The Use of Sociological Imagination


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Describe the key features of the sociological imagination, providing your own examples as well as those from Mills.

Within this assignment I am aiming to describe the key features of the sociological imagination. I will begin with discussing the background history of Mill’s and how the sociological imagination came along. Secondly I will explore Mill’s explanation and discuss the key ideas that Mills has put forward. By doing this it will allow me to put forward my own ideas. It will also allow me to provide my own examples, of what I perceive as the sociological imagination. The point of me doing this assignment is so I am able to grasp the usefulness of the sociological imagination as it allows us to understand the relationships of an individual’s biography within society.

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C. Wright Mills was an American sociologist, who had studied at the University of Texas. Over the years Mills theories were associated with Max Weber, Mills saw society from a holistic view, where there is a relation between individuals and society, which therefore has an impact on how an individual may act within society. For example religion may have an effect on a person’s beliefs and values and how they may behave; this is also known to be the link between a person’s biography and history in a nutshell this is linked to Max Weber’s idea of rationalization. Mills wrote about the sociological imagination in the 1950’s, this period was an important era in the USA, as world war two had just finished. After the world war two had finished there was a period called the post-war boom. This was a period where a lot of businesses and industries had opened within the USA. By this taking place it meant that there were many jobs available for people and it even expanded jobs for women who were also able to work, such as doing jobs like knitting, this therefore allowed women to have an equal status within the work industry. Overall by there being many jobs available, it meant that there was an increase on people consuming goods and there was a globalisation of products. Not only was there a growth in consumer goods, as the post war had helped there to be an increase of the suburbs, this was due to the growing population after the World War 2. Majority of the people lived in suburbs rather than the cities, as it was much cheaper, and there were communities formed with traditional families and places of worship such as the church. During this period there was an upturn of the baby boom era, this was because men had returned back from war, and due there being an increase in jobs and war had ended people were in a better position to have children. That was not all there was the cold war, where there was a conflict with capitalism and socialism. During World War two Russia and the United States had joined together, however once the war had ended they had soon later became enemies as both parties were striving for power, politics and technology, this had caused tension between the two unions. In a nutshell there was a lot of commotion that was taking place in the 1950’s. This is all relevant to Mills as he talks about people being alienated within the society they live in due to them lacking power; he also talks about how over the years, values have been demolished as people should be able to live their own lives, instead of society trying to lead it for them.

Within Mills study, he describes the sociological imagination to be a certain era a person lives in, and how there are particular influences that may affect a person’s life. Over the years societies structure has changed, as Mills talks about people are lacking the power that they use to have in the past. The structure of jobs, families and neighbourhood has all changed this which makes a man feel trapped. For example the dominant breadwinner role for a man has demolished, which limits a man’s power that they have, this is because a lot of jobs have overtime been closed down. Whereas in the past a status as a breadwinner and being the dominant man allowed the man to feel he had authority, this shows that the values he once saw key to his life have been diminished. Formulating new ways of thinking may not happen therefore the man is feeling trapped and finding it difficult to cope, all of this is linked to the historical changes within society. An individual is not able to be analysed and neither is history without looking at them both together, it is important to look at the micro as well as the macro, to understand the relationship of them both. Men sustain themselves within the historical change within the society they live in and do not tend to question the change of the macro structure; this therefore means a person’s biography is at a standstill. The main cause for this is capitalism, which keeps people in check; according to Mills it creates an industrial apparatus.

‘The sociological imagination enables its posser to understand the larger historical scene in terms of its meaning for the inner life and the external career of a variety of individuals’. (Mills, 1959. Pp.5). Mills talks about how people are misled by their day to day experiences within society; this is linked within the capitalist society making false promises to people, and by moulding them into the way they want. A person is able to be in control of their own fate, but only if they are aware of what is happening around their social surroundings; however there will always be certain limitations that will not allow them to probe further, such as capitalism. This is why Mills argues that a person lives out an biography throughout their life, the biography they live has an interlink to the historical sequences within society, however the history limits a person’s biography to expand and a person tends to ask themselves questions that are not even able to be answered, for example what the actual structure of society is. Not having the answer to these questions will lead to a person becoming confused and not being able to figure out where they stand within society, eventually a person begins to feel a stranger to themselves. This is where the social imagination intervenes and becomes useful as a person’s perceptions begin to change, which allows them to develop new values and form new relationships within society.

Overtime when these values become a significant part of a person’s life which they don’t feel intimidated by, according to Mills at this current stage they are experiencing well-being. By experiencing well- being a person is able to cope with daily experiences they may come across. However on the other hand if a person doe’s feel intimidated by the values, Mills argues they will experience a disaster. Overall the sociological imagination is seen to be the key factor for a lot of different elements within a person’s life.

‘Distinction with which the sociological imagination works is between the ‘personal troubles of milieu’ and ‘the public issues of social structure’ (Mills, 1959. Pp8). Mills talks about how these two distinctions are a very important part of the sociological imagination and a key characteristic for social sciences, which is about the relationships between an individual person and the society they live within. Carrying on he discusses how there are many factors within society, which can begin with being an individual person’s problem; however over time it can expand to becoming society’s problem. For us to operate within society we rely on history, Mills supports this within his study by providing us with examples about some factors on how we rely on history and how it can also make a person become powerless.

