What Did C. Wright Mills Mean by the “Sociological Imagination”?

2277 Words Feb 8th, 2011 10 Pages
What did C. Wright Mills mean by the “sociological imagination”?

C. Wright Mills has been defined by some as the pioneer of the new radical sociology that emerged in the 1950s, in which his book, The Sociological Imagination (1959), has played a crucial role (Restivo 1991, p.61). This essay will attempt to explain what the “sociological imagination” is, and why it has been important in the development of sociology over the last fifty to sixty years. In order to do this, it will firstly be essential to consider Mills’ work, however, in addition to this we will look at the influence on Mills that helped him form the idea of a “sociological imagination”. Furthermore, sociologists’ reactions to his work will be considered in order to assess
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10). However, mass unemployment, such as in Britain in the 1980s, becomes a public issue where a ‘structure of opportunities collapse’ and a range of solutions from political and economic institutions are required (Mills 1959, p. 10). Furthermore, Mills (1959) argues that public issues often explain what someone might consider to be a personal trouble, therefore, stating that people need the “sociological imagination” to realise that their personal troubles are embedded in public issues (p.10).

Mills stated that the epoch in which we now live makes people feel entrapped because public issues can also determine personal troubles (Shils 1961, p.600). This entrapment makes people feel indifferent or uneasy as their cherished values may be under threat, but they are unaware of why (Mills 1959, p. 11). Issues of the economic crisis today provide a perfect example of this, as most people feel uneasy about the state of the economy, however, many people are unaware of why such events have happened. Therefore, if the “sociological imagination” is applied to this problem, the state of the economy could be traced back historically in order to show how this public issue has come to affect many people’s personal lives, whilst proving that the explanation to people’s personal troubles lies within a larger social and historical setting. In this way, the “sociological imagination” would provide cultural and intellectual aid to
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