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My sociological imagination

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 980 words Published: 28th Apr 2017

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Before going through this week’s reading and into today’s lecture, I hadn’t yet come across the concept of the sociological imagination. Although the concept is seemingly new to me, it is likely that I have been using my sociological imagination for several years now especially whilst studying Society and Culture for my Higher School Certificate in years 11 and 12 at high school. In the subject, I can recall doing numerous case studies such as looking at the red light district in Calcutta, India as well as research assignments on topics like the stolen generation and my major work, the personal interest project on the stems of homophobic attitudes. To complete this work to the best of my potential, I was definitely thinking with my sociological imagination.

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I would define the sociological imagination as the art of objectifying a situation so that you are able form a view that captures it as a whole. It is thus a holistic way of thinking and ability of incorporating all elements as well as backgrounds and contexts into what you may be researching. The sociological imagination is an important frame of mind for a sociologist or anthropologist to be able to effectively assess a situation.

C.W. Mills expresses this holistic idea of “shaping the complete picture” throughout this week’s reading, ‘”The Promise”. While the text was written in 1959, his views and ideas of sociological imaginative practice are still very much relevant in 21st Century context of analysing social and cultural situations. The social sciences now commonly use this idea to explore such issues as social structures (e.g. India’s social class system), welfare problems (e.g. domestic violence) or health concerns (e.g. drug and alcohol addiction and abuse).

An interesting statement Mills makes about the sociological imagination featured on page 15 is “The sociological imagination enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society.” Here he is stating that we are not able to understand or formulate solutions for the biography of certain situations without take into consideration history, be that of a place, a person, a theory or even anything you wish to analyse. We must look at what has been in order to comprehend what is. Take for example a 45 year old female suffering from heart disease, it seems their life is quite active and their diet is balanced but why are they in need of a bypass operation to clear a blockage in an artery? Well one of the first question doctors would ask is if there is a history of heart disease in the family. Doctors here use their sociological imagination to understand the patient’s condition and it seems genetics and the historical background of her family is what is contributing to her life now.

Also on page 15 of “The Promise”, Mills’ puts forward a further thought about the sociological imagination: “For that imagination is the capacity to shift from one perspective to another – from political to the psychological.” Mills’ here is examining framing perspectives and the sociological imagination giving you the ability of seeing things from differing perspectives. Putting yourself in another person’s frame of mind or in their circumstances makes a situation much easier to comprehend. We can see something from a feminist perspective, a Marxist perspective, a scientific perspective, a postmodernist perspective or even seeing things from a child’s perspective, the list is endless. A jury takes a number of people from many different social, cultural and historical backgrounds in order for them to find a defendant guilty or not guilty. The idea is that all of these perspectives collaborate to form the correct verdict to determine the fate of a defendant.

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Mills consolidates why we must make use of our sociological imagination on page 17 by stating “Accordingly, to understand the changes of many personal milieux we are required to look beyond them.” He raises the idea here that you must look beyond one’s milieux, environment and surroundings to be able to comprehend and analyse their identity thoroughly. In the Up Series video excerpt shown in today’s lecture consolidated that Mills’ theory about looking past a person’s environment is extremely valid. Based in Britain during the 1960’s we saw fourteen children from varied socioeconomic backgrounds come together to determine whether or their social class will play a role in preordaining their future. It became particularly clear of their economic circumstances when the children were asked what they’d like to be when they grow up. One boy from an upper class background replies with “I want to go to Oxford University” whilst a boy from the lower class asks “what is a university?” Looking beyond these children’s backgrounds and paths that may or may not be planned by the children’s parents, it became clear that these children do hold many of the same characteristics regardless of social status. For instance, they all were able to successfully interact at a party together as well as being capable of playing with each other at an adventure playground. Children were essentially being children.

By thinking with the sociological imagination I am able to discover the full scope of a situation and formulate a thorough holistic opinion. As I am studying a Bachelor of Social Work at UNSW, it will be important if not fundamental technique for me to make use of whilst completing my degree looking at case studies, writing assignments as well as when on work placement and most importantly in my future career as a social worker.


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