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Critical Analysis of the Approach of Sociological Imagination Proposed by C. Wright Mills

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In our daily life, troubles always occur, many people always trapped by an abundant problem. But we do not seem to be aware of how others are feeling of being trapped. In the reading ‘Sociological Imagination’ by C. Wright Mills, it introduces what sociological imagination is and how personal trouble is related to the whole society.

In the reading, C. Wright Mills mentions that sociological imagination is a way to engage the world. By using this approach, people need to think sociologically and to relate private troubles to public issues or seeing the general in the particular. It is said that ordinary men do not usually realize that they are having a close connection with the society. People used to relate their circumstances with their own business like their personality, their background. Apart from demonstrating the relationship between society and human beings, the benefits of using sociological imagination are posed. C. wright Mills claims that ‘The sociological imagination enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society’, by grabbing the relevance between individuals and society, people are enabled to understand the larger historical scene, changing the individuals’ uneasiness towards obvious troubles and the indifference of public, to the involvement with public issues. As a result, people can not only change their own life but also change the process of history and society. Moreover, the reading has shown how the lives of individuals are being shaped and reshaped by broader social change. There are 4 examples in unemployment, marriage, war and metropolis 4 areas given in the reading, to support the idea. The reading encourages us to think ‘out of box’, to see different problems from different perspectives, to link the private troubles with a great variety of milieux, as well as the social structure.

After reading the ‘Sociological Imagination’, I understand that we can see our society in our everyday lives. This approach is also applicable in Hong Kong, and I would like to illustrate an example of it, which is the problem of elderly poverty.

I have observed that there is a granny whose outfit is worn-out, always come to my parents’ store with a trolley. She is not a customer who will buy something but is a collector who ask for waste boxes, newspapers, and other scrap. No matter when, weekdays or weekends, I can see her trace. But why she has to do this? She may earn a few dollars, or a maximum of $40-$60 a day by selling cardboard boxes to recyclers. This ‘job’ is not only exhausting but also time-consuming, they need to collect so many cardboard as these materials are not very valuable, about $2/kg.

One elderly collecting cardboard to earn money is his/her personal trouble, s/he is so poor that s/he has to do this to make a living. However, it is not the only case in Hong Kong. We can see that the problem of elderly poverty exists in Hong Kong.

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In Hong Kong, 1.39 million people are living the poverty line (Government of the Hong Kong Special Administration Region, Hong Kong Poverty Situation Report, 2017) and one out of the three elderly Hongkongers aging 65 years old or above is living in poverty (Ngo, 2015). According to the official figures (HKSAR, Hong Kong Poverty Situation Report, 2017), the poverty rate of elders aged 65 or above is 44.4% (495000), even though there is intervention made by the government, the poverty rate is still very high, about 30.5% while the poverty line is set at a monthly income of $3800.The reasons behind this social phenomenon are mainly the less job opportunity to the elderly, the change of family structure and insufficient support by the government.

Elderly poverty problem aroused by the lack of job opportunities for the old people. Elders are to some extent being discriminated against in the job market. Many employers, especially in the private sector, refuse the elderly’s application by using the excuse that the retirement age is 60 ('Hong Kong's job market has no room for the elderly', 2018). Having the stereotype that the generation gap may affect the office’s harmony and lower the efficiency, may lower the possibility of the elderly being hired even though some of them are talented. Besides the stereotype, the higher the labor insurance may hold the employers back from hiring the seniors because the more responsibility employers need to bear, the more unwillingness they have towards hiring the elderly. Moreover, the limited job opportunities provided to the elders are mostly with low payment, which may not ease the problem of poverty.

For the change of family structure in society, it relates to the problem as well. The formation of the society has been changed from a larger scale of family to a nuclear family because of different factors in the society. This structure leads to many people having one to two children, or even no kids, and worsens the problem of elderly poverty as well. The elderly may not have someone to take care of them, or their lives may not be fully supported by their child because their child may not be able to bear the sole financial burden on their own.

Last but not least, the lack of government support. As Hong Kong is a liberal city, it has a free market and the tax rate imposed by the government is not high, at a maximum of 15% ('GovHK: Tax Rates of Salaries Tax & Personal Assessment', 2019). Thus, there is limited welfare provided by the government. Take ‘fruit money’, the Old Age Allowance as an example, the elders are given a monthly payment of $2600 (HKSAR, 'Social Security'), however, this subsidy helps a little and it is not enough for the elderly to ‘survive’.

By applying the approach of sociological imagination, we can see that an elderly being poor may not be his/her personal trouble, it can be related to society. Because of different social factors, the problem of elderly poverty occurs and many senior people have difficulties in maintaining daily life. Thus, in solving or easing the problem, we can not just consider the personal situation, we should consider the structure of a society as well. After reading ‘Sociological Imagination’, I realized that private troubles and public issues can have a tight relation. By using sociological imagination in the daily life, I can be more aware of the relationship between personal experience and the wider society, to face my own trouble and the public issue in a new way other thinking individually. In my opinion, lack of sociological imagination can make one indifferent, however, with this approach, people can make decision with self-awareness, but not being dominated by the social norms. Sociological imagination can make one more considerate too, as it helps one to be more sensitive towards different issues, to think deeply in different things, not just ‘judging a book by its cover’.

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Critical Analysis of the Approach of Sociological Imagination Proposed by C. Wright Mills. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 1, 2023, from
“Critical Analysis of the Approach of Sociological Imagination Proposed by C. Wright Mills.” Edubirdie, 14 Jul. 2022,
Critical Analysis of the Approach of Sociological Imagination Proposed by C. Wright Mills. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 1 Dec. 2023].
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