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Mills’ “The Sociological Imagination” Summary Report (Assessment)

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Updated: Dec 14th, 2021

It was Wright Mills who coined the term “the sociological imagination”, having used it in his book of the same name, published in 1959, it was greatly influenced by Marxist thought. Mills agreed that it is not consciousness that determines our life, but life itself determines consciousness. The main task of the work is to investigate the elements of uneasiness and indifference of the present day. The author, using his sociological imagination, tries to find the answers, analyzing the role of a single personality in the course of history and the place of historical events in every separate human destiny.

“The sociological imagination enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society” (Mills, 1959, 6). In other words, Mills underlines the necessity to analyze not only the structure of every particular society and a personality as an essential component of it but also the stage of human history where society is standing at the present moment.

One of the most important points is the questions of the private troubles and public issues in Mills’ theory. The author provides his reader with vivid examples of both approaches to the events and their assessment. Mills describes different life situations and historical events from the point of view of an individual, with all their unique features and lacks and from the point of view of the society as a whole. The author considers the problems of unemployment, divorces and wars from these two perspectives. The reader is made to agree that an only person may be unemployed in a big city due to some personal traits of character, lack of abilities and initiative, then this problem may be regarded as private trouble. But 15 million unemployed are a public issue for sure. Divorce of a young couple may be considered private trouble in every concrete case, resulting from lack of responsibility and egoism, but at the same time, noting that every 250 couples out of 1000 are broken, this problem becomes a public issue. The same is with the question of war. A person is more likely to think about how to survive a war or how to make one’s death in it more meaningful than to think about the political reasons and economic outcomes of it in the future. It is not easy to speak about sociological imagination under such circumstances. “In so far as war is inherent in the nation-state system…, 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” ” (Mills, 1959, 10). The personality of Mills and his work may be considered from two different perspectives as well. From one side, he coined a new term into sociological science, his approach to sociological analysis is really interesting, but at the same time, he was influenced by Marxist thoughts and the spirit of his time, so the theory could be developed only in this epoch, becoming a public issue from this perspective.

Mills’ theory may be used to analyze present-day society. His main aim was to integrate the majority of the population into sociological debates. Considering the inner and outer forces moving the individuals in their life activity, the author gave preference to the latter, referring to Marxists reality determining consciousness. But at the same time, depriving ordinary people of the forces for independent development, Mills wanted them to be more involved in society and its processes in order to reach well-being and prevent uneasiness and indifference. “I believe that the social sciences are becoming the common denominator of our cultural period, and the sociological imagination our most needed quality of mind” (Mills, 1959, 13).


Mills, C.W. (2000). The Sociological Imagination. Oxford University Press.

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