The Sociological Imagination by Mills: Summary & Concept Video

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  • 0:01 Sociologist C. Wright…
  • 1:24 Individual and Society
  • 3:16 Personal Troubles &…
  • 4:03 Solutions to Social Problems
  • 4:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Worley

Jennifer teaches and develops sociology courses and has a master's degree in sociology.

Read about sociologist C. Wright Mills and his emphasis on using the sociological imagination in our everyday lives. Learn how to apply the sociological imagination, and then test your understanding with a quiz.

Sociologist C. Wright Mills and the Sociological Imagination

When you think about American society in the last several decades, what changes have you noticed? Advancements in technology and the widespread use of social media have transformed the way we work and communicate. Economic downturns and the globalization of the economy have affected both the number and type of employment opportunities available. Terrorist networks have not only infiltrated our borders but have created war and turmoil around the globe.

How do we make sense of these changes and their causes and consequences? Sociologists have a long history of trying to understand social change and its impact on society. But one sociologist in particular, C. Wright Mills, wanted to understand how transformations in our society or around the globe can affect our everyday lives. His research during the 1950s called attention to the field of sociology and the key historical events and social changes that shaped the United States in the mid-20th century.

Mills studied and expressed his concern about the growing concentration of wealth and power in the U.S. among a small group of political, business, and military leaders he called the 'power elite.' He also emphasized the value of adopting a sociological perspective for understanding the world around us, coining the term sociological imagination to describe putting this perspective into practice.

The Individual and Society

According to Mills, one of the key ways people can understand society and social change is to apply this sociological imagination. This involves something called making the familiar strange, or questioning and critiquing the world around us. It is similar to putting on a new pair of glasses - in this case with sociological lenses - and seeing our society and the everyday behaviors and interactions we usually take for granted in a different way.

For example, let's consider the activity of eating. We eat not only for survival but also for enjoyment. But eating has social and cultural functions as well. In American culture, we celebrate special occasions like birthdays or graduations by sharing and eating food. Food has a way of bringing people together. And of course, what we eat not only affects our health but also has an environmental and economic impact. The growing popularity of organic produce and farmers' markets represents a shift in how our society approaches producing and eating food. By analyzing the processes, roles, and consequences of eating, we are making the familiar strange.

What does it mean to use our sociological imagination? The first step is to recognize the connection between our individual experiences and the larger society. In other words, to apply the sociological imagination, we are first aware of the social context in which our individual options and decisions occur.

For example, many adults are deciding to earn their college degrees because of our society's increasing emphasis on having a degree for obtaining a well-paying job and for advancing in one's career. This shift in society, where employers are demanding that advanced education level plays a key role in hiring and promotions, is influencing individuals' educational and career decisions.

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