By no stretch of the (sociological) imagination

READING: The Promise, C. Wright Mills

The main point C. Wright Mills makes by promoting the concept of the sociological imagination is that everything exists within a context of time and space. The ability to step outside of your own experiences and view that of others based on their own contextual circumstances is what draws you to be able to use your sociological imagination to think outside of your own life. It’s almost like the really played out saying that “you can’t understand someone until you walk a mile in their shoes.” Well, in this case, Mills would argue that this is metaphorically true, and that you can’t understand someone until you adopt a sociological imagination to comprehend other perspectives.

This also reminds me of what someone said to me recently. This past March I was a site leader for an Alternative Spring Break trip volunteering at a children’s shelter in Greenville, SC. The head cook at the residence said that everyone is the same; we’re all just in different circumstances. I think Mills would generally agree with this in the position that it’s the experiences that shape us as individuals, and to understand that it’s institutions and interactions that bring us to behave the way we to is imperative.

I’ve recently become more aware of just how privileged I am to be born in the place and at the time I did. As both a racial minority and a woman, my life would be entirely different was I born even a few decades ago. I was also born to educated parents with steady incomes. Granted growing up with my cultural background in a Midwestern town hasn’t been the greatest, it’s not impossible to get by, and although both racial and gender inequality are things to be worked on, I realize that the point in history and society in which I exist has given me boundless opportunities that wouldn’t have been possible in the past. Thinking about the transience of social development gives me hope that it will continue to get better.

The sections about personal vs. public issues reminded me of lessons I learned in my previous sociology class discussing the sociology of gender. I personally identify as a feminist, so this point holds especially true in the matters of double standards, gender pay gaps, under representation in the government and overall the views of women in society today. For example, it is one thing for a single woman to be struggling financially as a postgraduate because she is unable to find a job.  However, it’s obviously something larger when the majority of women are on average paid 25 cents less for every dollar that a man makes. It may be one woman’s disappointment that she wasn’t named a finalist for the American Society of Magazine Editors’ National Magazine Awards, but it gives way to institutional problems when, in fact, no other women were nominated for the year either, or even the past two or three. Chelsea Manning might be facing gender identity disorder as an individual, but she is only one of thousands dealing with the issue and the way society views gender and what constitutes as a “disorder” must be evaluated on an institutional level.

When individual values are threatened, people are said to be in a state of crisis. They deal with their personal issues singularly. Societies at large with threatened values upgrades to a panic. The collective is at stake, and the manner of dealing with such conflict may or may not cause a unification of community, as we discussed in class. However, when the society does face panic, perhaps it is those instances that bring about the most social change. The Civil Rights movement and waves of feminism are testaments to this.

What is thought of as deviant can be prescribed on both an individual or community level. Generally, it is the values established by the institutional collective that has the most bearing. As we move throughout this course, it will be important to keep in mind that deviance is tied to social normalcy, which in and of itself means constant change as humans evolve and use their sociological imaginations to challenge old ideas.


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