Book review | What can we learn from 'The Sociological Imagination'

2022-02-01 18:02:02 source: Wang Yi


To be honest, this book does seem rather obscure and abstract to read, even after reading the translation three times, and after reading the original English work, I have some understanding and understanding of the main idea and framework of the article. Next, based on understanding this book and reading some related papers, I will talk about some of my feelings.

 

About this book and the author

 

To understand this book, we must first understand the author and his background and growth experience. Mills is one of the representatives of cultural criticism in American sociology after World War II. Mills was born on August 28, 1916 and died on March 20, 1962. He taught at Columbia University for a long time until his death.

 

Mills criticized the "grand theory" of structural functionalism represented by T. Parsons and the "abstract empiricism" represented by Lazarsfield, which dominated the field of sociology in the 1950s and 1960s. Point out that contemporary western sociology is facing a profound theoretical crisis. In order to deeply understand the relationship between individuals and social structures, and to criticize capitalist society, Mills advocated the imagination of sociology and emphasized that sociology should strengthen the study of history and social psychology.

 

The Sociological Imagination is Mills' most important book in his short life, written in 1959. The book is divided into ten chapters and four parts: the first chapter is the introduction, the second to sixth chapters are about some problems and deficiencies in the current situation of sociological research, and the seventh to tenth chapters are to introduce their new viewpoints, that is, the new research on sociology. Methods and new horizons. Using the perspective of the sociology of knowledge and combining the author's research experience in social class and other aspects, it criticizes the abstract and rigid boundaries of traditional disciplines, thus emphasizing the significance of "sociological imagination".

 

Some thoughts from the book

 

When criticizing some representative achievements of American sociology, such as grand theory and abstract empiricism, Mills also constantly emphasized the need to find a balance between macro and micro. But how to find the balance is a very difficult problem. Mills made an excellent attempt at this.

 

In this book, as its title suggests, Mills' conception of the "sociological imagination" is an attempt to address the question of macro and micro orientations. One of the most important principles of the imagination in studying Mills' sociology is the perspective of combining one's own experience with the era in which one is living.

 

In criticizing "bureaucratic" development, Mills argues that abstraction-style academic operations quantify everything, conduct research with measurable standardized formulas, and in the final analysis, is all about justifying so-called "reasonableness." And this kind of bureaucratic temperament also has a tendency to spread and spread in terms of culture, morality and ideology.

 

In Chapter 5, Mills uses a research institution as an example, likening it to a kind of training centre: "it selects certain types of mind, and by virtue of the rewards it offers it places a premium upon the development of certain mental qualities. Two types of men, rather new to the academic scene, have arisen in these institutions, alongside more old-fashioned scholars and researchers: the intellectual administrators and research promoters and the younger recruits.” (P101)

 

After these people entered the field of social research, the professional division of labour became narrower and narrower, which inevitably limited their minds. The bureaucratic society constantly declares to attach importance to the so-called "scientific method" and trains each individual to be a "successor" like an assembly line job, which inevitably suppresses its own imagination. Therefore, how can we break this fixed "bureaucracy" and better and truly walk out a correct social science path?

 

Mills also said that studying history and human life and their intertwining in social structures is one direction of social science. In this direction, the diversity of people can be grasped, problems can be considered from a global perspective, and the separation of intelligence and personality can be avoided. These concepts are all mentioned in the first chapter: The sociological imagination enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society. (P5) Based on the same point of view, the author also believes that whatever the To study any kind of ideological and cultural work, it is necessary to place it in the historical social background to understand it.

 

If you just scrape together a bunch of "concepts" and work according to the rigid research steps, it will only stifle the imagination of sociology and be bound by the so-called methods and techniques. To avoid these, one thinks that "To have mastered 'method' and 'theory' is to have become a self-conscious thinker, a man at work and aware of the assumptions and the implications of whatever he is about." (P119 )

 

In chapter 4, there are two versions of the translation of the title. Beijing Normal University Press translated it as "各種實用取向"; the Communication University of China translated it as "形形色色的實用性". In any case, this chapter talks about the value orientation of human and social scholars in research. All of which means that by their work all students of man and society assume and imply moral and political decisions.

