C Wright Mills is best remembered for his highly acclaimed work The Sociological Imagination, in which he set forth his views on how social science should be pursued Hailed upon publication as a cogent and hard hitting critique, The Sociological Imagination took issue with the ascendant schools of sociology in the United States, calling for a humanist sociology connecting the social, personal, and historical dimensions of our lives The sociological imagination Mills calls for is a sociological vision, a way of looking at the world that can see links between the apparently private problems of the individual and important social issues Leading sociologist Todd Gitlin brings this fortieth anniversary edition up to date with a lucid introduction in which he considers the ways social analysis has progressed since Mills first published his study inA classic in the field, this book still provides rich food for our imagination


10 thoughts on “The Sociological Imagination

  1. Trevor Trevor says:

    I ve been teaching a first year university subject to student teachers on the sociology of education I hadn t realised how much fun I would find the course It is sort of an opportunity to talk about all of my favourite things But in the first lesson I had to explain what sociology is and so I talked about the sociological imagination and felt a bit of a fraud, as I hadn t actually read the book So, now I have And it s a wonderful book Conveniently, Mills provides his own three sentence su I ve been teaching a first year university subject to student teachers on the sociology of education I hadn t realised how much fun I would find the course It is sort of an opportunity to talk about all of my favourite things But in the first lesson I had to explain what sociology is and so I talked about the sociological imagination and felt a bit of a fraud, as I hadn t actually read the book So, now I have And it s a wonderful book Conveniently, Mills provides his own three sentence summary perhapsauthors should be so handy What are the social sciences all about They ought to be about man and society and sometimes they are They are attempts to help us understand biography and history, and the connections of the two in a variety of social structures pp 31 2This just needs a very little explanation Sociology is generally defined as trying to work out where we sit on a particular spectrum The two ends of that spectrum are not really positions that anyone sensible ever really holds They are that we are entirely self made or that we are completely the product of our environment In Mills terms we are either the product of our biography or of our history In the West we like to place out bets closer to the self made end of that spectrum And we do that despite the evidence, rather than because of it But if social science is a science and a lot of this book goes over that dead and sterile debate and so on, but in interesting ways at least then we expect sciences to have both theories and methods Mills doesn t say have no theories but rather that we shouldn t trust grand theories that provide too many answers Mills isof a questions, than an answers sort of guy best to be one of those if you possibly can and so a lot of this book is devoted to looking at the kinds of questions sociology ought to ask and some of the ways that it might be worthwhile seeking out answers to those questions What I like most about him is he goes out of his way to be as clear as possible something that academics and academic writing often tries to avoid as if on pain of death He says that too much of sociology is three hundred page books that could comfortably have had everything important in them said in thirty pages That this is also true of some of the research that is done that is too grandiose and not at all clear about what it is seeking to answer or why and so stumbles and trips if never actually seeming to fall on its face although a lot of it is so unclearly written that it could fall on its face and no one might notice.The lessons here are to be clear about what it is you want to answer, lay traps for yourself so you don t just end up echoing the obvious in ways no one can understand, avoid echoing The power, and learn the craft that being good at the craft is the path to success in this science.I really like sociology I think there are too many things in life we take for granted a similar idea to Socrates one of the unexamined life and that there are relatively simple methods to interrogate the world with that illuminate aspects of our world in surprising ways particularly around the big three major themes of race, gender and class themes that we just wouldn t see otherwise The appendix On Intellectual Craftmanship, by the way, is worth the cover price of the book


