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Nationwide, students come to college as freshmen ill-prepared to understand the rigors of college life. Nationwide, the average teenager text messages, surfs the Net, plays video or online games, hangs out at the mall, watches TV and movies, spends hours each day with friends, and works at least part-time.

Where and when would he or she get experience focusing attention on college studies and the rigorous self-discipline required to transition into college credits, a quarter or a semester, study, papers, projects, field trips, group work, or test taking? The real power of the sociological imagination is found in how we learn to distinguish between the personal and social levels in our own lives.

Once we do, we can make personal choices that serve us best, given the larger social forces that we face.

The Sociological Imagination Is Well Suited to Political Office

In , Ron graduated with his Ph. With hundreds of job applications out there, he kept finishing second or third and was losing out to year veteran professors who applied for entry-level jobs. In the decades after Mills, other scholars have employed the term to describe the sociological approach in a more general way.

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Another way of defining the sociological imagination is the understanding that social outcomes are shaped by social context, actors, and actions. Key Points Because they tried to understand the larger processes that were affecting their own personal experience of the world, it might be said that the founders of sociology, like Marx, Weber, and Durkheim, exercised what C.

Wright Mills later called the sociological imagination. Wright Mills, a prominent midth century American sociologist, described the sociological imagination as the ability to situate personal troubles and life trajectories within an informed framework of larger social processes. Other scholars after Mills have employed the phrase more generally, as the type of insight offered by sociology and its relevance in daily life. Another way of describing sociological imagination is the understanding that social outcomes are shaped by social context, actors, and social actions.

He argues that the problem of such social research is that there may be a tendency towards "psychologism", which explains human behavior on the individual level without reference to the social context. This, he argues, may lead to the separation of research from theory. He then writes of the construction of milieu in relation to social research and how both theory and research are related Mills, , In chapter seven Mills sets out what is thought to be his vision of Sociology. He writes of the need to integrate the social, biographical, and historical versions of reality in which individuals construct their social milieus with reference to the wider society Mills, , He argues that the nature of society is continuous with historical reality.

In doing so, Mills writes of the importance of the empirical adequacy of theoretical frameworks. He also writes of the notion of a unified social sciences. This he believes is not a conscious effort but is a result of the historical problem-based discourses out of which the disciplines developed, in which the divisions between the disciplines become increasingly fluid Mills, , Thus, Mills sets out what he believed to be a problem-based approach to his conception of social sciences Mills [3] opens "On Reason and Freedom" with the two facets of the sociological imagination history and biography in relationship to the social scientist.

Sociological imagination

Mills asserts that it is time for social scientists to address the troubles of the individual and the issues of society to better understand the state of freedom specific to this historical moment. According to Mills, understanding personal troubles in relationship to social structure is the task of the social scientist. Mills goes on to situate the reader in the historically specific moment that he wrote the book, or what Mills refers to as the Fourth Epoch.

The Sociological Imagination - CRC Press Book

Mills explains that "nowadays men everywhere seek to know where they stand, where they may be going, and what—if anything—they can do about the present as history and the future as responsibility" Enlightenment promises associated with the previous epoch have failed; increased rationality moves society further away from freedom rather than closer to it.

Mills explains that highly rationalized organizations, such as bureaucracies, have increased in society; however, reason as used by the individual has not because the individual does not have the time or means to exercise reason.

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  8. Mills differentiates reason and rationality. Reason, or that which is associated with critical and reflexive thought, can move individuals closer to freedom. On the other hand, rationality, which is associated with organization and efficiency, results in a lack of reason and the destruction of freedom. Despite this difference, rationality is often conflated with freedom. Greater rationality in society, as understood by Mills, results in the rationalization of every facet of life for the individual until there is the loss "of his capacity and will to reason; it also affects his chances and his capacity to act as a free man" Mills is not suggesting determinism.


    Mills believed in the individual's autonomy and potential to alter societal structures. The individual who does not exercise reason and passively accepts their social position is referred to by Mills as "The Cheerful Robot" in which the individual is alienated from the self and society totally. Mills asks if, at some point and time in the future, individuals will accept this state of total rationality and alienation willingly and happily.

    This is a pressing concern as the Cheerful Robot is the "antithesis" of democratic society; the Cheerful Robot is the "ultimate problem of freedom" as a threat to society's values. Mills concludes this section of The Sociological Imagination with a call to social scientists: it is the promise of the social sciences to analyze the individual's troubles and society's issues in order to not only evaluate freedom in society but to foster it.

    Mills's work was widely read in its time, and The Sociological Imagination is still one of the most widely read tracts of sociology and a staple of undergraduate sociology courses. His work was not well received at the time, which can be seen as a result of Mills's professional and personal reputation Brewer, , This is somewhat appropriate given that the nature of Mills's work patterned around the biography of individuals, their historical actions and the relation to the wider society in terms of structure, in as much as Mills's own life has been seen by others as illustrative of his conception of Sociology.

    He hoped to reconcile the issues of individuals with the problems facing society, thereby framing individuals' problems in social, political, and historical reality Brewer, , Thus, he can be seen as trying to create a three-dimensional view of society and, according to Brewer , attempted to break down the divide between the public and the private realms of society, something characteristic of Sociology at the time.

    In this, he was viewing society as simultaneously macroscopic and microscopic in nature whilst trying to merge both historical and contemporary social realities Brewer, , His work was widely criticized due to what were perceived critical attacks on the discipline.

    The Sociological Imagination

    This can be seen in his writings where he criticizes both the "methodological inhibition" of what he refers to as abstract empiricism i. Lazarsfeld and what he refers to as the "fetishisation of concepts" in the works of those such as Talcott Parsons.

    Mills criticized the "grand theory" and the positivism of structural functionalism in Parsons' work Brewer, , This exacerbated what were seen as professional disagreements which were then ongoing with other professionals in the discipline. In particular his criticism of abstracted empiricism was seen in conjunction to his criticisms of both state sponsored research and the political policies of the Cold War American government Brewer, ,