The term “sociological imagination” was invented by the American sociologist C. Wright Mills in 1959. It illustrated the form of insight availed by the discipline of Sociology. The term is employed to elaborate on the nature of sociology, and its relevance within daily life. C. Wright Mills delineated Sociological imagination as the “dramatic awareness of the relationship between wider society and experience.” In his constant critique of social order, C. W. Wright Mills fosters the concept of the sociological imagination throughout his work. Mills perceived that sociologist intellectuals bear much to offer to the world and that the intellectuals did not undertake much to herald social change. Power comes out as a critical category that permeates Mills’ social thought, especially with regard to the mechanisms employed by elites within the political order, social and economic institutions. Mills highlighted three elites within American society; they include political, military, and economic.
What C. Wright Mills meant by Sociological Imagination
Sociological imagination entails the employment of imaginative thought via probing and answering of sociological questions. This emanates from the understanding that social outcomes are informed by social context (country and time period), actors (norms and motives), and social actions. Hence, some aspects within the society may yield to a certain outcome. According to Mills, the sociological imagination allows its possessor to comprehend the larger historical scene with regard to its meaning for its inner life and the external career of diverse individuals (Keen, 1999). It allows him to take into account the manner in which individuals, in the flurry of their daily experience, frequently become falsely conscious of their social positions.
Sociological imagination can be regarded as one of the most fruitful forms of self-consciousness to shift from one perspective to another. A sociological imagination enables individuals to view the essential relationship between personal troubles that affect an individual, for example an alcoholic, and the social issue that mirror a problem for the whole society, such as alcoholism. This is a critical component of sociology given that it allows individuals to perceive the general in the particular (Keen, 1999). In his discussion of sociological imagination, Mills highlights that the attainment of the tradition is based on the creation of models of society that enlighten the impact of social change on individuals and their possibility for response (Brinkerhoff, 2008).
C. Wright Mills expectation on the Promise
C. Wright Mill was attempting to fire sociologists to allow them utilize their imaginations and make the crucial leap of bridging the day-to-day life that individuals take for granted with the wider world and structures and cultural values (Kornblum & Smith, 2011). As such, he noted that sociologists should be aware of the social structures given that they would be well-placed in comprehending the connections between the social structures and the individuals lived experiences. Mills advocates that individuals need to stretch their minds and questions the cultural aspects of their life, rather than take things for granted. The capability of asking a good question is both an art and a science. Sociology can be compared to gold mining whereby individuals have to dig around in history pursuing just why, presently, majority of individuals are still poor, or the reasons of why certain groups predisposed to be marginalized, and of feeling estranged from the society (Mills, 1959).
Unlocking the enormous promise of social science requires understanding and enhancing the meaning of cultural life within the social sciences and demands consistently asking a number of questions. Such questions include; what is the structure of the society as a whole? What are the critical components and how are they interrelated? Where does this society stand with regard to human history and what are the mechanics by which it is changing? Mills saw considerable promise sociological imagination in understanding and enhancing the meaning of cultural life in the social sciences (Mills, 1959). One of outcomes of sociological imagination and the initial lesson of the social science that accompanies it details the notion that individuals can comprehend their own experience (Kornblum & Smith, 2011).
How C. Wright Mills view of sociological Mills’ Theory of the Power Elite
In The Power Elite, Mills outlined his belief that the American doctrine of balances of power entails an ideal that manifested less vigorous contemporary society compared to the past. Mills asserts that there is power elite within contemporary societies and an elite who controls the resources of vast bureaucratic organizations that dominate the industrial societies (Fuller, 2006). The masses are essentially economically dependent and remain economically and politically exploited. According to Mills, the power elite within contemporary society command the resources of immense bureaucratic organizations that have dominated industrial societies (Mills, 2000). As bureaucracies have become centralized and broadened, the circle of persons who run these organizations have narrowed and the results of their decisions have become immense.
The institutions (government, military, and corporations) persistently become larger, increasingly powerful and highly centralized, especially in the arena of decision-making. The resultant hierarchies of power are central to the understanding of contemporary industrial societies, and the hierarchies shape the basis of power, prestige, and wealth. According to Mills (2000), significant national power presently resides almost exclusively within the economic, military, and political domains. The power elite draws attention to the interconnected interests of the military, the political elements of the society, and the corporate world and suggests that the ordinary citizens are comparatively powerless subject to manipulation by those entities.
Mills explores the historical structural trends that yielded the rise of the power elite as incorporating a concentration of economic power and the cultural apparatus within the hands of a few, the rise of a dominant war economy within the U.S., and the rise of a bureaucratically standardized and conditioned (controlled) mass society, plus the political vacuum filled by the military and economic elites (Rose, 1964). Based on the interchangeability of the top positions within the three institutions, the constituents of the power elite establish class consciousness and a community of interests shaped by a militarized culture. Mills saw the three as sharing a common worldview of class identity, have interchangeability, co-optation, and military metaphysic i.e. military viewpoint of reality).
How C. Wright Mills critique of Talcott Parsons’ Grand Theory
In the book, The Social System, Parson outlines the nature of the structure of society and the establishment of a culture via the socialization of individuals. Mills criticizes this approach in sociology on a number of grounds by rooting for a more heterogeneous form of society and by challenging the level to which a solitary uniformity of society is possible. The author criticized the Parsonian development of social order, especially the notion that social order can be viewed as a whole. He also argued that individuals cannot fully integrated within the society, and internalize all of its cultural forms. Moreover, such domination can be viewed as a further extension of power and social stratification (Kendall, 2012).
Mills introduced the term “grand theory” to criticize the dominant sociological perspective, especially with regard to functionalism that Talcott Parsons had established which he highlighted that it was rarely based on reality. Talcott Parsons theoretical system detailed an analysis of the society based on a structural-functional approach whereby each group or society appears to fulfill functional imperatives, which include adaptation, goal attainment, latency, and integration (Narayan, 2008). In his critique of the grand theory, Mills asserted that the theory was not grounded on fact, but rather embodied the product of sociologists trying to enforce their will and interpretation on data.
C. Wright Mills’ sociological imagination critique of the grand theory featured that the grand theory was overly abstract in nature. Mills argued that the theory was established in a way that fails to fit with the actual manner within society (Kendall, 2012). Most importantly, Mills criticized functionalism based on its untested belief with regard to the level at which individuals internalized their socialization (Keen, 1999).
Mills questioned the untested belief in the functional aspect of “what is” that distracted Parsons away from a critical examination of the challenges of power structures. Talcott Parsons’ grand theory assumed that if power structures were present within the U.S., they must be functional and consequently essential. Mills opposed this central assumption suggested by Parsons and instead highlighted the ways in which the powerful, and the system of inequality that reinforces them, generate stresses for the bulk of citizens. Moreover, Mills asserted that Parsons derived conclusions on all societies based on his discussion of his own society (Narayan, 2008). Hence, this grand theory that can be employed to all societies was invalid. Mills always highlighted that history i.e. differentials between societies were at the heart of sociological research, and highlighted conflict and contradiction, as well as the necessity to research extensively on the historical ways in the wider social structures and the variety of cultural values are constantly changing today.
C. W. Wright Mills placed himself outside the mainstream of the American social comment and was always critical of what passed for contemporary sociology. Mills believed that knowledge could herald change and the good society. Although C.W. Wright Mills used to be a controversial figure, he rendered a unique contribution towards American sociological theory within the arena of class, social structure, and power. Mills made a significant contribution in three core areas; these included his fusion of American pragmatism and European sociology that contributed to innovative work in sociology of knowledge and his substantial collection of studies mirrored an understanding of American society, as well as its place within the world affairs.