  2. Abby Brown Abby Brown says:

    The Sociological Imagination was written by C Wright Mills in 1959, and he died in 1962 only three years later He was a sociologist at Columbia University, and the goal of this book was to analyze the discipline of sociology with suggestions for improvement He felt most mid century sociologists lost their true purpose That these three biography, history, and society are the co ordinate points of the proper study of man has been a major platform on which I have stood when criticizing sev The Sociological Imagination was written by C Wright Mills in 1959, and he died in 1962 only three years later He was a sociologist at Columbia University, and the goal of this book was to analyze the discipline of sociology with suggestions for improvement He felt most mid century sociologists lost their true purpose That these three biography, history, and society are the co ordinate points of the proper study of man has been a major platform on which I have stood when criticizing several current schools of sociology who have abandoned this classic tradition p 143 He holds central the importance of looking at power relations, historical realities experienced by humans, comparative understandings of social structures, the ability to study small environments in terms of larger structures, and to not be bound by disciplines p 135 And he warns against sociologists accepting the imbalanced social structure by participation But whether the social scientists is aware of it or not, merely by working as a social scientist he is to some extent engaging a bureaucratic or ideological role p 81 Mills believes history is moving from The Modern Age to The Fourth Epoch, and old ideas and images are based in the past He states all these ideals of The Enlightenment have rested upon the happy assumption of the inherent relation of reason and freedom p 166 but in this new epoch reason does not create freedom This book has encouraged me to think about my proposed field of work post graduation I am not primarily interested in becoming a faculty member at a traditional four year institution of higher learning While I value knowledge seeking in various settings individual, household, community, educational, etc , I tend to beinterested in working with knowledge seeking and social justice outside the traditional academy It seems Mills warns against such applied research in his detailing of liberal and illiberal practicalities He feels those of liberal practicality tend to think in terms of situations and fail to challenge the status quo p 88 Those of illiberal practicality tend to be actually working within the bureaucratic system only focusing on the problems chosen by those with great power within the system p 96 Is it possible to be a sociologist working to change status quo through applied research


  3. Kate Kate says:

    The Sociological Imagination is a term coined by Mills to describe the way that good sociologists view a problem and the possible solutions He suggests that we view everything through the intersection of history, biography, and sociology, and that we multidisciplinary approaches to finding solutions for sociological problems It s a hard read at first, and you start of kind of hating Mills and thinking he s an arrogant sod, but by the time I got to the solution chapters, I had begun to get it The Sociological Imagination is a term coined by Mills to describe the way that good sociologists view a problem and the possible solutions He suggests that we view everything through the intersection of history, biography, and sociology, and that we multidisciplinary approaches to finding solutions for sociological problems It s a hard read at first, and you start of kind of hating Mills and thinking he s an arrogant sod, but by the time I got to the solution chapters, I had begun to get it and when I finished the last chapter I wanted to pump my fist in the air and join the revolution I would recommend this for anyone who works in sociology or science that deals with humans It gives a prescription for how to view problems and solutions within society, instead of assuming that they exist in a vacuum


  4. leighcia leighcia says:

    The first 100 pages of this book were really hard to get through, and even after that, the book was very dense and took quite a bit of effort to understand All that being said, this has been one of the most thought provoking and academically inspiring books I have read in the past year Mills was a prominent sociologist of the earlier half of the twentieth century if I m not mistaken, he coined the phrases WASP and white collar In this book, Mills criticizes the two dominant methods of s The first 100 pages of this book were really hard to get through, and even after that, the book was very dense and took quite a bit of effort to understand All that being said, this has been one of the most thought provoking and academically inspiring books I have read in the past year Mills was a prominent sociologist of the earlier half of the twentieth century if I m not mistaken, he coined the phrases WASP and white collar In this book, Mills criticizes the two dominant methods of studying sociology grand theory and abstracted empiricism , and then goes on to delineate the sociological imagination a way of studying society that factors in historical, political and individual factors, that does not get too lofty with grandiose theories and abstractions nor too mired in the numbers and statistics of abstracted empiricism He then writes about the need for the sociological imagination in today s society, in relation to our reason and freedom, our democracy and politics The appendix provides some guidance on how to conduct such research Though Mill had a few touches of elitism to him, it was so refreshing to read someone who had a vision for social sciences and for the academy that mandates relevance to society at large and the individual To summarize his stance on the subject Our public life now often rests upon such official definitions, as well as upon myths and lies and crackbrained notions When many politics debated and undebated are based on inadequate and misleading definitions of reality, then those who are out to define realityadequately are bound to be upsetting influences Such is the role of mind, of study, of intellect, of reason, of ideas to define reality adequately and in a publicly relevant way The educational and the political role of social science in a democracy is to help cultivate and sustain public and individuals that are able to develop, to live with, and to act upon adequate definitions of personal and social realities