 

The more important argument in the first part lies in this: " one cannot infer judgments of value from statements of fact or from definitions of conceptions. But this does not mean that such statements and definitions are irrelevant to judgement." What does this mean?

 

Any of our statements and opinions have their own value orientation and are not neutral. So we say that statements and definitions are not irrelevant to judgments.

 

The author gives his own answer by enumerating a series of arguments concerning value: So far as conceptions are concerned, the aim ought to be to use as many “value-neutral” terms as possible and to become aware of and to make explicit the value implications that remain.

 

Having said this, we think that what we want to say in this part is that the social science research undertaken by any scholar is inevitably imprinted by the times. We conduct research within the political and economic framework constructed by the era,. It is a value orientation to maintain our existing social structure system.

 

Furthermore, only by understanding structural functionalism and abstract empiricism can we better understand what Mills describes as the "sociological imagination" that is critiquing. Structural functionalism advocates the use of functional analysis methods to understand and explain the relationship between the entire social system and social institutions. It is believed that social life can be sustained because society has found a means (ie structure) to satisfy human needs (ie function). In Mills' view, the implementation of history is the starting point of social research work. Only then can we articulate more clearly the problems facing our time.

 

As for abstract empiricism, this is a topic that The Sociological Imagination spends a lot of time discussing, but the author does not have a clear definition. (Abstract empiricists) "What they do is to embrace what they presume as a philosophy of science as the only scientific method. Like grand theory, abstract empiricism focuses on a single point in social science research, a cross-sectional study without a historical study. In Mills' view, a study is meaningless if it does not focus on historical and structural studies.

 

 The true face of Lushan is lost to my sight, for it is right in this mountain that I reside. In my work, some seniors often teach us that "in the report on Sannong, we should look beyond Sannong and look at Sannong from a broader perspective." The same is true when it extends to the field of academic research. In his book, Mills called for every social science to have a historical conceptual field and make full use of historical data so that we can jump out of the present and examine the present from a "spectator" perspective, so as to avoid the times. Limited experience increases our sensitivity to the ability to analyze everything at the moment.

 

We are a continuation of history. When cultivating our own use of history, we should put ourselves into the society in which we live, and realize that we are part of the constituent elements of society; and society is a part of our era. What kind of function does society play in the era, such function should be examined from the span of history. According to Mills, history does and history does not ‘repeat itself’; it depends upon the social structure and upon the period with whose history we are concerned. (P154)

 

All in all, the understanding of Mills' "sociological imagination" can be considered from the following two perspectives.

 

First, Mills' "sociological imagination" is based on a politically critical perspective. Giddens once said in reference to the concept that the term has been quoted so frequently that there is a danger of being trivialised. According to Giddens, the "sociological imagination" refers to several sensitivities that are linked together in the process of sociological analysis, namely historical sensibility, anthropological sensibility, and critical sensibility. force.

 

In short, when we respond to the major problems facing our times, we should expand the boundaries of scholarship and integrate many disciplines to select materials, concepts and methods. This is the key to "sociological imagination".

 

Second, the sociological imagination can also be applied to personal life as a mental quality and method. To solve the problem of "the infinite troubles facing modern man" raised by Mills at the beginning, there is only such a "mental quality", that is, an ability to help people use the information and develop reason so that people can clearly and concisely. Find out what is going on in the world and what people themselves will become.

 

From this, we can relate to the era we live in now and examine the current rapid social changes from the perspective of the historical span. The use of media has become popular in people's lives like never before. How do we use the media, how to use the media to obtain information, and make It is what we should think about in our contemporary times to become a "resistance" to "assist" rather than "alienate" adult sexual development. Modern media technology is the product of historical development to a certain stage, but we still insist on human subjectivity. When thinking about problems from a critical perspective, we should develop the "mental traits" called "sociological imagination", improve Media literacy, scientifically develop one's own rationality and freedom, and better participate in political life and observe society.

 

Conclusion and inspiration

 

Today it has been more than 60 years since Mills published this book. How should we face the conflict between private life and public value in today's society and the ever-changing social changes? And the point of view in Mills' book can still be answered, that is: to understand the changes of many personal milieux we are required to look beyond them...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 milieux.

