What is the Sociological Imagination?
Source: Shaneka Knight
You may hear or see the term ‘The Sociological Imagination’ referred to. It may have been on this blog (which aims to develop individuals Sociological Imagination), you may have started a Sociology course or simply stumbled across the term.
In this article, we will explore the term. It’s development, and what it means for Sociology, and Sociologists today.
C. Wright Mills & The Sociological Imagination
The awareness of the relationship between personal experience and the wider society (Mills, 1970).
The Sociological Imagination was coined by Charles Wright Mills (often abbreviates to C. Wright Mills.) What he meant by The Sociological Imagination was to attempt to see one’s self and situations from a position independent from our own lives and experiences (Mills, 1970).
Let’s take Tea as an example. You will initially begin with your personal standpoint. In the United Kingdom (UK) Tea is a popular beverage. For some, it is an important hot drink to start the day in your pajamas. For others, it is part of their daily or weekly ritual. Certain ceremonies and events have manifested over time which makes the act of drinking tea more of a performance. You can get dressed up and venture to Fortum and Maisons, or the Ritz in London for ‘Afternoon Tea’. On The Ritz website, they claim it is one of ‘Britain’s Finest Heritages’. You could go Tea Tasting which would be more casual than Mayfair, but less comfy as when one is at home. How do these Tea drinking ceremonies differ to those in Asia?
You could think about how someone Working Class is more likely to enjoy Tea bought in a bundle from a Supermarket than brewed from freshly bought or picked tea leaves. You could examine how the diversity of Teas on the shelves of supermarkets reflects the diversity of the population. You could question whether the type of person who drinks Earl Grey, is the same or similar to someone who drinks Chai, or Darjeeling. Should Milk be added? Is Green Tea superior? Is it good for your teeth? Is it addictive!
Whilst Tea has been drunk on Earth since humans had control over fire. Fit teas are now pushed on Social Media as an alternative to dieting does this interest you? Or the economics and social benefits motivating Social Media personalities to push certain Tea products. When did your relationship to Tea form and how does it differ from your friends and families relationship to the beverage? How does the relationship relate or differ to your relationship to Coffee?
There are people working on Farms, making sure that the English Breakfast Tea, Peppermint Tea, and Camomile Tea can end up on the shelves of stores. Are workers stationed in safe, humane environments? How much are they being paid? Are the business owners being fair or purely maximizing profit? The Tea Buyers for companies such as Sainsbury’s aim to get the best teas to put on the shelves. Are they moral considering they work for the big companies who sell Tea, and have a vested interest in keeping the beverage popular? How does Teas popularity irritate the Coffee shops such as Starbucks and Costa who would prefer Coffee dominates the market?
What is the future of Tea? Will it continue to be popular or is it experiencing a fade out?
We could travel into history and examine the Opium Wars, largely fuelled by a trade deficit because of… Tea. We could focus on health. When is it appropriate to serve Tea to a child? Which Teas are high in Caffeine, how is this harmful for the body? Could we logically argue, being addicted to Tea and other hot drinks is socially acceptable in the UK? Europe? Globally?
Many of the topics just raised, surrounding Tea could be examined Sociologically. When you truly begin to brainstorm it becomes apparent Tea is encompassed in a number of complex global social and economic relationships. Tea, which can easily be overlooked as a beverage could be debated from a range of perspectives. Each linked to different individuals in society within Tea’s global division of labour.
Take a moment now to consider the following roles and institutions in Society and consider how they can be examined Sociologically. Points to consider: History, Social Change/Changing Perspectives, Protests, The ‘role’ the person, social expectations or institution plays, Cultural differences and/or Theory.
1. The Father
2. The Academic
3. Secondary School
7. Mental Health
8. Beauty Standards
Why is developing the Sociological Imagination good?
