not have money to spare with it. Instead of having the latest pairs of sneakers or shoes and throwing big parties for every holiday and your birthday, we can save some money for the future and my education.
From being in my current university student’s life, my entire life that I learn so much not only academically, but that I do not have to settle for what our social class or social location places us. After my private high school in my country, I went to my fist college in the United States. I encountered the language barriers and a lot of cultural differences in my first six months of college life here. I also learned that no matter how good you do academically, you will always be stereotyped and looks at differently because you’re a minority who comes from different cultures in the society.
The sociological imagination is a capacity, ability, and a quality of mind that allows an individual to understand and connect her or his life with the forces and dynamics that impact it. It is about not blaming others for what they do, it is about judging ourselves before we judge others and understand people as if we understand ourselves for example if a student comes late to class there could be many reasons behind this student being late; there could have been traffic or an accident on the way that made him or her come late to class, so we should not judge but understand.
Although we should separate between personal trouble and public issue, for example a student could be coming to class late all the time because of his or her laziness this would be called a personal trouble but if all students are coming late to class than this is called a public issue, meaning there is something wrong with the class. Sociological imagination engages in, the minority status, gender, socioeconomic status and the family structure.
Sociological imagination is a social fact and empathy; social fact is the idea, feeling, behavior of individuals. An example of social fact is when the sun is rising, this is a social fact that we cannot change whether we like it or not it will still rise. There are many sociological issues in society; one of the issues learned in this course is the race and racism issue.
Race and racism are two different issues race is a social constructed aspect of identity in all cultures, race is not biological it is powerful; it is what makes us who we are for example what we are born with like hair texture and skin color. Racism is an interlocking system of advantage based on race existing at individual and cultural symbolic. Racism comes from power, and culture. Racism happens when some social groups have more power over another social groups, but racism have changed even if it still exist it is not visible in which it is been described as dangerous or a hidden fact. Racism is racism that it can’t be better or worse in any country. Even though being born with a specific skin color is a cause of geographic conditions, in which where the person is born for example being born in a sunny place is different than being born in a place in which doesn’t have sun, so all humans are the same if we put skin color a side, also black people are born with more melanin in their skin and that protects them from getting cancer that’s why white skin colored people are more likely to get cancer than people with dark skin. So there are always advantages and disadvantages about what we have and what we don’t have.
Society will always look at you twice before becoming a consideration for different things in an adult life. It takes a great deal of my social imagination to attend college. Not many people in my country feel like they are capable of going to college because of their general categories or social locations. College has always been a big thing in my family. My parents did not want me to settle for just any job that they wanted me to have a career and one that I enjoy. They want me to do well in the life so no only I can get out of the middle social class but I can also take them with me in my success. There is a limited amount of people in my immediate family who actually went to the college in here so going for me is a really big deal. I did not do really well in my past high school so that lead me to a selected few number of colleges to attend when I applied to school in here. I ended up choosing some universities close to my home town for my first student’s life. I decided to go to Webster Thailand campus because I did not want to branch to far away from my family. I know that if I continue to do good academically I can transfer to a college in the big city like Singapore and still be close to my family.
The sociological imagination distinguishes between two very distinct ends of reality, the “private troubles” and the “public issues”. To understand social reality, private troubles must be examined in the context of the larger issue. For example, a child who doing poor school work may be suffering from a private trouble but that issue is part of a larger picture. Is his trouble coming from a larger social problem that is also affecting his community? Is his trouble something which is common among his peer group? All feelings and emotions are inter-related in order to understand one end of society you must understand the others.
The sociological imagination, written by C. Wright Mills, is an insightful critique of the research taking place in sociology. Mills states that the sociological imagination is the quality of mind that allows one to understand “history and biography and the relations between the two within society” (p.6). It allows one to switch from one perspective to another allowing for a comprehensive view of the “socio-cultural system”. Mills stated some very valid points in this analysis. By defining troubles and issues, he points to each of the connections they have to each other. A good example is on Page 9, when Mills mentions marriage. He states that “inside a marriage a man and a woman may experience personal troubles, but when the divorce rate during the first four years of marriage is 250 out of 1000 attempt, this is an indication of a structural issue”.
Education is a key into overcoming one social location or the class. Doing good academically we can branch into different fields in which we can utilize and expand our experiences. Our social class will no longer be a fallback because we can get different types of scholarships. Social perspective plays a major part in one’s decision to go to the college because people want more in life not just what they were given. They want to learn more and they want to be more so getting a college education will get them there. People’s lives are shaped by society. They become accustomed to different things and try to stay in the trends in the society. One’s society plays a huge role in one’s personality and the way that they might live their lives.
Social Stratification is regarded quite differently by the principle perspectives of sociology. Proponents of structural-functional analysis suggest that since social stratification exists in most state of the societies, a hierarchy must therefore be beneficial in helping to stabilize their existence. Talcott Parsons, an American sociologist, asserted that stability and social order are achieved by means of a universal value consensus. Functionalists assert that stratification exists solely to satisfy the functional per requisites necessary for a functional proficiency in any society.
