Sociology since its inception has puzzled over how we are connected to each other in the world. These relationships shape not only how our individual lives unfold but also how we come to understand them. This blog aims to assist you in developing a sociological imagination that will provide you with an informed understanding of the social aspects of your life. A sociological imagination is the capacity to think systematically about how many things we experience as personal problems—for example, debt from student loans, competing demands from divorced parents, or an inability to form a rewarding romantic relationship at college—are really social issues that are widely shared by others born in a similar time and social location as us.
The sociologist C. Wright Mills (1916–1962), who coined the term in 1959, wrote that “the sociological imagination enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society” (Mills 1959:6) To understand the world around us, and to begin to think in a deep way about how to improve it, is to recognize the extent to which our individual lives are strongly shaped by where, when, and to whom we were born and the range of experiences we have as a child, an adolescent, and later as an adult.
At each stage, we are both individuals and are members of a social world. Our opportunities and potentials are always influenced by the inequalities and injustices we encounter, but understanding these requires that we think about them sociologically. In short, the sociological imagination helps us to ask hard questions and seek answers about the social worlds we inhabit.