Sociological Imagination

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The concept of “sociological imagination” is one that can be explained many different ways. A simple way to think of the sociological imagination is to see it as a way a person thinks, where they know that what they do from day to day in their private lives (like the choices they make), are sometimes influenced by the larger environment in which they live (Mills 1959, 1). What C.W. Mills meant by this concept is that it is the ability to “understand the larger historical scene in terms of its meaning for the inner life and the external career of a variety of individuals” (1959, 3). In other words, the concept of sociological imagination is the ability to realize that the choices people make and their personal environments are often connected to something much larger, like the societies in which they live. To understand that many of these personal environments are linked and that sometimes personal troubles can be caused by larger structural changes in society, is to have a sociological imagination (Mills 1959, 6). In C.W. Mills’ essay, he explains that having a sociological imagination can help distinguish “personal troubles” from “public issues”, and that divorce, for example, might be a personal trouble, caused by a public (or structural) issue such as the necessity for both husband and wife to have jobs (1959, 4-5). According to C.W Mills, the average person values and strives for, but does not always obtain or understand, the sociological imagination. Mills explains how people value the sociological imagination when he says, “What they [ordinary people] 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 what may be happening within themselves. It is this quality, I am going to contend, that … may be called the sociological imagination” (1959, 3). This shows that Mills believes that people strive for the understanding...
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