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The Sociological Imagination

The Sociological Imagination

Author: Zach Lamb

Recognize how the sociological imagination is applied, and its impact on sociology.

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Source: Image C.W. Mills, Public Domain: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello, and welcome to Sociological Studies. Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to study society. Today's topic is going to be the sociological imagination and the author who gave us this idea, C. Wright Mills.

C. Wright Mills was a prominent sociologist, even though he didn't live very long. He only lived from 1916 to 1962, yet his impacts on the field was lasting. In fact, we still read his book, The Sociological Imagination, which was written in 1959. We still read that today. So let's get into the sociological imagination.

We can define the sociological imagination as the ability to connect personal troubles with broader social trends. Mills felt it was critical and imperative for the sociologist to explore the connections between an individual's personal biography and larger social forces and historical trends.

So for an example, a lot of Americans lost their jobs in the 1980s, '90s, and 2000s due to outsourcing of these jobs overseas. It wasn't that they were bad people or anything, that wasn't it.

I mean, as I like to say, some of the nicest people have to fire some of the meanest, least deserving people. So your personal qualities really didn't have anything to do with it. It was just the fact that the economy was moving in that direction.

It was much cheaper for these jobs to be done overseas, and the capitalists were only trying to get an advantage, get an edge, so they sent the jobs there. It was too expensive to keep them here.

I mean, we hear all the time in politics, political rhetoric, especially in campaign seasons, about let's bring the jobs back to America.

Well, if you have a sociological imagination, you know that that's not really going to happen. Given that like I just said, it's much cheaper for these jobs to be produced overseas. So that's really just rhetoric trying to get your vote. So back to the example, a lot of Americans lost their jobs in the '80s, '90s, and 2000s because of outsourcing.

Obviously, you're going to feel disgruntled when you lose your job. You're going to feel like it was your fault. But in this case, it really wasn't. Your personal trouble stemmed from the globalization of the economy, something you really have no control over.

You're not a bad person and you're not incapable, it's just that these broader social forces and historical trends moving in that direction caused you to lose your job. So this is what the sociological imagination is all about, being able to connect these personal troubles with broader social forces.

It's a hugely important idea in sociology. And it's a skill that takes time to refine, to get better at. So that's what we're going to do a lot of in this course is talk about connecting the general with the particular, the personal problem with historical transcendent trends.

So thank you again for joining me today. I hope you had a good time talking about C. Wright Mills and the sociological imagination. I look forward to seeing you again soon.

Terms to Know
Sociological Imagination

​The process or skill of connecting individual personal troubles to broader societal issues.

People to Know
C. Wright Mills

​Famous American sociologist who saw personal problems as societal issues.