To begin with he talks about unemployment, and if we are living within a city of 100,000‘s of people, and out of all of those people one man has been unemployed; it is seen as his own personal problem. We would examine the person and think about what skills he has and what opportunities may be available to him, but that’s not a big issue to anyone specifically but the person. On the other hand Mill argues if 15 million men were unemployed then it is an issue to society as opportunities will be limited and there will be a break down in society’s structure. At this point it is not seen as a person’s personal problem, therefore to come to a solution we need to look at the structures of society for example the economic and political institutions. He goes further into looking at different factors that may have an effect on a person’s life, and he talks about the World War 2. During the war there were a number of aspects a person had to cover on a personal basis such as how they will survive and be in the safest environment and if they were to die, how would they die with honour, or how would they contribute to the war. Overall it is based on what a person would like to be perceived as, if they were to die or how they would protect themselves. However looking at it from a structural perspective or how it would affect society as a whole, would mean to look at what type of people would be fighting during the war, it will also mean looking at the bigger picture such as economic and political factors, another aspect which may be taken into consideration is religious institutions. This as a whole can have a great impact on the turn out of the war. The final example Mills gives which is linked to the sociological imagination is marriage. If a couple is experiencing problems within their marriage, or there are domestic fights or even if they decide to separate from one another, this would be a personal matter between the couple. However if we examine the bigger picture and see 250 out of 1000 are getting divorced in the first four years of their marriage, then we will need to consider how the structure of society has been organised and maybe look into the structure of a person’s family, as the family is where primary socialisation takes place and where a person learns norms and values, before interacting with any other institution, and this in effect can have an impact on the rise of divorce rates. Carrying on those who belong to the upper class and are able to afford the luxuries, their personal solution to society’s issues would be to have nice houses in a nice environment with security put in place. But if we look at the bigger picture this does not solve society’s structure. However Mill’s argues that to be able to solve these issues we need to look back at previous societies, as the structure of society changes, and to make links, this can only be done if we reinforce the sociological imagination.

We all rely on history so we are able to do or achieve certain things within society, and the things we may do are shaped by the economic and political forces. I am going to discuss a few examples of my own; the first example I am going to discuss is university, as being a student I am able to relate to this. As a student going to university is a personal decision I have chosen, it is my responsibility to make sure I am doing my assignments one time and it is also my responsibility to make sure I am able to fund the money to pay the university, weather I am taking out a loan or I am paying university directly. On the other hand it can become an issue for society when there are a lot of graduates out there without any jobs, that’s when societies structure needs to be considered and see why there is no jobs going for those who are specialised in a certain area. This can be a problem for society as loans will not be paid off and more people will be claiming benefits and less taxes will be paid, so overall the government will be paying out a lot more. Another example which is relevant to me is a person’s health, as I work within a hospital I come across a lot of ill patients who attend the hospital for gastric bands, due to them being overweight. It is a person’s personal choice whether they want to have an unhealthy diet and if there if they become obsessed, this can be also be linked to them not exercising which again is up to the person. However when there are a thousands of people who are obsessed it starts to have an impact on society, as there is an increase on health risks such a heart attacks, blood pressures. This means people are admitted into the hospital and it is costing the NHS a lot, to fund for the treatment. This is where intervention needs be taken place, maybe to educate people about obesity. Furthermore another example I am going demonstrate is people becoming homeless. It is a person’s personal problem to accommodate themselves when becoming homeless, or to go to a homeless place, so they are able to have a shelter over their head and have something to eating. However it becomes a problem when there is a high increase of homeless people, the structure of society needs to be examined, and to see why so many people are becoming homeless and they have nowhere to go. In addition there are not enough homeless places put in place for those who need somewhere to stay, maybe there needs to be more organisations and support available, which in result create jobs. The final example I am going to put forward is the way a woman may dress. It is a women’s choice the way she dresses, no one should dictate what she is wearing, even if it is revealing clothes, as it may make her feel good about herself and boost her self-esteem or may just be the way she likes to dress. However what becomes an issue within society is when some men think it is acceptable to rape a woman and blame it on the way she was dressing, societies structure needs to be looked over, as over the year’s rape numbers have been increasing rather than decreasing. As an overview I have managed to put forward a few examples that I personally believe are a problem within society, and have also examined the personal issues of the people or in other words their biography, and then looked at how it can be related to society’s economic and political forces.

In conclusion Mills has demonstrated to us how personal issues can lead to becoming the public’s issues and has demonstrated with clear examples. In a nutshell he has told us how society can make a person feel powerless, as a person isolates themselves from society and keeps their problems to themselves; however the main cause of these problems is society. As it makes people feel alienated and is also becoming alienated itself. Mills has also discussed how overtime values of people have changed, as the generations have changed, he believes people should be able to lead their own lives so they do not feel trapped. For all of this to be taken into consideration there needs to be an understanding of the sociological imagination as there is a link between history and a person’s biography. I personally believe that the sociological imagination is useful, as it allows a person to analyse the micro and the macro, which formulates a bigger picture.

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