Essay: the Promise of the Sociological Imagination

JaypeeII – AB Sociology 10-10-11 Socio 212MWF / 1:30pm – 2:30pm The Promise of the Sociological Imagination (By: C. Wright Mills) Charles Wright Mills (1916-1962) was an American sociologist, and a social commentator and critic. He was born on August 28, 1916 in Waco, Texas. Mills has been described as a “volcanic eminence” in the academic world and as “one of the most controversial figures in American social science”. He is committed to social change and angered by the oppression he saw around him. He was anti-authoritarian, showy and an individualistic.
I figured out that, he got married three times by different women (Dorothy Helen Smith, Ruth Harper and Yaroslava Surmach) and had two daughters (Pamela and Kathryn) and one son (Nikolas Charles). Mills died on March 20, 1962 – cause of major heart attack. One of the most influential works of Mills (that he coined) was the Sociological Imagination (1959), in which he set out his views on how social science should be practiced. Sociological Imagination plays an important role in explaining the nature of sociology and its relevance in daily life.
He defined it as, “the vivid awareness of the relationship between experience and the wider society”. In addition, he believed in the power of the Sociological Imagination to connect “personal troubles” to “public issues” – is the ability to see things socially, and how they interact and influence each other. Therefrom, to have a Sociological imagination, a person must be able to pull away from the situation and think from an alternative point of view. It requires thinking ourselves away from our daily routines, and then looking at them over.

C. Wright Mills pointed out three components that form the Sociological Imagination: (1) History – how a society came to be, how it is changing, and how history is being made in it. (2) Biography – the nature of “human nature” in a society; what kind of people inhabits a particular society. (3) Social Structure – how the various institutional orders in a society operate, which ones are dominant, how are they held together, how they might be changing, etc. (http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/C. _Wright_Mills). The Promise of Sociology details how C.
Wright Mills’ notion compels us to investigate into an individual’s biography and lifestyles, and place their findings within the surrounding circumstances – in which events occur in order to perceive the whole picture of the society in which the individual survives. According to him, what occurs in any individual’s life is interrelated with society as a whole. Mills mentioned that, presently individuals, men and women often feel that their private lives are series of traps in which they sense that they cannot surpass these traps (troubles) within their everyday lives.
Hence, what people are aware of and what they try to do are usually, confined by their private cycle by which they live and because of their visions of powers were limited to different things or group – they move imaginably and remain as an observer to their surroundings. The more they are aware of those things (within their environment), the more they seem to feel being deceived. He stated that facts of contemporary history are also facts about the success and the failure of individual men and women. Since, when a society is industrialized, a peasant becomes a worker; a feudal lord is placed or becomes a businessperson.
Moreover, when classes rise or fall, a man is employed or unemployed; when the rate of investment goes up or down, a man takes a new heart or goes broke – these few cases are facts that usually happen in present days. Until now, individuals usually do not determine the troubles they suffer in terms of historical change and institutional conflict. Like Emile Durkheim, as stated to his study regarding the historical transformation from mechanical to organic solidarity – what causes the change or transformation between them was the increase in dynamic density of the society.
Because of a sudden transformation in every period, people had the difficulty to know or recognize disastrous changes due to historical facts that are now immediately becoming “merely history” – a history that now affects every man is world history because of its highly specialized. Mills also emphasized that, everywhere in the underdeveloped world, ancient ways of life are broken up and vague expectations become urgent demands. Everywhere in the overdeveloped world, the means of authority and of violence become total in scope and bureaucratic in form – like what Durkheim discussed about the LAW (the concept of his theory).
This can be interrelated to the Restitutive Law, a characteristic of organic solidarity – where individuals in this more modern type of society were asked to comply with the law. Thus, Mills explained that it is not only information and skills of reason that the commonality need, since information frequently controls their attention and devastate their capacities to understand it. Like Georg Simmel’s theory, The Tragedy of Culture. Where in it, he argued that people are doomed to increasingly less understanding of the world they have created and are destined to be increasingly controlled by that world.
Then what they need is the quality of mind that will help them to use information and to develop reason in order to achieve understandable summary of what is going on in the world and of what may be happening within them. Thus, Mills believed that knowledge, when properly used, could bring about change and the good society. Furthermore, he added that, if the good society was not yet here, it was primarily the fault of intellectuals – people of knowledge. Mills said, to understand this “Imagination” would be to see the connection between personal troubles and public issues.
Where “Personal Troubles” are problems that are felt personally, which are caused by occurrences or feelings in an individual’s life; and “Public Issues” are issues that affect a group or mass of people with their roots associated within an organization or institution and history of a society. A person can become homeless for many reasons: a family member throws them out of their home because they do not contribute financially, or they become incapable of caring for themselves due to mental illness, or they become addicted to drugs and lose their home trying to support their habit.
These are a few examples of personal troubles which most would think are brought about by the individual alone and therefore can be solved by them. However, when using Sociological Imagination, one can see that homelessness is also a social problem. Therefore, Charles Wright Mills made a significant contribution in, his integration of American pragmatism and European sociology which lead to innovative work in the sociology of knowledge; he completed a substantial range of studies in what was a short working life; and lastly, he provided a considerable and lasting intellectual stimulus to others.
Sociological Imagination then, enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society – that is its task and its “PROMISE” and this is the purpose of classical social analysts. Sociological Imagination is becoming the major common denominator of our cultural life and its signal feature (this quality of mind is found in the social and psychological sciences). It is not merely a fashion, it is a quality of mind that seem most dramatically to “PROMISE” an understanding of the intimate realities of ourselves in connection with larger social realities.
It is not merely one quality of mind among the contemporary range of cultural sensibilities – it is the quality whose wider and more skilled use offers the promise that all such sensibilities and in fact, human reason itself will come to play a greater role in human affairs. In addition, you cannot understand the life of an individual or the history of society without the understanding personal troubles and public issues of the commonality.

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