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The writer C. Wright Mills sought to explain the study of society at the level of the
individual. He linked the study of society with what is happening in the lives of the
individuals. Having a sociological imagination allows the student of sociology to
understand the link between his/her personal every day experiences and the larger
social structure with its social processes and social changes. This type of imagination
is a necessary condition to understand sociological concepts and theories. In the study
of sociology the individual is both a part of society as well being outside of society
and is influenced by it.
The individual must be able to understand how he/she is part of a larger social
process in the public domain. Problems and troubles that affect our personal life are
also part of a wider public social problematique that affects the wider society. At the
personal level divorce is between two individuals. It will affect the two individuals
personally, and no doubt other family members who were involved in the union.
However, when there is a drastic increase in divorce rate in the society then this now
takes on a public dimension. The problem of divorce has now moved from a personal
to a macro sociological concern. The sociologist is now not just interested in what led
to the divorce of the two individuals, but also social factors that are causing wide
spread divorces in the society. Here the sociologist will look at the groups that the
individuals belong to and at the changes taking place in society that is affecting the
marriage life of couples (families). This has now moved the personal problem into the
public domain.
Mills note that there are 3 dimensions to the sociological imagination.
1) The historical sensibility - this point to the importance of history in our social
transformation. Problems that we are facing now did not necessary have their genesis
in the now. In an effort to understand some of the problems associated with certain
social processes in contemporary society, the sociologist needs to look historically at
how some of the social transformation of the last 200 years has affected modern
society. Hence, in looking at a social issue the sociologist will employ a historical
sensibility, by researching how historical factors in the past has led to or is now
affecting society and is manifested in that particular social issue. Using the example
of divorce: the industrialization of society which started from somewhere in the 18th
to 19th century has led to greater participation by the family in the labour force.
Industrialization has resulted in more women being absorbed in the labour force,
while men are being absorbed for longer hours with the resultant social effect on the
family and marriage.
The anthropological sensibility - this part of the sociological imagination is imploring
us to avoid be ethnocentric. We must be cognisant of the fact that there are other
cultures and civilizations that are different from our own and there is nothing wrong
with them. This allows us to appreciate the diversity of human behaviour when we are
study social issues. We must appreciate other societies that are different from our
own and seek to learn about them.
The critical sensibility - this allows us to be critical of the present. The belief that
alternative explanations exist moves us away from thinking that we governed by
unalterable laws. As sociologists we are always seeking new explanations and a higher
form of truth. We must never be contented with current explanations. According to
Karl Popper scientific knowledge expands when we are able to falsify current laws of
science. As sociologist we must have an open mind to other possible futures than the
one we are told is confronting our realities. With this frame of mind or imagination
we can test all theories and develop new alternatives.
Hope this small discourse will help you to understand the concept of sociological
imagination much better.