The sociological imagination is the ability to look beyond one’s own everyday life as a cause for daily successes and failures and see the entire society in which one lives as potential cause for these things. It is described by C. Wright Mills in 1959 as a enabling “its possessor to understand the larger historical scene in terms of its meaning for the inner life and the external career of a variety of individuals”. Mills goes on to describe people as being “Seldom aware of the intricate connection between the patterns of their own lives and the course of world history, ordinary people do not usually know what this connection means for the kinds of people they are becoming and for the kinds of history-making in which they might take part. They do not possess the quality of mind essential to grasp the interplay of individuals and society, of biography and history, of self and world.”
Having sociological imagination is critical for individual people and societies at large to understand. It is important that people are able to relate the situations in which they live their daily lives to the local, national, and global societal issues that affect them. Without the ability to make these relations, people are unable to see societal issues that affect them and are unable to determine if these issues require change to better their everyday lives.
Throughout history different societies and nations have obtained different levels of social imagination. Some societies have never had it, others have obtained and lost it, while others have obtained it and thrived on it. The societies that have not obtained it or that have lost it are usually within nations that have suffered ongoing persecution, poverty, and social injustice. The societies that have obtained it and thrived on it are usually within the nations with the most freedoms and with the most advanced cultures. This theme is discussed in Linda Schneider and Arnold Silverman’s book Global Sociology: Introducing Five Contemporary Societies Fourth Edition.
The societies that have lacked sociological imagination have experienced ruling regimes as the norm and individuals live within the same humble confines that have plagued them for centuries. These societies have lagged behind what we think of as modern cultures. Industrialization, freedom, and equality are all things that the individuals in these societies lack or are just beginning to obtain. An example of this theme from Global Sociology is found in a discussion of Mexico in the second chapter of the book, the people of Mexico have lived under ever changing regime’s for centuries. From the Mayan and Aztec rulers, to the Spanish rulers, to the corrupt government of today, the people of Mexico have lived under autocratic rulers as poor slaves. The only attempt at social imagination was through a small revolution to gain independence from foreign rule, only to succumb to local government treating the people in the same manner.
This kind of example is echoed through many countries across the world. Egypt suffers from this same lack of social imagination as discussed in chapter four. Their culture, religion, and world view has changed through every religious hand over the last several centuries, again culminating in a revolution that has placed them under their own leader taking advantage of them in the same way as all the previous rulers. The Bushmen of Namibia suffered through numerous outside rulers replacing each other, first Germany, then Great Britain, and finally their own internally corrupt government not leaving the natural resources to the native inhabitants of the country. This is another example discussed in Chapter three of Schneider and Silverman’s book.
Throughout time this has been a common theme and in nations where social imagination has been recognized, individuals have found the root of their problems in the lack of change and governance that they live through every day. In nations where sociological imagination is prevalent such as Japan and the United States of America, social imagination has inspired momentous changes to the culture and to way of life.
This contrasting view is apparent in everyday life in the United States. Men and Women have equal rights, Slavery does not exist, religious freedom is a reality, and the ability for poor people to change their outlook is a reality. This is primarily due to the people of the United States embracing sociological imagination after the countries revolution and recognizing the affects of external forces, such as government, economic models, and global trade.
This opposing theme of sociological imagination is again exampled in Schneider and Silverman’s book in the discussion of Japan during the first chapter. Japan was in a unique position to control its interactions with outside nations through most of its history. This lead to Japan’s ability to consume the cultures, economic models, and political models that it desired from other nations and transform its own culture to thrive with western views.
This is certainly not to say that societies without sociological imagination are bad or will never obtain it. It is to say that there are obvious advantages of understanding the causes of one’s position in the world and what can be done to change that position past personal adjustment.
Works CitedMills, C. Wright The Sociological Imagination, 1959
Schneider, Linda & Silverman, Arnold Global Sociology: Introducing Five Contemporary Societies 4 e. New York: McGraw Hill, 2006