Sociological Imagination and Conflict Theory on Unemployment

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In sociology there are individual’s problems and societal issues which connect with sociological imagination, the term coined by C. Wright Mills (1959) and it have an interlink with unemployment. Mills elaborate sociological imagination as the ‘the vivid awareness of the relationship between experience and wider society and to think yourself away from the familiar routine of everyday life’. This essay will examine unemployment in South African context by applying sociological imagination. It will also unpack unemployment using the conflict theory. Secondly, it will discuss the causes, effects, disadvantages and the benefits of unemployment. Finally, the paper will also look at unemployment and the relation between personal and societal experience on unemployment.

According to Statistics South Africa, the unemployment rate has increased to 30.1 percent in the first quarter of 2020 from 29.1 percent in the previous period and market expectations of 29.7 percent. Too many South Africans are unemployed (Banerjee et al. 2006). The rate of unemployment has increased substantially since the ANC came to power after SA’s first democratic elections in 1994 (Banerjee et al. 2006). Unemployment, a term referring to individuals who are employable and seeking a job but are unable to find a job, states the Corporate Finance Institute. Unemployment is subdivided into three types, namely structural; functional and cynical unemployment.

Unemployment is a concern on every society, both economically and socially. Unemployment can be rooted by various social aspects, but just to stress a few, economic recession, technological change and lack of education. Many times, unemployment is due to the economy. When the economy is in recession, unemployment rate increases. According to Steve Nickolas (2018) ‘when an economy is facing recession, business sales and revenues decreases which cause businesses to stop expanding. When demand is not high, businesses start to report losses and first try to reduce their cost by lowering wages or keeping wages where they are and ceasing to hire new workers, which increases unemployment’.

‘The education system thus reinforces social and income inequality. Inequalities in education quality also constrain the ability of many pupils to access and complete university education, thus preventing them from participating meaningfully in the labour market. This is because few of them attain a university entrance pass and even fewer quality to pursue degrees in the field of mathematics and engineering, where most of the opportunities exist’, elaborate (Ngozo&Mtantato 2018). Showing that lack and quality of education leads to unemployment.

According to the Southern and Eastern African Consortium for Monitoring Education Quality, after five years of schooling, about 50% of South African pupil cannot do basic calculations, such as dividing 24 by three, This is hardly surprising when 66% of maths teachers, teaching from grades one to six, failed to pass tests for maths at grade level. This also unveil the struggle South African pupils come across and leading to the great unemployment rate. The technological change has introduced an advanced technology. Recent studies reveal that technology has replaced many skilled workers with mechanism. Workers become retrenched thus increasing unemployment, argues Mtantato (2018). Due to the introduction of Industrial Revolution has had both negatives and positives.

Conflict theory explains that unemployment is caused by inequalities between upper class and lower class, the upper class receives wealth and the capital which the lower class has no means of obtaining. Conflict theory consider how social issues such as unemployment are formed by elite, maximizing profits and exploiting the ones below them to unjust working conditions that leads to conflict in society (Kuhn, 2004). It is a matter of the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. There is a conflict of interest. People have different goals and purposes. They will use whatever means to gain this in order to attain specific goals (Kenda24). The idea of Marxism supports the theory that those with more power and money have the ability to gain higher level of services, creating a greater level of stratification in society. These dominant groups create strategies that protect the social arrangements and practices that give them an advantage in accessing and controlling those valued and limited resources. Thus, increasing unemployment rate, conflict and instability within the society, argues Marx. Conflict perspective is a social science perspective, that holds that stratification is dysfunctional and harmful in society, with inequality perpetuated because it benefits the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor. ‘Another justification that the employers give for exploiting labour is to suggest that the exploited really do benefit’, argues Joan Ferrante (2015).

In a societal experience and perspective, unemployment is associated with sharply increasing rate of criminal activities. People are who are involved in these criminal activities, majority of them are trying to make a living. Rise in divorce rate, poverty and segregation of families are also linked with unemployment. Taxpayers are also in a problem of having to support the unemployed (Fineman, 1987). In this cycle of unemployment we all suffer. On a personal level, an unemployed person, does not have a solid income, may get depressed after several times of job seeking with no admission (Fineman, 1987). According to Harry Daniel, unemployment can also have positive impacts. It boosts self-employment, thus creating more job opportunities and contributing to the economy. Unemployment forces one to be creative and flexible. A large number of job seekers will get employment from the new business venture.

From the above discussion, it is evident that sociology, but sociological imagination in particular it assists us in learning and understanding our surrounding environments. It also helps people to view different societal issues in different perspectives and the effects they have. In conclusion, one may conclude that unemployment is a global issue, everyone is affected by it in different degrees. Applying sociological imagination on unemployment has changed one’s attitude towards the unemployed. Involving conflict theory has also made things easier in order to comprehend this discussed social issue, as it was evident that unemployment is also the outcome of the competition over scarce and limited resources. Conflict between the different class.


  1. Abraham, John H. “Sociology Encyclopedia Topics” (2008)
  2. Banerjee, B. (2006).
  3. Ferrante, J. (2015). Sociology: A South African Perspective.
  4. Fineman, S. (1987). Unemployment: Personal and Social consequences. London: RoutlegdeKendall, Diana Elizabeth, “The Sociological Perspective”, Sociology in Our times. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2011. 2-36. Print.
  5. Kuhn, R. (2004). Class and Struggle in Australia: An Introduction. Australian National University. Oct 8.
  6. Marx, K. (1844). Economic & Philosophic Manuscript of 1844.
  7. Mills, C. W. (1959). The sociological imagination. London, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
  8. Nickolas, S. (2018). https: // www. Investopedia.com/ask/answers/032515/why-does-unemployment-trend-rise-during-recession.asp.

Cite this paper

Sociological Imagination and Conflict Theory on Unemployment. (2020, Sep 09). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/sociological-imagination-and-conflict-theory-on-unemployment/



How does functionalist theory explain unemployment?
Functionalists believe that unemployment is necessary to maintain a stable society by providing an incentive for individuals to work hard and improve their skills, while also ensuring that there is a reserve pool of labor available for new job opportunities. They argue that unemployment can be reduced by increasing education and training programs to improve the skills of workers.
How does unemployment relate to the sociological imagination?
Unemployment relates to the sociological imagination in that it is a social problem that affects many people. It is caused by a lack of jobs, which can lead to poverty and other problems.
What are the main points of conflict theory sociology?
The main points of conflict theory sociology are that society is based on conflict and competition, and that social order is maintained through coercion and force.
What sociological theory explains poverty?
One of the biggest obstacles people face when learning to swim is the fear of being in the water.
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