attached is the essay I wrote and the resource I used for it. What I need is to add on my essay is to clarify the sociological imagination because mine is so abstract. and use other sources to support the essay, I need you to focus on supporting the examples I provided in the section,””Solving Personal Trouble and Public Problems” which is the historical issue that African American had, and come up with a personal trouble using another source.Also in the essay explain how the Sociological Imagination brings a different angel and resolution to the issue. Use at least two resources.
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The Promise of the Sociological Imagination
By C. Wright Mills
C. Wright Mills will likely prove to be the most influential American sociologist of the
twentieth century. He was an outsider to the sociology profession of his time, but he was a
powerful scholar with a brilliant sociological imagination — a term he invented. The following
excerpt is from the beginning of his classic book “The Sociological Imagination”
His opening section argues that people nowadays experience their lives as traps that they
feel they cannot overcome. He then offers his solution: ways of seeing the world around us that
can help us to make wiser, saner and more effective choices in our lives — as individuals and
through our governments. The sociologically imagination, says Mills, insists on understanding
people in terms of the intersection of their own lives (their biographies) and their larger social
and historical context (in history).
The final section discusses the difference between “private troubles” and “public issues”
or “social problems.” Mills points out that there are many forms of private troubles, but that
some of them also affect many other people — they have structural or large-scale sociological
causes. These personal troubles that are also social issues include poverty, unemployment,
many schools in New York and other cities, air and water pollution, war, racism, teenage
pregnancy, abortion, drug policy and many other topics in the news and that we have been
discussing this semester.
Nowadays men and women often feel that their private lives are a series of traps. They
sense that within their everyday worlds, they cannot overcome their troubles, and in this feeling,
they are often quite correct: What ordinary people are directly aware of and what they try to do
are bounded by the private orbits in which they live; their visions and their powers are limited to
the close-up scenes of job, family, neighborhood; in other mile , they move vicariously and
remain spectators. And the more aware they become, however vaguely, of ambitions and of
threats which transcend their immediate locales, the more trapped they seem to feel.
Underlying this sense of being trapped are seemingly impersonal changes in the very
structure of continent-wide societies. The facts of contemporary history are also facts about the
success and the failure of individual men and women. When a society is industrialized, a peasant
becomes a worker; a feudal lord is liquidated or becomes a businessman. When classes rise or
fall, a man is employed or unemployed; when the rate of investment goes up or down, a man
takes new heart or goes broke. When wars happen, an insurance salesman becomes a rocket
launcher; a store clerk, a radar man; a wife lives alone; a child grows up without a father.
Sociological Imagination Sociology101
Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without
Yet men and women do not usually define the troubles they endure in terms of historical
change and institutional contradiction. The well-being they enjoy, they do not usually impute to
the big ups and downs of the societies in which they live. Seldom aware of the intricate
connection between the patterns of their own lives and the course of world history, ordinary
people do not usually know what this connection means for the kinds of people they are
becoming and for the kinds of history-making in which they might take part. They do not
possess the quality of mind essential to grasp the interplay of man and society, of biography and
history, of self and world. They cannot cope with their personal troubles in such ways as to
control the structural transformations that usually lie behind them.
Surely it is no wonder. In what period have so many people have been so totally exposed
at so fast a pace to such earthquakes of change? That Americans have not known such
catastrophic changes as have the men and women of other societies is due to historical facts that
are now quickly becoming “merely history.” The history that now affects every man is world
history. Within this scene and this period, in the course of a single generation, one sixth of
mankind is transformed from all that is feudal and backward into all that is modern, advanced,
and fearful. Political colonies are freed; new and less visible forms of imperialism installed.
Revolutions occur; people feel the intimate grip of new kinds of authority. Totalitarian societies
rise, and are smashed to bits — or succeed fabulously. After two centuries of ascendancy,
capitalism is shown up as only one way to make society into an industrial apparatus. After two
centuries of hope, even formal democracy is restricted to a quite small portion of mankind.
Everywhere in the underdeveloped world, ancient ways of life are broken up and vague
expectations become urgent demands. Everywhere in the overdeveloped world, the means of
authority and of violence become total in scope and bureaucratic in form. Humanity itself now
lies before us, the super-nation at either pole concentrating its most co-ordinated and massive
efforts upon the preparation of World War Three.
The very shaping of history now outpaces the ability of men and women to orient
themselves in accordance with cherished values. And which values? Even when they do not
panic, people often sense that older ways of feeling and thinking have collapsed and that newer
beginnings are ambiguous to the point of moral stasis. Is it any wonder that ordinary men and
women feel they cannot cope with the larger worlds with which they are so suddenly confronted?
That they cannot understand the meaning of their epoch for their own lives? That — in defense of
selfhood — they become morally insensible, trying to remain altogether private men? Is it any
wonder that they come to be possessed by a sense of the trap?