  5. Lobstergirl Lobstergirl says:

    There s a scene early in Crime of Passion 1957, Barbara Stanwyck, Sterling Hayden, Raymond Burr when a newspaper advice columnist named Kathy Stanwyck , a self confident, independent, unmarried dame, is trying to cover a story about a woman who has killed her husband A police chief comes into the press room and Kathy tries to get some information out of him He says, What are you doing here You should be at home with your children, cooking your husband dinner Sadly, Kathy does not at tha There s a scene early in Crime of Passion 1957, Barbara Stanwyck, Sterling Hayden, Raymond Burr when a newspaper advice columnist named Kathy Stanwyck , a self confident, independent, unmarried dame, is trying to cover a story about a woman who has killed her husband A police chief comes into the press room and Kathy tries to get some information out of him He says, What are you doing here You should be at home with your children, cooking your husband dinner Sadly, Kathy does not at that point reach down and twist his testicles in a full circle while pushing a stapler up his nose In fact, she says nothing, preferring to avenge herself in a sneakier manner But the line went into me like a knife, and so it is with The Sociological Imagination Though I m guessing Mills was unaware of what he was doing, in these mid century books the world consists only of men and one mention of Karen Horney Only men are doing the important things, becoming sociologists, becoming academics, studying the bureaucratic ethos, researching Weber and Parsons and Veblen, earning salaries Any woman who was able not just to exist in a world like this but to get an advanced education, have a career, succeed in a profession, ignoring all the language around her referring to men, men, men, men, a man, a man, a man, a man language which says this world is not for you my hat is off to her.Sometimes commentators many years after a book is published will note such sexist language ruefully, but Todd Gitlin in his Afterword seems oblivious to it.The book was deeply boring I m not a sociologist, but I have read enough sociology Weber, Veblen, Durkheim, others to sustain at least a vague interest in it, and I couldn t manage that here


  6. Christopher Christopher says:

    The first chapter is what is most often read and or assigned, but I think it continues to be one of the best statements defining sociology and a sociological perspective The other chapters on grand theory, etc are also worth reading, but the first chapter The Promise is perhaps the most important and also mostly commonly cited by contemporary sociologists.Mills description of the way in which Americans tend to perceive problems as emanating from the individual rather than considering larg The first chapter is what is most often read and or assigned, but I think it continues to be one of the best statements defining sociology and a sociological perspective The other chapters on grand theory, etc are also worth reading, but the first chapter The Promise is perhaps the most important and also mostly commonly cited by contemporary sociologists.Mills description of the way in which Americans tend to perceive problems as emanating from the individual rather than considering larger, structural forces at play captures the predominance of reductionist thinking in American society.Just as timely today as it was over fifty years ago, it continues to be an excellent introduction to the discipline of sociology and how to think sociologically


  7. Sean Sean says:

    This is one of the best known works of sociology and the highlight of Mills impressive career I ve seen excerpts from Chapter 1 An inspirational essay on The Promise of sociology and the Appendix A student s guide to the dos and don ts and the author s helpful suggestions On Intellectual Craftsmanship in various introductory classes, course packets, and textbook anthologies of selected readings.Between the oft referenced first and last sections lay a scathing critique and intelligent t This is one of the best known works of sociology and the highlight of Mills impressive career I ve seen excerpts from Chapter 1 An inspirational essay on The Promise of sociology and the Appendix A student s guide to the dos and don ts and the author s helpful suggestions On Intellectual Craftsmanship in various introductory classes, course packets, and textbook anthologies of selected readings.Between the oft referenced first and last sections lay a scathing critique and intelligent treatise on the contemporary and I might even suggest current state of the social sciences His conception of the Sociological Imagination isthan a buzzword it is a vehicle to a much broader but still realistic understanding of WHAT exactly the problems of society are and HOW we may go about studying them.Mills lambasts the two extremes of Grand Theory s untestable and overly syntactic nebulousness, and Abstract Empiricism s unquestioning analyses of abstract and subjective data and its unhealthy preoccupation with methodology He accuses researchers of too often bending to the biases of the institutions of which they are a part, or, perhapsgrievously, to those supplying the money This has led to a bureaucratization of the research process and enables the growth of ideological cliques, robbing the social sciences of their cherished spirit of free inquiry.What social science truly boils down to, Mills argues, is the study of the human variety, which consists of all the social worlds in which men have lived, are living, and might live We cannot do this without considering the social structures that compose these social worlds, orbroadly, the relationships and patterns of interaction that define them We must also consider history our modern day social milieux and social problems didn t just come out of nowhere, and it s entirely possible that they developed and or existed in a different form in another time and another place.Curiously, Mills himself is aware that contemporary society is changing We are at the ending of what is called The Modern Age which is being succeeded by a post modern period and has much to say on where he perceives our concerns and values shifting.This book is deep, yet practical It is reactionary, yet farther reaching than a mere list of grievances and prescriptions It is accessible yet challenging, and it speaks optimistically to all students of social science to go forth and do good work, to avoid the common pitfalls of the day, and to help solve real problems


