My Sociological Imagination Essay Sample
The term sociological imagination was created by the American sociologist C. Wright Mills to denote the perception of the relationship that exists between an individual's specific life experience and the broader society (Mills, 1959). It allows the knowledge gained from the discipline of sociology to be applied to everyday situations, therefore emphasizing the relevance of this scientific domain to every person's life. Having the ability to switch perspectives and to look at a particular problem from a different angle is undoubtedly beneficial as it permits to step outside from whatever trouble a person might be in and to observe it from another point of view, thus making the problem more understandable and perhaps even easier to solve. Sociological imagination is used to put an individual and his/her actions into a broader societal context in a particular time period.
The theory of sociological imagination stresses the need to connect a person's individual experiences and the societal relationships. Sociological imagination consists of three elements:
- Historical background: historical changes that a particular society has undergone over a considerable period of time
- Biographical aspects: the personality characteristics of people populating a particular society and
- Social structure: the institutional organization of a society, the way the institutions are stratified and related to each other, how they change over time, etc.
What determines a person's behavior includes social norms, their personal motivations and the social context of the person`s existence. We are all guided by what is considered to be socially acceptable, i.e., the norms a society imposes upon its members, as well as by circumstances surrounding our efforts, including the country we live in, the social class to which we belong, and the people with whom we associate. The motives for whatever action we might be undertaking are both personal and societal. They include individual as well as cultural values and norms.
Being born into a particular family belonging to a specific social class in a particular country inevitably shapes our existence, at least to a degree. Sociological imagination makes us able to understand these circumstances and possibly rise above them. If a person is of modest family background, with poorly educated parents working as manual laborers, he/she can still surmount the obstacles posed by these circumstances, apply for scholarships, get a decent education and be able to accomplish more in life than the previous generations of his family were able to. To achieve this, however, it would be necessary to consider one`s life from a different perspective, as an outsider would look at it, which means applying social imagination. Removing oneself from one's usual life experiences in one's imagination allows one to put one's personal problems into a broader context and find more efficient solutions to them.
Working class parents who want to provide their children with more options in life sometimes put all their life savings into their children's education in an attempt to allow them to become successful in life despite their modest circumstances. This was the case with my family as well. My parents understood that the only chance I had to rise above the existence that was customary for members of our family for generations was to get a better education which would present me with more choices in life. Saving on holidays, birthday celebrations and even clothes they were able to afford the tuition fees of a private school and later university. Education became accessible to me, but socially it brought me more pressure and the awareness of being different and not being able to blend in with the majority of students coming from upper-class families. After enrolling in an American university, further issues concerning my dissimilarity to others were brought to my attention. Along with the language barrier, I encountered problems arising from racial issues.
As a concept of classification of humans into groups, race relies upon biological traits that all members of a particular race have in common, but it also exerts a strong social influence creating a social distance between members of different races and historically making certain things out of reach of members of particular races. Although such practices have nowadays become obsolete, they are still present in some social groups that are considered to be exclusive and available only to the elite. Racism allows particular social groups to be more powerful and to exert more influence on the society as a whole, so it is quite understandable that they would be reluctant to relinquish this control and become equal with everybody else.
According to Mills, we can regard all issues within social reality as either "private troubles" or "public issues," the former relating to a single person and the latter to a social group. The social scientists have a task to observe private troubles through the lens of public issues. If, for example, a child's schoolwork is poor, this can be due to his/her own shortcomings, or personal problems. However, these personal problems can also be a part of a broader social problem such as living in underprivileged life circumstances with no access to books or computers, or living in a crime-ridden community and often fearing for their life. The personal trouble in question can be something common among his peers, thus affecting a significant portion of society. In another example, a married couple can experience personal troubles in their relationship due to conflicts specific to a particular man and woman, but if divorce rates in the first year of marriage are as high as 250 out of 1000 marriages, this becomes a societal or a public issue. Sociologists connect a person's individual problems and challenges to various social structures and place them in the appropriate time frame.
The society dictates what will or will not be accessible to its individual members. In my country, coming from a modest social background means that you would not automatically be eligible for college. It took significant financial resources and sacrifices made by my parents to allow me to attend university. Not many people from my neighborhood had this opportunity. The social class and the social community one lives in regulate to a great extent what one will be able to achieve in life. Nevertheless, my parents wanted me to have a professional career which I would enjoy and thrive in, so they chose to endure all the hardships associated with saving enough money to send me to college so that they could provide me with more chances in life. Education is the ticket into a world of opportunities. If one wants to go beyond the predispositions set by social class, one must excel academically and become proficient in his/her line of work. It is only natural that a young person wants more from life than what was given to him/her by birth or social background. The desire to achieve more than our parents and to live better lives is innate to all human beings.