It is not only information that they need — in this Age of Fact, information often
dominates their attention and overwhelms their capacities to assimilate it. It is not only the skills
of reason that they need — although their struggles to acquire these often exhaust their limited
What they need, and what they feel they need, is a quality of mind that will help them to
use information and to develop reason in order to achieve lucid summations of what is going on
Sociological Imagination Sociology101
in the world and of what may be happening within themselves. It is this quality, I am going to
contend, that journalists and scholars, artists and publics, scientists and editors are coming to
expect of what may be called the sociological imagination.
The sociological imagination enables its possessor to understand the larger historical
scene in terms of its meaning for the inner life and the external career of a variety of individuals.
It enables him to take into account how individuals, in the welter of their daily experience, often
become falsely conscious of their social positions. Within that welter, the framework of modern
society is sought, and within that framework the psychologies of a variety of men and women are
formulated. By such means the personal uneasiness of individuals is focused upon explicit
troubles and the indifference of publics is transformed into involvement with public issues.
The first fruit of this imagination — and the first lesson of the social science that
embodies it — is the idea that the individual can understand his own experience and gauge his
own fate only by locating himself within his period, that he can know his own chances in life
only by becoming aware of those of all individuals in his circumstances. In many ways it is a
terrible lesson; in many ways a magnificent one. We do not know the limits of man’s capacities
for supreme effort or willing degradation, for agony or glee, for pleasurable brutality or the
sweetness of reason. But in our time we have come to know that the limits of “human nature”
are frighteningly broad. We have come to know that every individual lives, from one generation
to the next, in some society; that he lives out a biography, and that he lives it out within some
historical sequence. By the fact of his living he contributes, however minutely, to the shaping of
this society and to the course of its history, even as he is made by society and by its historical
push and shove.
The sociological imagination enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations
between the two within society. That is its task and its promise.
To recognize this task and this promise is the mark of the classic social analyst. It is
characteristic of Herbert Spencer — turgid, polysyllabic, comprehensive; of E. A. Ross -graceful, muckraking, upright; of Auguste Comte and Emile Durkheim; of the intricate and
subtle Karl Mannheim. It is the quality of all that is intellectually excellent in Karl Marx; it is
the clue to Thorstein Velben’s brilliant and ironic insight, to Joseph Schumpeter’s many-sided
constructions of reality; it is the basis of the psychological sweep of W. E. H. Lecky no less
than of the profundity and clarity of Max Weber. And it is the signal of what is best in
contemporary studies of man and society.
No social study that does not come back to the problems of biography, of history, and of
their intersections within a society has completed its intellectual journey. Whatever the specific
problems of the classic social analysts, however limited or however broad the features of social
reality they have examined, those who have been imaginatively aware of the promise of their
work have consistently asked three sorts of questions:
Sociological Imagination Sociology101
1. What is the structure of this particular society as a whole? What are its essential components,
and how are they related to one another? How does it differ from other varieties of social order?
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? What are the mechanics by which it is
changing? What is its place within and its meaning for the development of humanity as a whole?
How does any particular feature we are examining affect, and how is it affected by, the historical
period in which it moves? And this period — what are its essential features? How does it differ
from other periods? What are its characteristic ways of history-making?
3. What varieties of men and women now prevail in this society and in this period? And what
varieties are coming to prevail? In what ways are they selected and formed, liberated and
repressed, made sensitive and blunted? What kinds of “human nature” are revealed in the
conduct and character we observe in this society in this period? And what is the meaning for
“human nature” of each and every feature of the society we are examining?
Whether the point of interest is a great power state or a minor literary mood, a family, a
prison, a creed — these are the kinds of questions the best social analysts have asked. They are
the intellectual pivots of classic studies of man in society — and they are the questions inevitably
raised by any mind possessing the sociological imagination. For that imagination is the capacity
to shift from one perspective to another — from the political to the psychological; from
examination of a single family to comparative assessment of the national budgets of the world;
from the theological school to the military establishment from considerations of an oil industry to
studies of contemporary poetry. It is the capacity to range from the most impersonal and remote
transformations to the most intrinsic features of the human self — and to see the relations
between the two. Back of its use there is always the urge to know the social and historical
meaning of the individual in the society and in the period in which he has his quality and his
That, in brief, is why it is by means of the sociological imagination that men and women
now hope to grasp what is going on in the world, and to understand what is happening in
themselves as minute points of the intersections of biography and history within society. In large
part, contemporary man’s self-conscious view of himself as at least an outsider, if not a
permanent stranger, rests upon an absorbed realization of social relativity and of the
transformative power of history. The sociological imagination is the most fruitful form of this
By its use people whose mentalities have swept only a series of limited orbits often come
to feel as if suddenly awakened in a house with which they had only supposed themselves to be
familiar. Correctly or incorrectly, they often come to feel that they can now provide themselves
with adequate summations, cohesive assessments, comprehensive orientations. Older decisions
that once appeared sound now seem to them products of a mind unaccountably dense. Their
capacity for astonishment is made lively again. They acquire a new way of thinking, they
experience a transvaluation of values: in a word, by their reflection and by their sensibility, they
realize the cultural meaning of the social sciences.
