Monday, October 20, 2014

Thinking Sociologically | The Biographical and Historical Intersection of the Sociological Imagination

“No social study that does not comeback to the problems of biography, of history and of their intersection within a society has completed its intellectual journey.

Whatever the specific problems of the classic social analysts, however limited or however broad the features of social reality they examined, those who have been imaginatively aware of the promise of their work have consistently asked three sorts of questions:

(1) What is the structure of this particular society?
    1. What are its essential components, and how are they related to one another?
    2. How does it differ from other varieties of social order?
    3. Within it, what is the meaning of any particular feature for its continuity and for its change?
(2) Where does this society stand in human history?
    1. What are the mechanics by which it is changing?
    2. What is its place within and it meaning for the development of humanity as a whole?
    3. How does any particular feature we are examining affect, and how is it affected by, the historical period in which it moves?
    4. And, this period – what are its essential features?
    5. How does it differ from other periods?
    6. What are its characteristic ways of history making?
(3) What varieties on men and women now prevail in this society and in this period?
    1. And what varieties are coming to prevail?
    2. In what ways are they selected and formed, liberated and repressed, and made sensitive and blunted?
    3. What kinds of ‘human nature’ are revealed in the conduct and character we observe in this society in this period
    4. And what is the meaning for ‘human nature’ of each and every feature of the society we are examining?
Whether the point of interest is a great powerful state or a minor literary mood, a family, a prison, a creed – these are the kinds of questions the best social analysts have asked.

They are the intellectual pivots of classic studies of man in society – and they are the questions inevitably raised by any mind possessing the sociological imagination.

For that imagination is the capacity to shift from one perspective to another – from the political to the psychological; from examination of a single family to a comparative assessment of the national budgets of the world; from the theological school to the military establishment; from considerations of oil industry to studies of contemporary poetry.

Back of its use there is always the urge to know the social and historical meaning of the individual in the society and in the period in which he has the quality and his being.

That, in brief, is why it is by means of the sociological imagination that men now hope to grasp what is going on in the world, and to understand what is happening in themselves as minute points of the intersection of biography and history within society….

The sociological imagination is the most fruitful form of this self-consciousness.”

Source: C. Wright Mills. 1959. The Sociological Imagination.

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