Sociological imagination is the context that shapes the decision-making of an individual person and others. This can be transformative as it shows the effects of individuals' decisions on society due to the problems they have faced. Both Mills (1959) and Plummer (2012) talk about sociological imagination in their work while others also mention this concept to develop their ideas further.
Both Mills and Plummer talk about being stuck in the world. Mills claims that people's ‘private lives are a series of traps’ (Mills,1959,p3) as they have limited actions that can change their lives such as job and location which suggests people's individual lives cause little change in society. However, he also argues that ‘neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both’ (Mills,1959,p3) this suggests that sociological imagination has an importance as individuals' reactions to events in their lives affects the history of society. This implies that social change influences people's lives but at the same time their reactions to this change also have influence such as the effect of revolutions, however, Mills also claims that people are unaware of the ‘connection between the patterns of their own lives and the course of world history’ (Mills,1959,p4). Plummer claims that people are ‘born into a world we never ever made, the past becomes our prison from the moment we are born, even as we struggle to change it for ourselves and the next generation’ (Plummer,2012,p3). This implies that people are trapped in the world created by people who came before them, trying to change it for the people who follow, suggesting that people do not know the effect they have on the future due to everyone having their own struggles and the ‘complexities of our lives’ (Plummer,2012,p4).
Sociological imagination can possess many outcomes in people's lives depending on their values. It can help people understand their own lives, understand how wider historic factors affect their individual lives, or can make people aware of their social position and the inequalities they face due to factors such as class and gender. The idea that sociological imagination reveals people's social position makes them more conscious of the misfortunes they face therefore, this makes sociological imagination transformative as it may drive people to change their situation for the better. This links to the ideas of Mills as he claims ‘the personal uneasiness of individuals is focused upon explicit troubles and the indifference of the public is transformed into involvement with public issues’ (Mills,1959,p5). This is transformative as it can be linked to events in history, such as the revolutions in Russia and China due to social class which lead to the rise of communism or civil rights movements resulting in a higher level of equality, as sociological imagination has resulted in people realizing that their problems are actually a public issue in society, therefore, try to change them to improve their lives as they see it as a big enough problem to act against so the future generations are not trapped in the same social position.
Plummer argues that the world has become more complex which makes it harder to possess sociological imagination, however; the effect of it is still strong as it needs to be as the social issues get bigger claiming that as technology has improved 'we have to worry that we have degraded our environment catastrophically' (Plummer,2012,p3). This shows that the effect of sociological imagination does not always lead to positive changes such as environmental damage, exploitation, and genocides. This shows how sociological imagination is transformative and impacts history but does not always lead to positive changes in society.
In conclusion, if people possess sociological imagination it can lead to great social change, affecting and changing our history. However, not everyone possesses this sociological imagination in strong another way to do this as most people are trapped in ‘the private orbits in which they live’ (Mills,1959,p3) therefore having little impact on society as they are trapped in their personal lives such as their family, friends, and career. However, if people look beyond their personal troubles due to self-consciousness, allowing a change in their way of thinking, therefore, they can see the bigger issues and therefore cause a change in the world. This shows that if the right people possess sociological imagination that change could happen within the world either positively or negatively depending on who possesses it.
- Book: Mills. C. W (1959), The sociological imagination, Chapter one: the promise
- Plummer. K, (2012), a manifesto for a critical humanism in sociology.