Sociological Imagination Sociology101
Perhaps the most fruitful distinction with which the sociological imagination works is
between personal troubles and public issues. This distinction is an essential tool of the
sociological imagination and a feature of all classic work in social science.
Troubles occur within the character of the individual and within the range of his
immediate relations with others; they have to do with his self and with those limited areas of
social life of which he is directly and personally aware. Accordingly, the statement and the
resolution of troubles properly lie within the individual as a biographical entity and within the
scope of his immediate milieu — the social setting that is directly open to his personal experience
and to some extent his willful activity. A trouble is a private matter: values cherished by an
individual are felt by him to be threatened.
Issues have to do with matters that transcend these local environments of the individual
and the range of his inner life. They have to do with the organization of many such mile into the
institutions of an historical society as a whole, with the ways in which various mile overlap and
interpenetrate to form the larger structure of social and historical life. An issue is a public
matter: some value cherished by publics is felt to be threatened. Often there is a debate about
what that value is and about what it is that really threatens it. This debate is often without focus
if only because it is the very nature of an issue, unlike even widespread trouble, that it cannot
very well be defined in terms of the immediate and everyday environments of ordinary men. An
issue, in fact, often involves a crisis in institutional arrangements, and often too it involves what
Marxists call “contradictions” or “antagonisms.”
In these terms, consider unemployment. When, in a city of 100,000, only one man is
unemployed, that is his personal trouble, and for its relief we property look to the character of the
man, his skills, and his immediate opportunities. But when in a nation of 50 million employees,
15 million people are unemployed, that is an issue, and we may not hope to find its solution
within the range of opportunities open to any one individual. The very structure of opportunities
has collapsed. Both the correct statement of the problem and the range of possible solutions
require us to consider the economic and political institutions of the society, and not merely the
personal situation and character of a scatter of individuals.
Consider war. The personal problem of war, when it occurs, may be how to survive it or
how to die in it with honor; how to make money out of it; how to climb into the higher safety of
the military apparatus; or how to contribute to the war’s termination. In short, according to one’s
values, to find a set of milieu and within it to survive the war or make one’s death in it
meaningful. But the structural issues of war have to do with its causes; with what types of men
and women it throws up into command; with its effects upon economic and political, family and
religious institutions, with the unorganized irresponsibility of a world of nation-states.
Consider marriage. Inside a marriage a man and a woman may experience personal
troubles, but when the divorce rate during the first four years of marriage is 850 out of every
Sociological Imagination Sociology101
1,000 attempts, this is an indication of a structural issue having to do with the institutions of
marriage and the family and other institutions that bear upon them.
Or consider the metropolis — the horrible, beautiful, ugly, magnificent sprawl of the great
city. For many upper-class people, the personal solution to “the problem of the city” is to have
an apartment with private garage under it in the heart of the city, and forty miles out, a house by
Henry Hill, garden by Garrett Eckbo, on a hundred acres of private land. In these two controlled
environments — with a small staff at each end and a private helicopter connection — most people
could solve many of the problems of personal milieu caused by the facts of the city. But all this,
however splendid, does not solve the public issues that the structural fact of the city poses. What
should be done with this wonderful monstrosity? Break it all up into scattered units, combining
residence and work? Refurbish it as it stands? Or, after evacuation, dynamite it and build new
cities according to new plans in new places? What should those plans be? And who is to decide
and to accomplish whatever choice is made? These are structural issues; to confront them and to
solve them requires us to consider political and economic issues that affect innumerable mile.
In so far as an economy is so arranged that slumps occur, the problem of unemployment
becomes incapable of personal solution. In so far as war is inherent in the nation-state system
and in the uneven industrialization of the world, the ordinary individual in his restricted milieu
will be powerless — with or without psychiatric aid — to solve the troubles this system or lack of
system imposes upon him. In so far as the family as an institution turns women into darling little
slaves and men into their chief providers and unweaned dependents, the problem of a satisfactory
marriage remains incapable of purely private solution. In so far as the overdeveloped
megalopolis and the overdeveloped automobile are built-in features of the overdeveloped
society, the issues of urban living will not be solved by personal ingenuity and private wealth.
What we experience in various and specific mile, I have noted, is often caused by
structural changes. Accordingly, to understand the changes of many personal mile we are
required to look beyond them. And the number and variety of such structural changes increase
as the institutions within which we live become more embracing and more intricately connected
with one another. To be aware of the idea of social structure and to use it with sensibility is to be
capable of tracing such linkages among a great variety of mile. To be able to do that is to
possess the sociological imagination.
What are the major issues for publics and the key troubles of private individuals in our
time? To formulate issues and troubles, we must ask what values are cherished yet threatened,
and what values are cherished and supported, by the characterizing trends of our period. In the
case both of threat and of support we must ask what salient contradictions of structure may be
When people cherish some set of values and do not feel any threat to them, they
experience well being. When they cherish values but do feel them to be threatened, …
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