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Sociological Imagination

Navya Sree Y.
08/09/2020 0 0


It is quite fascinating for any individual to look back into certain events of life and discover the broader impacts of one’s own experience and vice versa. As sociologists, we often hear that we need to look at the social realities in a sociological way rather than in a commonsensical way.  But how do we look in the so-called sociological way? To elaborate on this, I would take the help of C Wright Mills model of sociological imagination to link my personal experiences and the wider society.

What is all about C Wright Mills sociological imagination? 

C Wright Mills, an American sociologist has authored the book ‘sociological imagination’ in 1959, which is supposedly the Cold War era during which capitalism made America an ascending power, and it had its set of social problems which made Mills connect the biography and history. But why history? Because we are all products of our history. For instance, today, women can exercise their right to vote because someone in the past had fought for these rights and today we are enjoying the fruits of it. Hence, understanding history and linking it to our events becomes very significant. 

He brought back the significance of theory and social responsibility into the light of social sciences. The theory is essential because it helps an individual to make a way out of commonsensical understanding. If we look into commonsensical theory, it is interesting to note that any individual generally makes sense out of things by taking the reference of their immediate small world such as family. But, a sociological way of looking at it, would be looking beyond our more miniature worlds. For instance, as a child I used to believe that, students with bright academics would excel in life. Still, as I grew up, I met and also read about many people out of my societal purview who made it big in life, without essential degrees, and that made me understand that academics are not criteria for success.

Mills also emphasises that the responsibility of a social scientist is not to find solutions to the problems, but rather to define the social issues. It makes sense to me as I believe that the primal approach to any problem is to recognise that there is one. This is why problematizing becomes very important for a social researcher. He further goes on to discuss two major setbacks of the social sciences. One being, an ocean of grand theories and ability of such theories to easily ignore micro units of the social structure. The other setback is his very well known concept, Abstract empiricism; which throws light on adapting the ways of natural sciences or maybe sticking to specific methodologies and methods that the funding client wants the researcher to adhere to. This restricts the researcher to connect to the broader society. 

Linking personal experiences to broader society

As I introspect into my life, the strongest memory that comes to me first is what I used to hear from my grandparents. They often used to say, “Back in those days, we did not have enough food to eat.” Now, this was their problem and in a commonsensical way, one can associate it with accessing to food grains or maybe the economical background. But, as I try to apply the lens of sociological imagination of Mills, I roughly calculated that they belonged to the 1950s and it was the time India was going through chronic poverty. The country was not self-reliant with food grains as it was post-independent era. It was during the same time, India started to experiment with High yield variety (HYV) of seeds to make agriculture commercially viable, and this is what we called as Green revolution. And even in the 1970s, India was still fighting poverty which reminds me of Mrs.Indira Gandhi’s ‘Garibi hatao’ slogan. Connecting history and biography helped me debunk that, the issue my grandparents mentioned was not just their issue, but it was a larger social issue for the entire country.

Moving onto my parent’s generation, who were born in the 1970s, I heard them say that they did not have access to television growing up as it was costly to buy. Looking back into history, though Television came to India in the 1950s, it was restricted only to elites. It was not reached to every nuke and corner of the country until BPL began manufacturing in the 1980s with the inception of liberalisation in the Indian economy. Access to Television, was again a more extensive public issue, not just a personal problem as it was not available for a possible price to the typical person.

Being a millennial, as a child, I had pleased memories of the growing up days. From owning mini doctor equipment, playing video games, watching all kinds of kids related shows such as Disney cartoons, power rangers, to finally accessing the Internet, it still feels like yesterday. Though these were my personal experiences, there is a broader social background to it. All the things mentioned above were possible for me because I grew up during the peak of LPG reforms in the country. Hence, there was access to a variety of International products and services.


As CW Mills rightly quotes that, Sociological imagination promises to enable us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two in the society. Also, in my view, sociological imagination should not be restricted to social researchers alone, instead it is a concept which enables any individual to be able to look beyond the superficial aspects of our social structures. On the other hand, there are some relevant questions that sociologists should often ask, according to CW mills. They are - What is the structure of this particular society as a whole? What are its essential components, and how does it differ from other varieties of social order? And so on.

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