The Sociological Perspective

“We need to cultivate the imagination,
for those who lack an imagination
cannot know what is lacking.”
-Vijay Prashad
Let us imagine a traffic jam…
So what is Sociology?
Systematic study of human societies.
“Sociologists question
what most others
take for granted
about society.”
-Dalton Conley
Why is Sociology important?
Sociological thinking can help us
better understand society, how
we fit into it, how it shapes us,
and how we can change it.
Sociological thinking
—developing a sociological imagination—
is super powerful,
in my opinion.
Let us start
with an easy question:
Why are you here?
“Thinking like a sociologist means
making the familiar strange.”
-Dalton Conley
Sociology won’t
give you all the answers.
But it will
help you ask the
right questions.
C. Wright Mills
The Sociological Imagination
Reading is not about
perfect understanding;
reading is about learning.
How Are We Going To Do This?
• You may read alone or with a partner
• Please do all of the following:
– Read the entire text for our seminar discussion on
– Annotate the entire text (what does “annotate” mean?)
– Write a 1-paragraph summary in your notebook of the
entire text
– Write at least 3 discussion questions in your notebook
for our seminar on Monday
– Answer the following questions in your notebook: How
does C. Wright Mills define a Sociological Imagination?
What does he mean by that?
• This must all be completed prior to Monday’s
seminar. I will not accept any of this late, as it is
important to be prepared for our discussion.
The Sociological Imagination
How does C. Wright Mills define a
Sociological Imagination?
• Milieu or Milieux
–Cultural surroundings or
cultural context
“Neither the life of an individual
nor the history of society
can be understood
without understanding both.”
“The Sociological Imagination” defined:
• “A quality of mind that will help
[people] use information and
develop reason in order to achieve
lucid summations of what is going on
in the world and what may be
happening within themselves.”
“The first fruit of this imagination…is
the idea that the individual can
understand [their] own experience
and gauge [their] own fate only by
locating [themselves] within [their]
period, that [they] can know [their]
own chances in life only by
becoming aware of those of all
individuals in [their] circumstance.”
“In many ways it is a terrible lesson;
in many ways a magnificent one.”
“By the fact of [your] living [you
contribute], however minutely, to
the shaping of this society and to
the course of its history, even as
[you are] made by society and by its
historical push and shove.”
Intersection of Biography and History
“The sociological imagination enables us to
grasp history and biography and the relations
between the two within society.
That is its task and its promise.”
Personal Troubles vs. Public Issues
Personal Trouble
Public Issue?
Smoking Related Deaths in the US
• More deaths are caused each year by tobacco
use than by all deaths from HIV, illegal drug
use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries,
suicides, and murders combined.
• 300,000 to over 400,000 deaths annually
(including deaths from secondhand smoke).
• 49,400 deaths per year from secondhand
smoke exposure
Smoking Related Deaths in the US
• Based on current cigarette smoking patterns,
an estimated 25 million Americans who are
alive today will die prematurely from smokingrelated illnesses, including 5 million people
younger than 18 years of age.
– Data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Personal trouble or public issue?
Alright, let us move on.
“The first wisdom of sociology is this:
things are not what they seem.”
-Peter Berger, 1963
Sociology has been called,
the great myth de-bunking
But thinking sociologically
ain’t always easy.
What might be some obstacles to
developing a sociological imagination?
• Cultural values of individualism and free will
• Desire for certain rather than probable answers
• Social processes are dynamic, not static
• Commitment to “common sense”
• Critical nature of the discipline
What might be some benefits of the
sociological perspective?
• Humanizing effects
– Fosters appreciation for diversity and broadens
personal views
• Liberating
– Empowers people to recognize their role in making
– Helps overcome “bad faith”
• Bad Faith = the belief that you have no freedom—when
people argue they don’t have a choice but to follow unjust
rules or do their job
• Our choices may not be without consequences, but we do
have choices (even if they are limited)
• With liberation come responsibility
What might be some benefits of the
sociological perspective?
• Helps us understand obstacles to solving social
• Inoculates us against simple explanations of
complex issues
Anyone who gives you a
simple solution for a
complex problem is either
ignorant or lying.
Remember this.

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