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The term sociological imagination was coined by the American sociologist C. Wright Mills in 1959 to describe the type of insight offered by the discipline of sociology. The term is used in introductory textbooks in sociology to explain the nature of sociology and its relevance in daily life.
Sociologists differ in their understanding of the concept, but the range suggests several important commonalities.
- Sociological Imagination: The application of imaginative thought to the asking and answering of sociological questions. Someone using the sociological imagination "thinks himself away" from the familiar routines of daily life.
Another way of describing sociological imagination is the understanding that social outcomes are based on what we do. To expand on that definition, it is understanding that some things in society may lead to a certain outcome. The factors mentioned in the definition are things like norms and motives, the social context are like country and time period and the social action is the stuff we do that affects other people. The things we do are shaped by: the situation we are in, the values we have, and the way people around us act. These things are examined to how they all relate to some sort of outcome. Sociological imagination can be considered as a quality of mind that understands the interplay of the individual and society.
Things that shape these outcomes include (but are not limited to): social norms, what people want to gain out of something (their motives for doing something), and the social context in which they live (ex.- country, time period, people with whom they associate). Basically, as an aspect of sociological imagination, what people do is shaped by all these things that result in some sort of outcome.
Sociological imagination is the capacity to shift from one perspective to another. To have a sociological imagination, a person must be able to pull away from the situation and think from an alternative point of view. It requires us to "think ourselves away from our daily routines and look at them anew". To acquire knowledge, it is important to break free from the immediacy of personal circumstances and put things into a wider context, rather than following a routine. The actions of people are much more important than the acts themselves.
Mills believed in the power of the sociological imagination to connect "personal troubles to public issues."
There is an urge to know the historical and sociological meaning of the singular individual in society, particularly in the period in which he has his quality and his being. To do this one may use the sociological imagination to better understand the larger historical scene in terms of its meaning for the inner self and external career of a variety of individuals.
Another perspective is that Mills chose sociology because he felt it was a discipline that “...could offer the concepts and skills to expose and respond to social injustice.” He eventually became disappointed with his profession of sociology because he felt it was abandoning its responsibilities, which he criticized in his classic The Sociological Imagination. In some introductory sociology classes, the sociological imagination is brought up, along with Mills and how he characterized the sociological imagination as a critical quality of mind that would help men and women "to use information and to develop reason in order to achieve lucid summations of what is going on in the world and of what may be happening within themselves."
A related term, the sociological perspective, was thought of by Peter L. Berger. He stated that the sociological perspective was seeing "the general in the particular" and that it helped sociologists realize general patterns in the behaviour of specific individuals. One can think of sociological perspective as our own personal choice and how the society plays a role in shaping our individual lives.
Uses of sociological imagination in films
The advantages of using popular films to enhance students' comprehension of sociological topics is widely recognized. Those who teach courses in social problems report using films to teach about war, to aid students in adopting a global perspective and to confront issues of race relations. There are benefits of using film as part of a multimedia approach to teaching courses in popular culture. It also provides students of medical sociology with case studies for hands-on observational experiences. It acknowledges the value of films as historical documentation of changes in cultural ideas, materials, and institutions.
Feature films are used in introductory sociology courses to demonstrate the current relevance of sociological thinking and to show how the sociological imagination helps us make sense of our social world. The underlying assumption is that the sociological imagination is best developed and exercised in the introductory class by linking new materials in the context of conflict theory and functionalism.
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- Mills, C. Wright.The Sociological Imagination (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959),5,7.Print
- Rose K. Goldsen, “Mills and the Profession of Sociology,” in The New Sociology, ed. Irving Lewis Horowitz (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964), 5. Print.
- Keen, Mike Forrest. Stalking the Sociological Imagination: J. Edgar Hoover's FBI Surveillance of American Sociology. Westport, Conn: Greenwood, 1999. Print.
- John J. Macionis, Linda M. Gerber, "Sociology", Seventh Canadian Edition, Pearson Canada
- Web. 23 Feb. 2012. <http://www.sociological-imagination.org/>.
- Spot.Colorado.edu. Web. 23 Feb. 2012. <http://spot.colorado.edu/~wehr/301RD1.TXT>.
- Mills, C. W.: 1959, The Sociological Imagination, Oxford University Press, London.
- Michael Hughes, Carolyn J. Kroehler, James W. Vander Zanden. 'Sociology: The Core', McGraw-Hill, ISBN 0-07-240535-X Online chapter summary
- Judith Bessant and Rob Watts, 'Sociology Australia' (2nd ed), Allen & Unwin, 2001. ISBN 1-86508-612-6
- Laurie Gordy and Alexandria Peary, 'Bringing Creativity into the Classroom: Using Sociology to Write First-Person Fiction.' Teaching Sociology. Vol. 33, 2005 (October: 396-402).
- Ray Jureidini and Marilyn Poole, 'Sociology' (3rd ed), Allen & Unwin 2002. ISBN 978-1-86508-896-9
- Joel Charon, 'Ten Questions: A Sociological Perspective', Fourth Edition. Wadsworth, 2000.
- Earl Babbie, 'The Practice of Social Research', 10th edition, Wadsworth, Thomson Learning Inc., ISBN 0-534-62029-9
- The Sociological Perspective: University of Missouri
- The Sociological Perspective
- Giddens, Anthony. "Sociological Imagination." Introduction to Sociology . 1996. Karl Bakeman. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 1996. Print. ISBN 978-0-393-93232-4
- Using the Feature Film to Facilitate Sociological Thinking
- Jon Frauley. 2010. Criminology, Deviance and the Silver Screen: The Fictional Reality and the Criminological Imagination. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Jon Frauley (ed). 2015. C. Wright Mills and the Criminological Imagination. Farnham, UK: Ashgate Publishing.
- Excerpt from C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination
- A Mills Revival? by S .Aronowitz
- Contemporary Analysis of C. Wright Mills
- On Intellectual Craftsmanship from Sociological Imagination (pdf mirror)