Sociological Imagination is the practice in which individuals take themselves out of their personal troubles, or disconnect themselves from their daily routine, in order to view their problems through a new, critical scope. In 1959, C. Wright Mills coined the term, defining Sociological Imagination as “the vivid awareness of the relationship between experience and the wider society.” (Mills, 1959). Mills theorised that Sociological Imagination is the ability to view things socially, perceiving how interpersonal problems interact with and influence each other. According to Mills, in order to obtain a Sociological Imagination, one must be able to pull themselves away from their own personal situations, taking an alternate point of view which in turn becomes central to one’s sociological development. (Mills, 1959). This essay will consider the emphasis that Mills placed on the distinction between personal troubles and public issues, drawing anecdotal evidence from my own past to explain the emphasis of the Sociological Imagination on current society and everyday life.
Firstly, when discussing the Sociological Imagination, it is crucial to consider the distinction between personal troubles and social issues. Crossman, (2019) echoes the theory of Mills, arguing that there are inherent experiences between the social structures of society and the individual. For instance, Crossman (2019) argues that problems which we perceive to be personal troubles, such as not having enough money to pay our bills, are actually public issues which course through society and impact many. Therefore, being unable to pay your bills is not a personal issue, rather a social problem in the form of systematic economic inequality and structural poverty within society.
Furthermore, Sternheimer (2013) goes further in portraying how understanding the distinction between personal troubles and social issues is vital in developing your own sociological imagination. Sternheimer (2013) uses the example of a student failing at University. Naturally, most would consider this to be a personal issue, simply the student is unmotivated, or an irresponsible person. In contrast, the personal issues that one individual faces can span far further, implicating wider societal issues that contribute to this failure. In this case, the student could have been struggling to support themselves financially, in poor health, or does not have the luxury of coming from a stable and enriched family background. Thus, it becomes important to consider how the personal issues that one individual experiences may reflect wider societal issues.
Through using sociological imagination, we are better suited in understanding why personal crises are often rooted within social circumstances. Mills (2000) went on to add to his original theorem, arguing that possessing a sociological imagination allows the individual to understand the larger historical scene at play, where personal issues become explicit issues that can be explained via the public issues umbrella term.
As the theory of sociological imagination has become more prevalent and visible within current society, I am able to draw evidence which is indicative of how sociological imagination can be used to draw from your own personal background. My own personal evidence is derived from my work experience within the UK. Following on from my first-year of university, I lost my hospitality job which had helped to financially support myself during the academic year. Losing this job led to me being forced to find another job quickly, in order to be able to support myself for the following year.
Following on from being made unemployed, I felt defeated and discouraged, believing that the unemployment was my own personal failure. Around the time, I felt that the unemployment had become a personal trouble of mine. Being unable to view the issue through the scope of society, I felt depressed as at the time I could only see the short term, personal problem. Around the time I blamed myself heavily, attributing the unemployment to the fact that I myself hadn’t worked hard enough, or that I myself wasn’t good enough to work in that position anyway. Looking at this event through the scope of sociological imagination, it is possible to argue that in fact, being made unemployed wasn’t a personal issue, rather a reflection of issues within wider society as a whole. (Your Dictionary, 2019). There is truth to the fact that many individuals suffer set backs in life and in the workplace. Thus, the argument can be made that the unemployment was a result of wider factors, such as a change in workplace circumstances, a lack of available work and an unavoidable event, as opposed to a personal hardship.
To conclude, Mills (1959) theory of sociological imagination, indicating the important distinction between personal troubles and social issues, has been shown to hold applicability and relevancy within the current society system. This essay applied the theorem of sociological imagination to one of my own personal issues, unpinning the theory and portraying how sociological imagination is common within people and relevant within everyday life. Through this, it shows the importance of sociological imagination and the depth to the theory which Mills has originally suggested.