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Sociological Imagination Assignment.docx

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SOCI 1001
Tamy Superle

Sociological Imagination: c. wRIGHT mILLS (1959B) described sociological reasoning sociological imagination ­the ability to see the relationship between individuals and the larger society ­this enables us to link personal experiences and the social contexts in what they happen ­it helps us see the difference in personal troubles and social or public issues personal problems: are private of individuals and the networks of people with whom they  associate regularly ­this means they must be solved by individuals in their immediate social settings ex: one person being unemployed public issues: matters beyond an individuals control that are caused by problems at a  societal level ex: widespread unemployment as a result of economic changes  The sociological imagination helps us place seemingly personal issues like losing ones  job into the larger social context where we can distinguish whether and how personal  troubles may be related to public issues. Wright argues that the development of the ability or intellectual capacity that he calls the sociological imagination is essential for all citizens of modern complex societies. Socioloigcal imagination is a intellectual capacity and an ability or quality of mind- a thinking that is essential if we want to begin ourseleves, our behavior and the behavior of others around us, near and far. r developments that take place in society and history have a direct impact on all of us as individuals. For example, with the outbreak of war, a person’s entire life can change even if that individual has nothing to do with the causes of the war and is opposed to war. When an economic depression sets in, an entire family’s way of life can change, due entirely to forces and factors beyond the members’immediate control.Anew tax law has an impact on the country’s whole economy, leading to lost jobs or new jobs and dramatic changes in the lives of many citizens. If a student receives failing grades at school, the tendency might be simply to think of the failure as a personal problem—the student didn’t work hard enough or isn’t intelligent enough. But perhaps the grades are really the product of having to work at two part-time jobs to pay for the university course or help out the folks back home. This factor would place the school performance in a new light. Similarly, a woman who experiences sexual harassment must be able to understand that the root cause of her problem is not to be found in her behaviour, demeanour, or dress but rather in the social dynamics of a patriarchal and sexist society. Simple as they are, these examples illustrate Mills’s point, namely, that our individual lives are not lived in a vacuum; rather, they unfold within a complex system of social structures, processes, and events. The situating of our lives in this larger context is an essential prerequisite for understanding ourselves, and this situating process is the task of the sociological imagination. The first step in the development of the sociological imagination is therefore to grasp the intimate connection between your own life and the historically developing society around you. Mills thinks it’s nessecary to ask three important questions. 1. what are the structures of my society like? How is my society organized and how does it operate? How is it similar and different from other societys? 2. Where does my society fit into the broader picture of human history? How does the history of my society influence its current organization? What are the most important aspects of the current historical epoch? 3. How do the structures of my society and the historical period of which I am a part of influence me and those around me? What social and historical forces have shaped and moulded my character and personality? Understanding Human Behaviour 21 The Sociological Imagination Chapter One: The Promise C. Wright Mills (1959) Nowadays people often feel that their private lives are a series of traps. They sense that within their everyday worlds, they cannot overcome their troubles, and in this feeling, they are often quite correct. What ordinary people are directly aware of and what they try to do are bounded by the private orbits in which they live; their visions and their powers are limited to the close-up scenes of job, family, neighborhood; in other milieux, they move vicariously and remain spectators. And the more aware they become, however vaguely, of ambitions and of threats which transcend their immediate locales, the more trapped they seem to feel. Seldom aware of the intricate connection between the patterns of their own lives and the course of world history, ordinary people do not usually know what this connection means for the kinds of people they are becoming and for the kinds of history-making in which they might take part. They do not possess the quality of mind essential to grasp the interplay of individuals and society, of biography and history, of self and world. They cannot cope with their personal troubles in such ways as to control the structural transformations that usually lie behind them. Surely it is no wonder. In what period have so many people been so totally exposed at so fast a pace to such earthquakes of change? That Americans have not known such catastrophic changes as have the men and women of other societies is due to historical facts that are now quickly becoming 'merely history.' The history that now affects every individual is world history. Within this scene and this period, in the course of a single generation, one sixth of humankind is transformed from all that is feudal and backward into all that is modern, advanced, and fearful. become morally insensible, trying to remain altogether private individuals? Is it any wonder that they come to be possessed by a sense of the trap? It is not only information that they need - in this Age of Fact, information often dominates their attention and overwhelms their capacities to assimilate it. It is not only the skills of reason that they need - although their struggles to acquire these often exhaust their limited moral energy. What they need, and what they feel they need, is a quality of mind that will help them to use information and to develop reason in order to achieve lucid summations of what is going on in the world and of what may be happening within themselves. It is this quality, I am going to contend, that journalists and scholars, artists and publics, scientists and editors are coming to expect of what may be called the sociological imagination. The sociological imagination enables its possessor to understand the larger historical scene in terms of its meaning for the inner life and the external career of a variety of individuals. It enables him to take into account how individuals, in the welter of their daily experience, often become falsely conscious of their social positions. Within that welter, the framework of modern society is sought, and within that framework the psychologies of a variety of men and women are formulated. By such means the personal uneasiness of individuals is focused upon explicit troubles and the indifference of publics is transformed into involvement with public issues. The first fruit of this imagination - and the first lesson of the social science that embodies it - is the idea that the individual can understand her own experience and gauge her own fate only by locating herself within her period, that she can know her own chances in life only by becoming aware of those of all individuals in her circumstances. In many ways it is a terrible lesson; in many ways a magnificent one. We do not know the limits of humans capacities for supreme effort or willing degradation, for agony or glee, for pleasurable brutality or the sweetness of reason. But in our time we have come to know that the limits of 'human nature' are frighteningly broad. We have come to know that every individual lives, from one generation to the next, in some society; that he lives out a biography, and lives it out within some historical sequence. By the fact of this living, he contributes, however minutely, to the shaping of this society and to the course of its history, even as he is made by society and by its historical push and shove. The sociological imagination enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society. Whatever the specific problems of the classic social analysts, however limited or however broad the features of social reality they have examined, those who have been imaginatively aware of the promise of their work have consistently asked three sorts of questions: (1) What is the structure of this particular society as a whole? What are its essential components, and how are they related to one another? How does it differ from other varieties of social order? Within it, what is the meaning of any particular feature for its continuance and for its change? (2) Where does this society stand in human history? What are the mechanics by which it is changing? What is its place within and its meaning for the development of humanity as a whole? How does any particular feature we are examining affect, and how is it affected by, the historical period in which it moves? And this period - what are its essential features? How does it differ from other periods? What are its characteristic ways of history-making? (3) What varieties of men and women now prevail in this society and in this period? And what varieties are coming to prevail? In what ways are they selected and formed, liberated and repressed, made sensitive and blunted? What kinds of `human nature' are revealed in the conduct and character we observe in this society in this period? And what is the meaning for 'human nature' of each and every feature of the society we are examining? Whether the point of interest is a great power state or a minor literary mood, a family, a prison, a creed - these are the kinds of questions the best social analysts have asked. They are the intellectual pivots of classic studies of individuals in society - and they are the questions inevitably raised by any mind possessing the sociological imagination. For that imagination is the capacity to shift from one pers
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