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Sociological Imagination

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Q: What is a sociological imagination? How did Durkheim, Weber and Marx respectively demonstrate their sociological imagination?

Mankind’s problem is that it doesn’t have the quality of mind to find or see the intricate connection between “man and society, biography and history, of self and the world”; such was the perspective of one C.Wright Mills. He was the man who coined the term sociological imagination. He described the sociological imagination as the ability to grasp history and biography and the relationship between the two in society. Mills said, “Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both”. This he describes as the promise of the sociological imagination.

The sociological imagination is not possessed by all mankind. The general populous tends to have the view that the problems and issues they face in life are directly caused by the forces within the scope of their individual experiences in life. They do not think that what they experience is due to the society in which they inhabit, the opportunities they have shaped by the nature of the society. The sociological imagination however allows the possessor to detatch from their individuality and their introspective thoughts to see the general in the particular. It allows them to observe the connection between the individual in its category (eg males and females) and society, and to understand that the structures in place in that society, its essential features and components, ultimately shape the choices, decisions, opportunities and therefore the lives of the individual.

Mills wrote that only when an individual can become aware of all other individuals in their similar circumstances can she/he understand their own experience of life. Only when this quality of mind is achieved, the sociological imagination, can they begin to wholly understand the connection between biography and history and that their personal experiences are just small points of intersection within the interaction of biography and history.

Three main questions which Mills felt social analysts, those with a sociological imagination, would pose when studying society are

1. What is the structure of society? What are its essential components are these components related and how does the structure of the society differ from other social orders?

2. Where does this society stand in human history and what are its essential features?

3. What varieties of women and men live in this society and which varieties are coming to prevail? What is the meaning for �human nature’ in this society and what types of �human nature’ are being revealed by the conduct of men and women in this society?

Be asking these questions a social analyst can come to understand the greater sociological patterns related to the private troubles of the individual.

Mills describes the realization of a sociological imagination for an individual as a kind of revelation, a sudden awakening to the unfamiliar in the familiar. Previous thoughts, ideals, decisions which once were seen as completely normal and perfectly sound now seem almost nonsensical with the discovery of a sociological imaginative perspective. The new possessor realizes the relativity of society to all things involved within the individual. They must now see the general in the particular, see the strange in the familiar to truly appreciate the true relativity of the structure of society to the individual.

One of the greatest distinctions those with a sociological imagination come to realize is the relationship between personal troubles and public issues. Personal troubles occur when an individual’s cherished values are threatened. A public issue occurs when the public’s cherished values are threatened. These troubles and issues foster the uneasiness and indifference of our time. When people have no threat towards their particular values the experience a sense of well-being yet it is when these values are threatened they experience a crisis or in are in total threat the experience panic. Indifference is defined by Mills as the time when people are neither aware of any cherished values or of any threat, the exhibit an apathetic behavior. Uneasiness is when people are unaware of cherished values but very aware of a threat. Indifference and uneasiness inhibit the reason and sensibility of the individual, together they are the signal feature of our period and one of the largest problems of modern society. Durkheim, another famous sociologist, came to realize that suicide, one of the intimate of choices one could make if not the most intimate, could only be explained sociologically and it stemmed from these issues of indifference and uneasiness. He

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