C. Wright Mills: Sociological Imagination
As individuals we are too quick to take the full responsibility when something did not go as planned in our personal lives. We never take the time to really look at the big picture and all the outside forces that may have played a part in the outcome. For instance, a high school student who applies to a college and is denied, may conclude he or she is the reason they did not get in. However they are also social forces that are part of the story. Perhaps his or her school did not prepare them enough for the demand of this college. Perhaps the college prefers to take the children of alumni first. This very interesting reasoning is called “the sociological imagination” and was introduced by sociologist, C. Wright Mills. He explained, “the sociological imagination” is the ability to recognize the influences that social forces, society and social institutions have on the life of all individuals. This idea is vey evident in the world today especially with the ever-changing internet, demands of family, the economy, political unrest in our government, and the increase of racism and crime in our country. Mills explained that there are major components that form the sociological imagination.
Beginning with history, the individual is a product of social relations, of social interaction and of society as a whole during specific historical time periods. For instance, in the 1960s, black men may have had trouble finding or keeping a job. Many would say they had to work harder or they were not educated. However, more forces were at hand at that time especially racial discrimination that may have contributed to their unemployment. Another component is biography. A rise in pregnant teenage girls in poor neighborhoods are not personal troubles, but rather serious public issues that may have been caused by lack of access to birth control and education. A third and very important component is the relationship between agency and structure. Agency is an individuals free will to make social changes on a small or large scale. But agency can be affected by structure which are patterned social arrangements. Consider a young girl who wants to play on the high school hockey team. The social norm of the high school states that only boys are allowed to play on the high school hockey tram. The girls dream to play on the team may not ever come true because of the school rules and what society sees as normal. C. Wright Mills once stated that “the sociological imagination” is a “quality of mind” necessary to the understanding of the human condition. That statement is still very true today. There are so many social influences that shape and dictate our lives. Whether we realize it or not, we are influenced and make choices based on the economy, technology, family, religion, political views, fashion, music and more. A perfect example is when young girls view models in magazines, television, or the internet and want to dress and look like them. Although, it is very unrealistic, many young girls will starve themselves to look like these models.
How it works
This may become a personal problem, but it is also a very public issue. Society and the media constantly portray beautiful and desirable girls as thin resulting in many young girls suffering from eating disorders. Mills also had a deep political voice and wrote about the rise of the power elites which he defines as a group of elites made up of the executive branch of government, the military, and the corporate communities. They are the ones who had the power to make decisions over major issues like, war and peace and global economic issues. There decisions were always in their best interest which resulted in a decline of democracy. Social forces led Mills to argue that the sociological imagination was necessary to the continued development of democracy in America. In order to improve human conditions, social forces including the country’s class system, political system, education, family life had to change for the better. Democratizing America also meant eliminating racism, unemployment, undemocratic corporate power, and the power of elites from communities, economy and government. Mills felt that these social forces affected all Americans one way or the other and once they were addressed and corrected can all Americans start to feel secure about their future. Sociologists study social situations to facilitate social policy to improve social society, its social institutions, and the lives of a society’s members. C. Wright Mills, a sociologist, accomplished that when he introduced his idea of “the sociological imagination” which states that peoples’ personal troubles are typically caused by any and part of a social issue or problem. Many times people forget that economic, political and cultural forces effect every personal aspect of their lives. This is more evident than ever in the world today.