sociological imagination Essay

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Mills, C. Wright.   1959.   “The Promise of Sociology”.   The Sociological Imagination. np:   Oxford University Press.   np.

Summary:   Mills discusses the difficulties most individuals encounter when trying to puzzle out what is happening in their lives and why.   Mills argues that the examination of individual biographies is not always sufficient to produce satisfactory answers, because sometimes, the relevant factors are located in the social structures, not in individual lives.   He concludes that the sociological imagination is a learned quality that allows people to see beyond their own lives, and into the ways in which their lives intersect with the broader history of their society.

Key Concepts:

Private troubles / public issues
Sociological imagination

Analysis:

•   The pace of global change and the scope of interconnectedness mean that it is no longer possible for an individual to understand their life and condition solely through reference to their own biography.

•   This causes people to feel trapped and confused.

• The sense of being trapped and confused can be rectified through the development of the ‘sociological imagination’, by which individuals come to understand their own lives as a product of the intersection of history and biography.

•   When a condition becomes sufficiently widespread, it is no longer sufficient to address it causally at the level of individual biography.   Private troubles can become public issues.

Implications:   If Mills is correct, and the ability to place one’s own biography within the historical forces that surround it is key to being able to understand and rectify social problems, then the purely self-interested individual – one who looks to and is concerned with only the betterment of their own condition, cannot effect any sort of progressive social change.

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