Self, Culture and Society
September 18 , 2013
“When I feed the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.” –
Dom Helder Camara (19091999), archbishop of Recife, Brazil
▯ his quote captures the idea of the sociological imagination. How?
Social science in the news…
• Often “derided by public figures”
▯Speaking of communist, Rob Ford once referred to by a bunch of city counselors as left to scallop
• “Scientists push campaign for evidencebased decisionmaking from government” (Glove and Mail,
Sept 16 ) “Stand up for Science” protests across the country
• “Harper Slams Trudeau for comments on Boston bombings” (CBC, Apr. 17). Trudeau said we needed to
look for “root causes”
▯What are the root causes? Do we have an interest in figuring out the root causes? Perhaps if we figure
out the root causes we can alleviate these types of violence.
• Do we live in an antiintellectual climate today?
▯Are social scientists somehow marginalized? Maybe they’re marginalized as being referred to as
communists? (Open ended question)
Last Week: Critical vs. Uncritical Thinking
• Knowledge not the accumulation of statements that are true, but the result of a recursive process of
thinking – “open” yourself to thinking by “bracketing “ your existing beliefs!
• Concepts are the “means of producing knowledge” – examine and learn to apply them.
• Concepts differ from the everyday meanings we attach to words
▯We are not individuals but social beings. We are the “I am” but we are also the “being” towards others.
• “The house of Social Science”
▯We will be reading selections from different rooms.
Social Science and Gauguin’s Questions:
• To think about where our society has come from..
▯transition from traditional to modern society
▯transition from “feudalism” to “capitalism”
• To think about what we are…
▯are we consumer? Or citizens?
▯are we isolated individuals interacting/competing/in conflict with other isolated individuals?
▯or does “society place individual into social classes, in sense of Marx or Weber?
▯Are we social beings caught in an antisocial social structure?
• To think about where our civilization is heading… (do we view civilization as the highest point in the
history? The height of progress?)
▯Into progress? Or into the greatest progress trap of all of human history?
• “Question is the piety of thinking!”
▯What does the author mean about this word? ▯What is the sociological imagination?
▯You need the attitude to compel you to search for answers.
• C. Wright Mills: Sociological Imagination, Social structure and Public Issues
▯Social structure, history and individuals
▯Formulating “personal troubles of the milieu” as “public issues of social structure” (??
• Benton and Craib: domains of philosophy
C. Wright Mills (19161962)
• An American sociologist who was very influential in the student movements of the 1960’s
• He is famous for the idea of the “sociological imagination” and the book of the same name (1959)
What is the Promise?
• The “promise” is the “fruit” of the sociological imagination (SI)
▯If you have the sociological imagination it will bear fruit
• The SI is “that quality of mind” that is essential to grasping “the interplay of man and society”
▯it’s an attitude… and orientation.
• Why do we need it so badly?
▯Rapid change and social transformation: What is going on?
▯“Uncertainty” of moral basis of evaluation: What’s wrong with What’s going on?
▯Need creative solutions to the dangers facing humanity today: how can we get from “what is” to “what
ought to be”?
We need a solution. It’s one thing to say this is what is going on…there is poverty. But it’s another to
say that there is TOO much Poverty. Finally we can say that this is where we are now and that we need
to move to a new position where we ought to be.
How do I know that the moral standards I have can be applied to this situation? Aren’t moral values
relative? What is the moral basis for judging?
We need the sociological imagination is so that we can ask “what’s wrong”.
This thing that C. Wright Mills is talking about it seems that ethics are involved.
The “Trap” of our private lives
• We are “trapped” in the private orbits of our jobs, school, family and neighbourhood’s.
• What kinds of anxieties do you experience?
▯We can start thinking the difference relation between personal troubles and the public issues of our
times or social issues of our time and see if there is a connection between the two.
▯If everybody feels the same way (low grades) then the source of that anxiety might be somewhere else.
• What underlies our sense of being trapped?
▯“Seemingly impersonal changes in the very structure of continentwide societies”
▯This change is so rapid and so hard to get our heads around. According to Mills, you cannot understand
your own personal troubles and you can’t study the history of a society without understanding the
history and your troubles as social issues.
▯Mill tries to go through this and shows that personal troubles can be translated to social issues.
• You can’t understand your own personal troubles or the history of a society without understanding both,
together • How can these personal troubles be “translated” into social issues? Unemployment, way, marriage and