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The Sociological Imagination by C. Wright Mills

Updated September 10, 2022
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The Sociological Imagination by C. Wright Mills essay

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The book THE SOCIOLOGICAL IMAGINATION was written by an American sociologist C. WRIGHT MILLS in the year 1959. Mills was first to coin and use the concept of sociological imagination. Later this became the keystone concept in the branch of sociology. He defines sociological imagination as the “vivid awareness of the relationship between experiences and wider society”. He describes it as the ability to see things socially and guides us how to interact and influence each other. In this book mills also criticized the trends in social sciences of his period.

This book is a critical discourse on why and how to do social sciences. It comprises of 10 chapter and has been divided into three sections. The first section covers the major portion of the book. It makes the analysis of contemporary sociology. The second section of the book advices the present society to return back to ‘classical social sciences’ and it lays out the major tenets of what would entail. The third and the final section explains the politics of science and questions ‘why is it urgent at this moment’.

In the first chapter THE PROMISE mills quote’s “Neither the life of an individual nor the history of society can be understood without understanding both”. With these words he tries to explain that there is a relation between individual and the society. In particular he describes that sociological imagination is a way of thinking that connects the private problems with public issues. Unemployment is one of the best examples of this situation. Mills says that it is necessary to adopt sociological imagination, which is the way of thinking and asking questions sociologically by the sociologists such as what is the structure of society? what is the place of society in history? And many more.

In this chapter mills described three tendencies of sociology such as historical, human nature and empirical tendency. He concludes this chapter by saying sociological imagination is important today as it enables us to grasp history and biography and the relation between the two within society. That is its task and promise.
In the second chapter THE GRAND THEORY mills criticized the work of Talcott parsons. Mills argue that the idea of parson considering entire social structures as one big society which he called ‘Concept’ won’t be the correct way of looking into social problems. Mills dislike this general and universal way of parsons as it loses sight of real people living in the real world. Parsons way of writing in huge volumes and complicated language was also taken into mills account of criticizing. There is a huge variation in ideas of both about impact of socialization and social control on society.

In chapter-3 mills continues his critique of contemporary sociology by considering ABSTRACTED EMPIRICISM. It is basically ‘the school of polling’. It surveys various people and tries to produce a public opinion. But mills argue that collecting individual opinion just describes the way they think rather than identifying the force that motivates them to think. He also mentions that even abstracted empiricism is not wrong but sociology has been practicing a particular approach which he feels more appropriate way. The fourth chapter TYPES OF PRACTICALITY deals with different approaches in putting sociological work into practice making it useful for some other goal. He says that there are two way, they are ideological and historical. According to him ideological way challenges with authority in society while historical way was little liberal. But apart from these two at present there is a new way called bureaucratic way which focusses more on profit than explaining truth. It concentrates more on ‘managerial elite’ than society as a whole. Mills was very worried about this approach. He considered universities and professors has some examples of this approach.

Chapter-5 THE BUREAUCRATIC ETHOS, the word itself mentions that bureaucrats have the dominant role in the society. Mills divided the development of bureaucratises into five divisions and comments that by giving these five tools to bureaucracy, social science increases social domination. In chapter-6 he discussed about PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE. Here mills compare the classical social science with new social science and supports the classical social science by explaining the success and failure of both the systems. He describes that classical method include both microscopic and macroscopic views on society which makes it so different from new method. And he also mentions that classical method draws connections between private and public instead of serving the interest of managerial elite.

Till now in all the chapters mills mostly criticized the works of other sociologists. Now in this chapter he shifted his attention from critics to recommendations. Firstly, he defines social science as HUMAN VARIETY (c-7) and explains how people are different within a society and among various societies. He also describes that biography, social structure and history need to be connected in doing social science. He also mentions that it is important to work together among various disciplines, if did in isolation people end up thinking that different parts of society are not related. In the eighth chapter USES OF HISTORY (c-8) he highlights the point how important it is to know history or the background and also provides four reasons why history is important in understanding society. He also reminds that present is independent history. Finally mills the discussion of history by giving a controversial statement. In this chapter he also discussed about psychoanalysis.

ON REASON AND HISTORY, the ninth chapter continues to deals with history along with an analysis into politics. He argues that we humans are in yet unknown fourth epoch crossing three which are antiquity, dark age and modernity. As he was focussing on politics, he says that we are in a stage where people have freedom but they are under control of bureaucrats. He also mentions that in modernity we had renaissance man who made themselves and made history. But in this era, there is a cheerful robot, which follow commands of others. In the final chapter ON POLITICS he asks what social scientists can do to make history and he wants every human to have freedom in their life. For this he suggests three ways and considered truth, reason and freedom has three important ideals in human life. The ultimate goal for mills is democracy which he defines as everyone having a voice in decisions that affect them.

The book sociological imagination made a great mark in the society. This is one of the important books to know various aspects related to sociology. It is an important pivot point in history. On one hand it explains the trends during mills period and on the other hand it compares them with the present society. It is different from other books as it criticizes the works of other sociologists, highlights the problems in the society and also recommend suitable solutions for them. In every chapter mills introduced new concept and he connected them with next chapters. It was not mentioned directly but in this book mills connected sociology with every discipline of social science which made book more interesting to read. This book is worthful to know the differences in societies and its functions between different generations.

The Sociological Imagination by C. Wright Mills essay

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The Sociological Imagination by C. Wright Mills. (2020, Sep 09). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-sociological-imagination-by-c-wright-mills/

FAQ

What are the two promises of the sociological imagination?
The promise of the sociological imagination is to understand the nature of these traps and to determine if they are in fact private in nature , or if, as Mills suggests, their actual origin lies with broader social and historical forces.
What does C. Wright Mills say is the promise of the sociological imagination?
According to Mills, the sociological imagination is more than just a theoretical concept or heuristic device: it is a “promise.” The promise of the sociological imagination is to allow individuals to understand their place in the broader social and historical context .
What is C. Wright Mills theory of the sociological imagination?
In the book, Mills attempts to reconcile two different and abstract concepts of social reality—the "individual" and "society." Accordingly, Mills defined sociological imagination as " the awareness of the relationship between personal experience and the wider society ."
What is the sociological imagination according to C. Wright Mills quizlet?
C. Wright Mills defined the sociological imagination as the ability to see the impact of social forces on individuals' public and private lives . He believed we need to overcome our limited perspective to understand the larger meaning of our experiences.
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