Sociological Imagination


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A slideshow on the basics of the sociological perspective.

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Sociological Imagination

  1. 1. The Sociological Imagination
  2. 2. Some basic ideas about theory <ul><li>It is a basic survival skill—our ability to survive in this world requires a story about the world and our place in it. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Why is that? Do we really need such a story? </li></ul></ul>
  3. 3. Origins of Theory <ul><li>Can be found throughout time and across the world, BUT… </li></ul><ul><li>As a distinct academic field, it originated in the Enlightenment period of European history. </li></ul><ul><li>In Europe, theorists raised questions about the loss of religious significance and about the switch from a feudal economy to industrialization. </li></ul><ul><li>Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, and Karl Marx are often seen as the 3 founders of sociology. </li></ul>
  4. 4. Origins of Theory <ul><li>In America, the major theoretical questions focused on democracy and on racial relations. </li></ul><ul><li>WEB DuBois is the most influential early American theorist, although there were other less-theoretical sociologists who preceded him. </li></ul>
  5. 5. Other Sources of Social Theory <ul><li>European colonial practices across the world gave rise to the field of Anthropology, another source of social theory, which attempted to understand diverse culture and to identify the tremendous variations in human experiences. </li></ul><ul><li>Other social theories appearing at this time included economics, political science, criminology, and psychology. </li></ul><ul><li>Today, additional fields that produce social theory include gender studies, African-American studies, Education, Geography, Urban Studies, Latin American Studies—even Literature and Art Scholars are engaged with questions of social theory. </li></ul>
  6. 6. Other Sources of Social Theory <ul><li>Historically, social theory has been treated as a field reserved to upper class white men in Europe and the USA. </li></ul><ul><li>However, folks who did not fit that description were also producing theory. Those who were denied access to the university recorded their theories in song (bluegrass, rap, jazz, folk), poetry (for instance, Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman”), political activism (the American Indian Movement, the Black Panthers), and art (such as the paintings of Romare Bearden). </li></ul>
  7. 7. Other Sources of Social Theory <ul><li>While access to the university is still unequal, there are many theorists from the past few decades of worldwide origins, different class backgrounds, different political ideologies, different races and ethnicities, and varying sexual or gender identities. </li></ul>
  8. 8. Goals <ul><li>The goal of our studies in this class is more than just to read theory. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>These theories have found a way to explain the world we live in. They found the words to say what many knew but could not explain. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>We want to translate their words into our own. </li></ul><ul><li>We want to learn how to use these words in order to improve our own live. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ How stunning is the achievement of those who have searched for and mined a shareable language for the words to say it” (Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark). </li></ul></ul>
  9. 9. The Sociological Imagination, C. Wright Mills <ul><li>Sociology offers a unique—perhaps even peculiar way of thinking about the world—a different way of explaining what happens in human life and a distinctive approach to solving human dilemmas. </li></ul><ul><li>We call this unique approach “The Sociological Imagination,” a term coined by C. Wright Mills in 1959. </li></ul>
  10. 10. According to Mills… <ul><li>“ The first fruit of this imagination - and the first lesson of the social science that embodies it - is the idea that the individual can understand his own experience and gauge his own fate only by locating himself within his period, that he can know his own chances in life only by becoming aware of those of all individuals in his circumstances. </li></ul><ul><li>In many ways it is a terrible lesson; in many ways a magnificent one. </li></ul><ul><li>We do not know the limits of humans capacities for supreme effort or willing degradation, for agony or glee, for pleasurable brutality or the sweetness of reason. </li></ul><ul><li>But in our time we have come to know that the limits of 'human nature' are frighteningly broad. </li></ul><ul><li>We have come to know that every individual lives, from one generation to the next, in some society; that he lives out a biography, and lives it out within some historical sequence. </li></ul><ul><li>By the fact of this living, he contributes, however minutely, to the shaping of this society and to the course of its history, even as he is made by society and by its historical push and shove.” </li></ul>
  11. 11. 3 Factors to Focus On <ul><li>“ (1) What is the structure of this particular society as a whole? What are its essential components, and how are they related to one another? How does it differ from other varieties of social order? Within it, what is the meaning of any particular feature for its continuance and for its change? </li></ul><ul><li>(2) Where does this society stand in human history? What are the mechanics by which it is changing? What is its place within and its meaning for the development of humanity as a whole? How does any particular feature we are examining affect, and how is it affected by, the historical period in which it moves? And this period - what are its essential features? How does it differ from other periods? What are its characteristic ways of history-making? </li></ul><ul><li>(3) What varieties of men and women now prevail in this society and in this period? And what varieties are coming to prevail? In what ways are they selected and formed, liberated and repressed, made sensitive and blunted? What kinds of `human nature' are revealed in the conduct and character we observe in this society in this period? And what is the meaning for 'human nature' of each and every feature of the society we are examining?” </li></ul>
  12. 12. In Sum <ul><li>Using Your Sociological Imagination Means… </li></ul><ul><li>Refusing to take any aspect of human life for granted </li></ul><ul><li>Making comparisons of the human experience across societies and across time </li></ul><ul><li>Asking whether human experiences vary by the kind of person in question—for instance, by race, ethnicity, age, gender, religion, disability status sexuality, political ideology... </li></ul><ul><li>Considering the possibility that social forces—institutions, norms, demographics, policies, rituals, groups, and interactions—might be at least partial causes of these human experiences </li></ul><ul><li>Always recognizing that humans are naturally social </li></ul>
  13. 13. Example 1: Where do you sit? 2 Tables in McDonald’s
  14. 14. Example 2: Walking Demonstration
  15. 15. Society as a Human Product <ul><li>What does it mean to say that society is a human product? </li></ul><ul><li>How do humans go about producing society? </li></ul><ul><li>What is habitualization? Is it a good thing? What are its consequences? </li></ul><ul><li>What are institutions and where do they come from? </li></ul>