Conflict theorists consider the inaccessibility of resources and lack of social mobility n many stratified societies. They conclude, often working from the theories of Karl Marx, that stratification means that working class people are not likely to advance socioeconomically, while the wealthy may continue to exploit the proletariat generation after generation. Marx distinguished social classes by their connection to the means of production. Therefore the ruling class (the bourgeoisie) and the working class (the proletariat), identify their social positions by their relationship to the means of production. The maintenance of status quo is achieved by various methods of social control employed by the bourgeoisie in the course of many aspects of social life, such as through ideologies of submission promoted through the institution of religion.
In the conclusion, my sociological imagination leads me to where I am today. I did not let other stereotypes about my social location and my social class play a part in my decision making process. I took a stand and decided to go to college to better not only for myself but for my family. The sociological imagination is an awareness of the relationship between an individual and wider society; a key element in this is the ability to view one’s society as an outsider’s would. As being humans, we can’t let our social location determine our abilities. We must explore beyond what we are given and what we are told is right. Humans must defeat their ordinary life by not setting themselves up for limited expectations in the society and we should also try to exceed our or everyone else’s expectations in our life.
Mills, C. Wright. 1959. The Sociological Imagination. New York; Oxford University Press. Web. Engels, Friedrich and Marx, Karl. 1998. Manifesto of the Communist Party. New York. Web 10 Sep, 2013. Web 10 Sep, 2013. C Wright Mills, (1959), The Sociological Imagination, reprinted (2000), Oxford University, chapters 1-3 and 7, pages 3–75 and 132-143. Schwalbe, Michael. 1956. The Sociologically examined life: pieces of the conversation. Collins, Patricia Hill. December 1986. Social Problems 33. Web.
The Sociological Imagination: Thinking Outside the Box
By Joachim Vogt Isaksen
“Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both.” C. Wright Mills.
Are you aware of how your personal situation is linked to the forces of history and the society you live in? The sociological imagination is a concept used by the American sociologist C. Wright Mills to describe the ability to “think yourself away from the familiar routines of everyday life” and look at them from an entirely new perspective. In order to develop such skills, you must be able to free yourself from one context and look at things from an alternative point of view.
Imagine that you were born 500 years ago, in the year 1500. You would most likely be living in a completely different world, under totally different conditions. You would probably be living in a small community with strong collective bonds between the members of society, without the opportunities of modern technology, travelling, shopping etc. – in other words, a situation that would be radically different from the one you experience today.
You could also imagine that you were a child living in Indonesia today. There would be a great chance that you were forced to work as a child labourer at a fish factory. The tasks involved would include catching, sorting and boiling fish. During the twelve-hour workday you would have to haul gigantic nets in the boat under very poor working conditions.
Mills thought that sociology can show us that society – not our own foibles and failings – is responsible for many of our problems. He argued that one of the main tasks of sociology was to transform personal problems into public and political issues. Mills defined sociological imagination as “the vivid awareness of the relationship between experience and the wider society.”
Seemingly impersonal and remote historical forces may be linked to incidents taking place in an individual’s life. This implies that people may look at their own personal problems as social issues and connect their own individual experiences with the workings of society. The sociological imagination enables people to distinguish between personal troubles and public issues. For example, women who live under repression, or people who suffer from poverty, might link their personal conditions to the social forces that are relevant to the society they live in. Mills recommended that social scientists should work within the field as a whole, rather than specializing heavily on one area of social science, such as sociology, political science, economics or psychology. This idea is often ignored in social science.
How is personal choice shaped by context?
Mills’ main point is that many of the problems people are faced with in society have social roots and are shared by many others. These roots are often related to the structure of the society and the changes happening within it. Hence, it is important that sociologists, and other social scientists, demonstrate why these problems have sociological causes, enabling the individual to understand how his or her biography is linked to the structure and history of society. This may hopefully help empowering individuals to transform personal unease into public issues in order to facilitate social change.
So how can we use Mills’ insights more practically? The lack of the ability to find a job, pay the mortgage, pay the rent, etc., is by individuals often seen as the result of personal weakness, created by a person’s own errors. People therefore search for causes within themselves, internalizing the problem. However, it is highly unlikely that the various thoughts, feelings and ideas you may have had, and situations encountered in your life, are completely unique. At one time or another they have all probably been experienced by others.
Unemployment can be an extremely negative private experience, and feelings of personal failure are common when one loses a job. But when the employment rate reaches up to 30 percent, as it has in several European countries today, it cannot be seen as the result of a character flaw or weakness. When many people in society face the same problem, one must rather ask whether there is something within the structure of society that is contributing to this problem. In many countries today, unemployment may be explained by the public issue of economic downturn, caused by the subprime mortgage industry. In other words, it may rather be defined as a social problem than of one stemming from personal shortcomings.
It is important to point out that the idea of the sociological imagination should not be used as an excuse for an individual not to try harder to achieve success in life. Some people would misuse this idea as a way of running away from personal responsibility. However, in many situations a person may fail even if he tries to do everything right, like working hard, getting an education and trying to get a job.
When many people in society lack the ability to achieve success, it is important to identify the roots of the structure, such as inefficient political solutions, discrimination of certain groups and the exploitation of the labour force. Since problems like these cannot be solved by the individual alone, it is important that we use our sociological imagination and apply it in our daily lives, enabling us to change our personal situation and ultimately create a better society.
Mills, C. Wright, 2000. The Sociological Imagination. Oxford University Press.
*Cover photo by Walter Smith, bubble photo by Hartwig HKD, photo of painting by Martin Beek
Tags:imagination, sociology, theory