  8. David Schaafsma David Schaafsma says:

    Let every man be his own methodologist, let every man be his own theorist The sociological imagination enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society Neither the life of an individual nor the history off a society can be understood without understanding both C Wright Mills, The Sociological ImaginationThe Sociological Imagination is a classic sociological text published in 1959, three years before Mills died at the age of 45 The first half Let every man be his own methodologist, let every man be his own theorist The sociological imagination enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society Neither the life of an individual nor the history off a society can be understood without understanding both C Wright Mills, The Sociological ImaginationThe Sociological Imagination is a classic sociological text published in 1959, three years before Mills died at the age of 45 The first half of it is essentially a polemic against the trends he sees in post war sociology that he sees as divergent from classical humanistic sociology that sets out to solve real problems in the world He has a problem with 1 Grand Theorists and their overally verbose and obtuse generalizations about the nature of the world and 2 abstract empiricism that is overally focused on methodology, preparing technocrats to serve bureaucracies such as corporations and the military to help them be, for instanceefficient in the work they set out to do rather than people in need Mills wants his humanistic sociology to have some theory, but have it grounded in the world s problems He thinks, like Foucault, that power and social stratification are good things to focus on as ways of understanding society He also admired and was influenced by Marx.The fact that it is still taught in Sociology courses close to 60 years later means it is still relevant today It s very readable, not too long, and concludes with a chapter focused on examples of Mills own work in an attempt to model what he believes in He believes in work linking history and biography exploring the relations between the two, and he personally cares about issues of equity and social He s essentially a pragmatist, skeptical of theory, committed to democratic ideals, reason, freedom and the imagination Research for him requires tacking back and forth between various perspectives, not just myopically stuck in one arbitrary view.I read it with four friends We talked about it in a bar We drank wine We had fun We liked the book


  9. Spicy T AKA Mr. Tea Spicy T AKA Mr. Tea says:

    I m writing a paper for the New York State Sociological Association and am going to use Mills as one piece of my theoretical foundation His book is a pretty interesting look at sociology that matters and tries to make change as well as the interplay that happens between the individual biographical and the societal historical when making change It also has some interesting parallels with journalism that I want to explore further For instance, Mills talks about sociologists who have become I m writing a paper for the New York State Sociological Association and am going to use Mills as one piece of my theoretical foundation His book is a pretty interesting look at sociology that matters and tries to make change as well as the interplay that happens between the individual biographical and the societal historical when making change It also has some interesting parallels with journalism that I want to explore further For instance, Mills talks about sociologists who have become technicians in the service of power rather than to humanity journalists, for profit corporate ones at least, tend to create fictions out of reality that conform to the needs of power societal institutions instead of writing about reality and demanding the kinds of changes needed to give everyone in society the dignity and material support that they need Objectivity can get tossed in here as well at this point Again, objectivity and its questionable usefulness when doing sociology is raised by Mills just as objectivity is raised when journalists try to write to change the world as in being biased rather than pretend they have no interest in the topic and are thus objective Mind you there are a slew of constraints in journalism, just as there are in academic institutions Quick read and pretty straightforward Accessible I enjoyed


  10. Simon Bailey Simon Bailey says:

    This book is known as a classic of any sociological canon It is best read, I think, as a polemic When i read the opening chapters on grand theory and abstracted empiricism, I was thinking it a theoretical and methodological exercise in critique and considered as such it is a bit limited hardly breaking sweat for Mills to take apart the grand theory of Parsons or the abstracted empiricism of behaviourism But read instead as a critique of politics, ethics and craft, it is muchpower This book is known as a classic of any sociological canon It is best read, I think, as a polemic When i read the opening chapters on grand theory and abstracted empiricism, I was thinking it a theoretical and methodological exercise in critique and considered as such it is a bit limited hardly breaking sweat for Mills to take apart the grand theory of Parsons or the abstracted empiricism of behaviourism But read instead as a critique of politics, ethics and craft, it is muchpowerful as the latter chapters make clear Having been written in the 50s, there is much which appears dated the position on reason and freedom, for example, or the exclusive use of male pronouns There are also intriguing oddities at work, the use of the term imagination , and how much farther one might take it, for instance I think if I had read this as an undergraduate I would have underlined every sentence and missed the point