May 12, 2014

Putting Your Sociological Imagination to Work

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Once you develop your sociological imagination, what can you do with it?

If you do not take more classes in sociology or get an actual sociology degree, you can still make use of your sociological education. What is this sociological imagination we keep mentioning on this blog? Based on C. Wright Mills’ book by the same name, it is the ability to see the world both as an individual living a unique life but also to see the larger social dynamics that shape our experiences, opportunities, and social realities.

When you take even one sociology class, you start to develop this amazing ability to see the connection between personal troubles and public issues, between individuals’ lived experiences and society’s structural constraints. This skill is useful for any major, any occupational goal, and even in everyday life.

Once you’ve written a paper or two (or three) using a sociological perspective, you’ve developed the ability to identify structures that are typically invisible to most of us. This brings you crucial skills that can be applied not only to academic pursuits but also to what you do in the marketplace.

Developing the ability to use the scientific method to do research, analyze and write about some event gives us the power of context and a wide perspective that helps us to better understand what is going on. Thinking critically about society gives us insight into why people do what they do. We don’t take conclusions at face value and we search for clearer and better data or information about the topics that interest us.

Once we realize that our own culture is but one of many, and we begin to practice cultural relativism, rather than ethnocentrism, we have a more global perspective. This affords us the wide view, over time and place, to appreciate different histories and mutable characteristics. Coupled with the ability to be nonjudgmental about those cultures and their practices, a more global view helps us see our own culture with different eyes. All of this, in turn, affords us the ability to avoid stereotyping and over-generalizing about people or societies.

We can then potentially be more effective at social interactions and at work. As we try to demonstrate in this blog, sociology helps us see the world a bit more clearly. We can not only understand what is what, but also apply this information, to effectively address the problems we identify through this process.

The application of your sociological imagination can enrich your life as you navigate the choices, opportunities, and barriers that we all encounter. It can explain why there might be so many opportunities or barriers in your path. Privilege, or the lack thereof, certainly makes for an easier ride or for a bumpier walk. Once you are able to identify that something like privilege can affect the kind of path you’re on, you may then be able to deal more effectively with what’s in front of you, or at least understand better what’s going on.

Sociological imaginations also come in handy at work, no matter that work entails. If you understand people and how groups work, then you can handle issues at work more effectively. You could design your work more efficiently to use those group dynamics, avoid problematic group issues, or, at the very least, to see more clearly how to navigate the group and get the work done.

Since a democracy depends on an educated and engaged population, using your sociological imagination can also keep our communities and system of government strong and viable. Use your ability to see the world with a sociological eye and imagination. We will all be the better for it.

What topics, concepts, or theories that you have learned in your sociology classes have or could be useful for understanding what’s going on around you? Have you already been using your sociological imagination? If so, tell us about it!


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In my sociology class, what I have learned that could be useful for understanding what's going on around me, is knowing how the history and biographies are important to the sociological perspective.

Great info thanks

In my sociology class, what I have learned that could be useful for understanding whats going on around me is that most of what we aught to believe as private problems, may have been caused by or occur within a specific cultural and historical context.

In my Sociology class, I can now determine that the personal troubles and public issues both are applied to sociology. Which gives me more of an understanding of what I am trying to look for when analyzing what social circumstances this person has to act out or behave this way.

When you start thinking sociologically, you see the world in a whole new light. It's like wearing glasses that let you see the bigger picture, not just your own little bubble. You understand how society shapes us and how we shape society back. It's not just about memorizing facts, it's about understanding why things are the way they are and how we can make them better.

After the first week of my sociological class I have found useful to acknowledge the fact that history has effects on individuals and if people can not grasp the role contemporary history has on them they will begin to blame themselves for certain issues that are not their fault. I have used my sociological imagination to consider how history and outside factors (social forces) have effected certain people like those living in poverty and even those who have been wrongfully convicted.

what I learned that could be useful to understand what's going on around me is that our problems aren't private matters, but also public matters and this may have been caused by or occurred within a specific cultural and historical context. For example, I'm in credit card debt not for the wrong reasons but to provide food and a roof over my family. I know that this isn't the case just for me, but for everyone who isn't making enough to provide for their family due to inflation. The cost of living is rising and wages are decreasing.

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