Read The Sociological Imagination by C. Wright Mills Free Online
Book Title: The Sociological Imagination|
The author of the book: C. Wright Mills
ISBN 13: 9780195000221
Edition: Oxford University Press, USA
Date of issue: December 31st 1959
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 548 KB
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Reader ratings: 7.3
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I’ve been teaching a first year university subject to student teachers on the sociology of education – I hadn’t realised how much fun I would find the course. It is sort of an opportunity to talk about all of my favourite things. But in the first lesson I had to explain what sociology is and so I talked about the sociological imagination and felt a bit of a fraud, as I hadn’t actually read the book. So, now I have.
And it’s a wonderful book. Conveniently, Mills provides his own three-sentence summary – perhaps more authors should be so handy: “What are the social sciences all about? They ought to be about man and society and sometimes they are. They are attempts to help us understand biography and history, and the connections of the two in a variety of social structures.” pp. 31-2
This just needs a very little explanation. Sociology is generally defined as trying to work out where we sit on a particular spectrum. The two ends of that spectrum are not really positions that anyone sensible ever really holds. They are that we are entirely self-made or that we are completely the product of our environment. In Mills’ terms: we are either the product of our biography or of our history. In the West we like to place out bets closer to the self-made end of that spectrum. And we do that despite the evidence, rather than because of it.
But if social science is a science – and a lot of this book goes over that dead and sterile debate and so on, but in interesting ways at least – then we expect sciences to have both theories and methods. Mills doesn’t say ‘have no theories’ but rather that we shouldn’t trust grand theories that provide too many answers. Mills is more of a questions, than an answers sort of guy – best to be one of those if you possibly can – and so a lot of this book is devoted to looking at the kinds of questions sociology ought to ask and some of the ways that it might be worthwhile seeking out answers to those questions.
What I like most about him is he goes out of his way to be as clear as possible – something that academics and academic writing often tries to avoid as if on pain of death. He says that too much of sociology is three hundred page books that could comfortably have had everything important in them said in thirty pages. That this is also true of some of the research that is done – that is too grandiose and not at all clear about what it is seeking to answer (or why) and so stumbles and trips if never actually seeming to fall on its face - although a lot of it is so unclearly written that it could fall on its face and no one might notice.
The lessons here are to be clear about what it is you want to answer, lay traps for yourself so you don’t just end up echoing the obvious in ways no one can understand, avoid echoing The power, and learn the craft – that being good at the craft is the path to success in this science.
I really like sociology. I think there are too many things in life we take for granted – a similar idea to Socrates’ one of the unexamined life – and that there are relatively simple methods to ‘interrogate’ the world with that illuminate aspects of our world in surprising ways – particularly around the big three major themes of race, gender and class – themes that we just wouldn’t see otherwise.
The appendix On Intellectual Craftmanship, by the way, is worth the cover price of the book.
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Read information about the authorAmerican sociologist. Mills is best remembered for his 1959 book The Sociological Imagination in which he lays out a view of the proper relationship between biography and history, theory and method in sociological scholarship. He is also known for studying the structures of power and class in the U.S. in his book The Power Elite. Mills was concerned with the responsibilities of intellectuals in post-World War II society, and advocated public, political engagement over uninterested observation.
Mills died from a heart attack on March 20, 1962.
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