Skip to main content

Writing for Sociology

Developing the Sociological Imagination

The Sociological Imagination

A recent cover C. W. Wright's book The Sociological ImaginationThe phrase sociological imagination was coined by C. W. Wright in his book of the same name. Although published in 1959, the book has remained influential in defining a sociological approach to understanding the world. 

The phrase denotes a sociological view that encompasses the private, biographical experience of individuals (i.e. the micro perspective), and it's connection to historical patterns and relations in the larger society (i.e. the macro perspective):

           Every individual lives, from one generation to the next, in some society;....[individuals] live out a biography, and ....live it out with some historical sequence.
              By the fact of [their] living they contribute, however minutely, to the shaping of [their]  society and its history; even as [individuals are] made by society and its
             historical push and shove.
(Mills [1959] 2000 p.6)

In other words, the sociological imagination posits that neither the lives of individuals, nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both (Mills [1959, 2000 p.3].

Mills, C. Wright. ({1959] 2000. The Sociological Imagination. Oxford [England] New York : Oxford University Press.

Read Mills' book online. You can access the online edition directly by clicking the cover of the book, or by clicking this link to the catalog record. You can access the online text by clicking the link in the middle of the catalog record. In order to access the online text off campus, you must have a TU AccessNet and Password.

To read more recent discussions of the concept of the sociological imagination from a range of scholars, see a special issue of The International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society, The New Sociological Imagination, Vol. 18, No. 3/4, Spring - Summer, 2005. The articles in the issue "offer a reflection on the concept of sociological imagination conceived as a key element for the task of facing the intellectual challenges of the present times" (from the introduction The New Sociological Imagination: Facing the Challenges of a New Millennium (pp. 113-122) ).