Sociological Imagination C. Wright Mills


The term "sociological imagination," invented by C. Wright Mills (1959), is one of the most popular sociological terms ever coined.

Some thoughts on developing a "Sociological Imagination"

Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both. -- C.Wright Mills

The values of truth, reason and human agency are all fundamentals for developing a sociological imagination. --Tony Fitzgerald

The personal is historical, public and political. -- judy lombardi

Biography, Histories, Public Issues and Social Structures

Developing a sociological imagination entails reflecting on one’s own biography, while putting it in a historical context, from a varieity of domains.

A sociological Imagination requires one to engage in the study of one's biography, in the context of a history of traditions and social structures.

Increasing one's sociological imagination orients an observer's understanding of one's:

1) positions in society
2) relations
with "others"
3) responsibility
for social change

Increasing one's sociological imagination provokes movement away from blaming "others," toward understanding "others" (verstehen) and thus -- understanding understanding. For example, understanding unemployment as a public issue as well as personal trouble invites the observer to focus on social structures, their interrelations and dynamics.

The Bigger Picture - - Making what was opaqu -- transparent

"The sociological Imagination enables its possessor to understand the larger historical scene."

A sociological Imagination enables one to see individuals, social structures and society as an interconnected web of human living. It can help one examine his or her life chances, choices and provoke human agency.

Sociological Imagination requires a mind similar to that of a criminal fiction wrtier (p.2)

- individual must be viewed in context -- mileau and mileaux


Developing a sociological imagination invites an observer (anyone who lives immersed in languaging) to establish interconnections between personal troubles, public issues and the social structures that make up a society or any social system.



1. What are the current social structures that are interconnected to the issue at hand?

2. What are the mechanisms (means) by which social structures stay the same or change?

3. Who benefits and who doesn't benefit from the current social structures, their relations ans dynamics? Are there particular human groups or categories of people that tend to prevail more than others? Why? How does this relate to their access to privilege and thus life chances?

4. Where do I sit in relation to the current dominant culture?
What are my positions, statuses, roles in my milieu and milieux?

Do I desire a more equitable world? If so, what are the mechanisms for generating a more equitable society that I might initiate?

When accessing one's sociological imagination there is little, if any chance for acting without aw
areness of choice and responsibility. (cybernetics of cybernetics)


Related terms

public issues
social analysis
private troubles


System Thinking

Sociolgical Imagination Group

More on Sociological Imagination


Fitzgerald. Tony. "Imagining the social."
Elwell, Frank. "The Sociology of C. Wright Mills. Online.
Mills, C. Wright. The Sociological Imagination. Oxford Press. 1959
Sweet, A. Steven. College and Society: Introduction to the Sociological Imagination