Friday, March 4, 2011

The Sociological Imagination

Recently it was presented to me a way of perceiving things that I had not previously thought of doing so. The idea of having a 'sociological imagination' as conceived by the American sociologist C. Wright Mills, is a fundamentally simple, yet largely unrecognised system of societal perception (outside of sociological circles obviously). It challenges us to 'dispel assumptions and visualise the operation of the social world more clearly'.

What this 'imagination' gives us, is an ability to perceive the connectivity between our own personal troubles, and the social structures that are anchored in modernity and the institutionally-based world in which we live. It is these societal structures (and authority/power structures) which make many (seemingly trivial, uninteresting) social processes take place, and often repeat themselves.

An example that was given was the simple act of going to the toilet. As we are today, going to the bathroom has become somewhat a ritual. Think about it. We are separated into male/female, we are then further divided into our own personal spaces, and we do our thing. It has reached the point where our natural bodily functions are now being socially managed and ordered to the extent where we can even observe the interpolation of gender divisions, which once simply did not exist.

Through this example we can see how this sociological imagination lets us see just how closely our everyday actions are being directed and ordered in a certain way, and how social events are closely associated with the development and dynamic nature of social relations and structures. You may know by now that society is heading in the direction of individualization. What you may not know however is that this isn't 'just happening'. The sociological imagination allows us to see that societal elites and authorities have an interest in cultivating citizens to think autobiographically and be absorbed by their own personal situations, for the obvious reasons as to prevent individuals from being able to pose a direct challenge to those in a position of power.

Perhaps the most interesting (if a little dim) demonstration of this is Emile Durkheim's 19th century sociological analysis of suicide. Durkheim analysed suicide and the association between the nature of suicide and social relations. By doing so he demonstrated that suicide rates (and many other social events) were strongly influenced by social forces. I strongly recommend looking at his typology of suicide if you get a chance.

I'll leave you with this quote:

"You have known for a long time that you live in a society. Yet until now you may not have fully appreciated that society also lives in you" (Furze et al., 2008: 6)

Any thoughts on the idea, leave a comment and let me know what you think. Feedback is always appreciated and I hope to see you soon.