This note is a part of my Zettelkasten. What is below might not be complete or accurate. It is also likely to change often.
10th April, 2021

Sociological Imagination - C Wright Mills

Sociological Imagination

The sociological Imagination is the quality of mind that allows the observer to absorb information and understand what is going on in society at large and within the inner life of individuals. This oberver might be the individual in question or it might be others - journalists, artists, scholars and writers.

This imagination is the capacity to shift from one perspective to another - from examining the political forces to the psychological; examining a single family or the largest beaurocracy. It's the capacity to range from the most impersonal to the more intimate features of the human self - and to see .

Armed with this sociological imagination, the individual is able to pinpoint personal uneasiness of individuals to their fundamental explicit troubles and is able to transform the indifference of public into involvement with public issues.

What it means for the individual

The individual can understand their past experience and future possibilities only by locating themselves within their context and by becoming aware of others in their situation. Every individual is made by society and by its historic push and pull. Every individual also contributes to the shaping of this narrative and the context/society they inhabit, just by living.

How to analyse society?

Ask questions!

  • 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 form other varieties of social order? Within it, what is the meaning of any paricular feature for its continuance and for its change?
  • 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 essential characteristic ways of history making?
  • What varieties of men and women now prevail in this society and in this period? What varieties are coming to prevail? In what ways re 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 theis society in this period? And what is the meaning for 'human nature' of each and every feature of the society we are examining?

Personal troubles, Societal issues and the problems of framing

The sociological imagination enables the observer to distinguish between the "personal troubles of milieu (environment or social setting)" and the "public issue of social structure". Without understanding both society and the individual, we cannot undersand either nor distinguish between the two.

Troubles occur for the individual within their awareness of their environment and within the range of their immediate relations with others. The statement and resolution of troubles too, lie within their reach. A trouble is a private matter - when something (values?) cherished by the individual is percieved as being threatened.

Issues have to do with matters that transcend these local environments of the individual and the range of their inner life. They have to do with the structure of society itself - which is organized of many milieux into

An individual unable to find a job when a vast majority of people are employed is facing a personal trouble. An individual unable to find a job during a political upheaval or recession is facing a societal problem. Individuals are often unable to grasp the interplay between society and the individual - or cannot cope with their personal troubles in such a way as to be able to control the societal, structural transformations that lie behind them.