What is C. Wright Mills' Sociological Imagination?

C. Wright Mills
The Sociological Imagination is a book and theory developed by contemporary sociologist C. Wright Mills.

In this theory, Mills explains that to truly understand society and a person's situation, we must not just look at the social issue from an everyday viewpoint. We must use some creativity and imagination by trying to understand the person's story and the society that they were brought up in (or how the social institutions they were involved with affected them).

He says, “Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both.”

When I was younger, and I'm sure many of you can relate to this, I would tend to not zip up my jacket to look cool in front of other kids, even though I would freeze my ass off. My dad often noticed this, and to scare me into zipping up my jacket in the breezy winters of Canada, he would say how much I resembled a stereotypical drunk Native person.

"Oh, you look like a homeless Indian when you don't zip your jacket up," my dad would say.

And you know what? His tactics worked. If it was cold out, I would zip up my jacket. But by keeping me warm, he also embedded a negative connotation about First Nations into my head. And though he didn't believe what he said himself, I believed him.

I spent years thinking that all Aboriginal people were homeless drunks (and the images of such on T.V. and the streets weren't helping at all) because they were trying to be cool or are lazy. Obviously, I don't believe this anymore. 

But what I am trying to get at is that this belief, where First Nations are are homeless because they are lazy drunks, is a stereotypical, common image that many close-minded people use. But if you were to use Mills' sociological imagination, you would understand that there are many factors as to why First Nations are in the situations that they are in (and there are many reasons).

This is just a simple example. The sociological imagination is very powerful and can be used to analyze groups of people and societies by looking at the history of the society, the biography of the group or individual, and the social structure of the society (these are the three components of this theory).

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