What Is the Sociological Imagination

Some individuals stay confined in the borders they place around themselves, thinking only of themselves and their current issues. Therefore, they completely disregard what is happening in society. One can assume that these types of individuals do not, or may never have the sociological imagination. The sociological imagination is having an open-mindedness that allows one to place themselves in another’s shoes.

In other words, it is having the capability to understand the history and events that have impacted the lives of others. It is stepping back, and taking a moment to see how one individual’s life compares and differs from another’s. This idea is best shown in the articles “The Promise” by Wright Mills and “How History and Sociology Can Help Today’s Families” by Stephanie Coontz. Within Mill’s work, one can get a clear idea of what the sociological imagination is. However, in Coontz’s article “How History and Sociology Can Help Today’s Families”, she introduces the issues that lie within the families, giving her readers the idea that she has a sociological imagination. The articles give a clear view of the sociological imagination by showing what it means to have the sociological imagination, what aspects would lead Mills to believe that Coontz may or may not have the sociological imagination, and lastly, if Coontz’s work would or would not be overlooked by an individual lacking the sociological imagination.

Understanding the sociological imagination does not come easy for every individual, however, when reading “The Promise” by Wright Mills, it is very easy to grasp the pieces that make up the main idea. For Instance, Mills (1959) stated, “The sociological imagination enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society.” What Mill’s really means, is that having the sociological imagination gives one the ability to not only understanding how biography and history have impacted lives within society, but the idea that the two can be easily understood when focusing on every minuscule detail within and between them. He then continues to explain how that is the sociological imaginations promise and main purpose.

To give more of an example, Mills (1959) stated, “Perhaps the most fruitful distinction with which the sociological imagination works is between “the personal troubles of milieu” and “the public issues of social structure.”” When referring to the personal troubles, he means the small problems individuals face that are often seen to be blown out of proportion. Meanwhile, when he mentions the public issues, he is truly focusing on the larger problems within society, that individuals often neglect. By looking at Mill’s evidence as a whole, one can see that the sociological imagination is simply a way of thinking where one is conscious of their own life experiences and those of the other individuals within society. Now having this knowledge, one can determine whether Coontz has or does not have the sociological imagination.

Mill’s would agree that Coontz has the sociological imagination based on her observation of how history has affected teens and their families. For instance, Coontz said, “Another problem for parent-child relations is society’s expectation that teens abide by rules and habits that grown-ups have abandoned, and that parents ought to be able to make them do so.” Coontz was explaining that she understands from a child’s perspective that it is hard to live up to society’s standards when the rules are not being applied in the household by that parents. This also shows that she fully understands how history has changed the way society sees teens and the change in rules within households. Coontz followed her statement by explaining how different everything the rules are for teens now, then they were for their parents when they were children. She continues on this idea by saying that parents nowadays expect their children to play by the same rules as they had when they were young.

However, she explained that when society merely expects a child to understand and live by the old rules when they have grown up knowing the new ones, is pointless. To show that she has the sociological imagination, Coontz also stated, “Young people feel that adults are plying them with make-work or asking them to put their lives on hold as they mature.” This shows how Coontz understands the events taking place in the lives of others, then just her own. Not only does the content within Coontz’s article prove that she has the sociological imagination, but it also makes one curious if those lacking the sociological imagination would overlook her information.

Those lacking the sociological imagination would more than likely overlook her content. For instance, this type of individual would more than likely pass up her statement on the behaviors among teenagers that have led to more serious consequences as the behaviors become more of a hazard and risk. They would overlook this information because they would not be able to truly understand it without comparing the lives of these teenagers to their own. Not only that, but also being open to the change that may have occurred throughout the generations. In Coontz’s statement, “People talk about how kids today are unsupervised, and they are; but in one sense teens are under more surveillance than in the past,” one can see that those lacking the sociological imagination would not pay attention to the change that has occurred from generation to generation. Therefore, they do not understand why teens do not value the rules that were once highly valued. This is due to the fact that they had been forgotten as time went on and generations changed. When generations change, opportunities change. For example, Coontz stated, “Teens today have fewer opportunities than in the past for gradual initiation into productive activities, both at home and in public, and fewer places to demonstrate their autonomy in socially approved ways.” It would be extremely easy for a non-sociological imaginative person to disregard this statement, because they would automatically assume that teens have just as many or more opportunities than they had as teens. However, those with the sociological imagination, will only continue to understand the complications teens are facing within society today.

The true meaning of having a sociological imagination, aspects that lead Mill’s to believe that Coontz has the sociological imagination, and reason as to why Coontz’s work may or may not be overlooked by an individual lacking the sociological imagination, are all ways that truly give individuals a clear picture of the sociological imagination. The sociological imagination is what gives society the ability to understand and work together to better the world. Without the sociological imagination, the people within this world will only continue to focus on themselves and their problems that lie within.