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Mills' Sociological Imagination Questions

C. Wright Mills is one of the two American sociologists to have the greatest effect on my own sociological perspective. Although he certainly expressed for me new ideas, mostly he gave shape and form to ideas, feelings, and inklings I already had within me. The thrill of reading his words...knowing there was at least one other out there who "saw" the same things that I not a distant memory, but rather, a continuous reality within me. The Sociological Imagination, especially the first chapter...The Promise..., has been read and quoted by countless students and sociologists. It is a "must" read for anyone aspiring to develop a sociological perspective.

Unfortunately, Mills met an untimely death in the early 60's...long before he was able to accomplish all he had within him. But in addition to his classic work mentioned above, he did substantial work for us to still consider. The Power Elite is one such work...see the link to it below for further details. There's a full-length biography by Irving well as a compilation of his completed works and uncompleted projects. In short, Mills is a font of information and there has been no one like him in Sociology since his passing. I urge all serious students of sociology...not to mention those people who simply possess what he himself called a "sociological imagination" (whatever the field or interest they may be in or have) investigate his ideas.

Many of the ideas in The Sociological Imagination are quoted by others...many are incorporated within their perspectives. Although there are many statements in this book which caught my own attention, there is one small section which, above others, has been most meaningful. On pp. 6-7 Mills talks about three (3) questions that great thinkers from a variety of disciplines and even viewpoints have consistently asked in their investigations of humanity and society. While the answers given to them by thinkers have varied...especially in accuracy and/or completeness...Mills says these questions reflect their possession of a "sociological imagination." (the discipline name, as Mills points out, could be any...he was a sociologist and that's the term he he candidly pointed out) These three questions cover the full range of an integrated sociological perspective. Integrated here means from Macro to Micro and vice-versa...reflecting the interrelatedness of these seemingly opposite and contradictory levels of analysis. They were anything BUT for Mills, me, and numerous other sociological thinkers, although some would maintain that we should not "mix" these levels. These are the people Mills was critiquing in his book and this should be taken into consideration while trying to understand Mills' purposes and point of view.

To me, Mills' "Sociological Imagination Questions" represent an "agenda" for sociologists, students, and other interested people. I present them here to indicate the breadth and depth of a sociological imagination. Mills wrote them in paragraph form...but I have "outlined" them (changing not one word) to make his "agenda" more distinct.

Sociological Imagination Questions

1. What is the structure of this particular society as a whole?"

A. What are its essential components, and how are they related to one another?

B. How does it differ from other varieties of social order?

C. Within it, what is the meaning of any particular feature for its continuance and for its change?

2. Where does this society stand in human history?

A. What are the mechanics by which it is changing?

B. What is its place within and its meaning for the development of humanity as a whole?

C. How does any particular feature we are examining affect, and how is it affected by, the historical period in which it moves?

D. And this period...what are its essential features?

E. How does it differ from other periods?

F. What are its characteristic ways of history-making?

3. What varieties of men and women now prevail in this society and in this period?

A. And what varieties are coming to prevail?

B. In what ways are they selected and formed, liberated and repressed, made sensitive and blunted?

C. What kinds of "human nature" are revealed in the conduct and character we observe in this society in this period?

D. And what is the meaning for "human nature" of each and every feature of the society we are examining?

As said above, these questions can be and have been answered differently by a variety of people. Yet, they stake out the territory for investigation by any serious seeker.

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