It may seem as though by delving down the rabbit hole of The Sociological Imagination that you end up with more questions than answers. But in reality, you’re developing a deeper understanding of the topic at hand. You will be better prepared to conceptualize, debate, and theorise in the future. You’re breaking the mold your upbringing, socialisation have led you to subscribe to. You’ll become, not only more thoughtful a smarter citizen able to recognise your place in the division of labour, and the circumstances others go through.
The Sociological Imagination & Sociology Today
Whilst not often explored at GCSE or A Level Sociology. The Sociological Imagination is a pivotal part of the discipline. Modern Sociologists benefit from not only developing their own Sociological Imagination, but also the Sociological Imagination of those within their Social Network and beyond. How was this done in the past?
In the 19th century, this would have been done via books and articles. Mostly accessed by the Upper and Working Class it was difficult to disseminate ideas to all who should know and could benefit. In this time, like the centuries before. Knowledge was power. It is reported that Karl Marx handed out the Communist Manifesto on the street.
In the 20th century, television made the move into Documentaries, TV shows, and Films. These would allow for ideas, and propaganda to be much more easily pushed. Whilst this would have been a great avenue for Sociologists, it has been under-utilized. In France, natives Foucault & Simone de Beauvoir were prominent on television for decades. Noam Chomsky was also quite prevalent across the world making him a well now intellectual. In the UK however, academics and theorists have accumulated much less TV time. Even now, there are few shows making Academic research accessible to the masses.
In the 21st century, the internet has become a great way to spread information. Independent media companies such as The Thought Catalog are popping up and gathering large audiences. Though many of these new media companies are being bought out by Tradition media companies, the internet has created a new avenue for competition. Take for example Guido Faulks, he now owns one of the most influential political blogs and is taken more seriously than Political editors of many broadsheet publications.
8 Ways to Develop your Sociological Imagination
There are multiple ways to develop your Sociological Imagination. Below are 8 methods.
- Read articles online. Whilst we are drawn towards platforms that align with our own political standpoints, it can be more beneficial in this task to choose a platform that has a ‘bad reputation’ or angers you. 30 minutes should be enough. Debate with your inner voice, you may even find some articles you agree with. If you’re truly angered, write a response article.
- Read books. This is a skill that has to be done overtime for ultimate benefit. Some books simply won’t have any effect on you. Others will change your life. Books provide everyone with the opportunity to delve into the mind of another for pages. You could read about the life of an Athlete, Princess, Entrepreneur, A new Release, Great Novel, Collection of theories or Essays, is as invaluable as reading someone’s diary. You will become more empathetic and get the opportunity to examine how they reacted in particular situations, explore the problems they faced.
- Watch Documentaries. Google the top 10 documentaries on a topic of your choice and see which you can access for free. You may learn some new facts, but you’ll inevitably see research moving on a screen.
- Pick a topic and explore. As was done within this article on Tea.
- Go back to school or take an online course. By actively learning, you admit to yourself you do not know everything and are in a perfect situation for growth and change,
- Debate with friends or family. Pick a controversial topic and attempt to change their mind. Even better if you do this with an authority figure to develop your assertiveness.
- Attend events. Whether you’re with friends or alone. Look around the room and consider how certain individuals are acting out their personality. How certain people are drawn to this specific venue, consider why. What is the ethnic, class, and age mix? Are women and or men mixed? How was this event different 100 years ago, how has Social Change affected this particular event?
- Meditate. If the task is difficult to see if you can incorporate the practice into your life somehow. In a fast-moving world it can be good to attempt to hone your ‘monkey brain’.
These are only a few ways to increase your Sociological Imagination. An article will be published soon on specific ways to increase your Sociological Imagination.
Not all Sociologists agree on the definition of The Sociological Imagination, but most agree it is a vital contribution from C. Wright Mills to the world. I hope this article has been informative, let us know if you have any queries, questions, or comments in the comment section below.
By Shaneka Knight
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Mills, C. W. (1970). The Sociological Imagination. Harmondsworth: Penguin.