 

For us as individuals, how should we realize our own value in our short life? How should I face my life? How do make decisions when faced with confusion? That is: linking personal ideals with national destiny, self-fulfilment with social needs, grand narratives with personal aspirations. The value of a person's life, in the final analysis, depends on whether it is conducive to social progress and development. This is where The Sociological Imagination inspires us.


(The author is a doctoral student at the Institute of Communication, Communication University of China, and a reporter from the Farmers' Daily. Views expressed in this article solely represent the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of "In Zhejiang" )


Editor: Zhou Xunnan

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To be honest, this book does seem rather obscure and abstract to read, even after reading the translation three times, and after reading the original English work, I have some understanding and understanding of the main idea and framework of the article. Next, based on understanding this book and reading some related papers, I will talk about some of my feelings.

 

About this book and the author

 

To understand this book, we must first understand the author and his background and growth experience. Mills is one of the representatives of cultural criticism in American sociology after World War II. Mills was born on August 28, 1916 and died on March 20, 1962. He taught at Columbia University for a long time until his death.

 

Mills criticized the "grand theory" of structural functionalism represented by T. Parsons and the "abstract empiricism" represented by Lazarsfield, which dominated the field of sociology in the 1950s and 1960s. Point out that contemporary western sociology is facing a profound theoretical crisis. In order to deeply understand the relationship between individuals and social structures, and to criticize capitalist society, Mills advocated the imagination of sociology and emphasized that sociology should strengthen the study of history and social psychology.

 

The Sociological Imagination is Mills' most important book in his short life, written in 1959. The book is divided into ten chapters and four parts: the first chapter is the introduction, the second to sixth chapters are about some problems and deficiencies in the current situation of sociological research, and the seventh to tenth chapters are to introduce their new viewpoints, that is, the new research on sociology. Methods and new horizons. Using the perspective of the sociology of knowledge and combining the author's research experience in social class and other aspects, it criticizes the abstract and rigid boundaries of traditional disciplines, thus emphasizing the significance of "sociological imagination".

 

Some thoughts from the book

 

When criticizing some representative achievements of American sociology, such as grand theory and abstract empiricism, Mills also constantly emphasized the need to find a balance between macro and micro. But how to find the balance is a very difficult problem. Mills made an excellent attempt at this.

 

In this book, as its title suggests, Mills' conception of the "sociological imagination" is an attempt to address the question of macro and micro orientations. One of the most important principles of the imagination in studying Mills' sociology is the perspective of combining one's own experience with the era in which one is living.

 

In criticizing "bureaucratic" development, Mills argues that abstraction-style academic operations quantify everything, conduct research with measurable standardized formulas, and in the final analysis, is all about justifying so-called "reasonableness." And this kind of bureaucratic temperament also has a tendency to spread and spread in terms of culture, morality and ideology.

 

In Chapter 5, Mills uses a research institution as an example, likening it to a kind of training centre: "it selects certain types of mind, and by virtue of the rewards it offers it places a premium upon the development of certain mental qualities. Two types of men, rather new to the academic scene, have arisen in these institutions, alongside more old-fashioned scholars and researchers: the intellectual administrators and research promoters and the younger recruits.” (P101)

 

After these people entered the field of social research, the professional division of labour became narrower and narrower, which inevitably limited their minds. The bureaucratic society constantly declares to attach importance to the so-called "scientific method" and trains each individual to be a "successor" like an assembly line job, which inevitably suppresses its own imagination. Therefore, how can we break this fixed "bureaucracy" and better and truly walk out a correct social science path?

 

Mills also said that studying history and human life and their intertwining in social structures is one direction of social science. In this direction, the diversity of people can be grasped, problems can be considered from a global perspective, and the separation of intelligence and personality can be avoided. These concepts are all mentioned in the first chapter: The sociological imagination enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society. (P5) Based on the same point of view, the author also believes that whatever the To study any kind of ideological and cultural work, it is necessary to place it in the historical social background to understand it.

 

If you just scrape together a bunch of "concepts" and work according to the rigid research steps, it will only stifle the imagination of sociology and be bound by the so-called methods and techniques. To avoid these, one thinks that "To have mastered 'method' and 'theory' is to have become a self-conscious thinker, a man at work and aware of the assumptions and the implications of whatever he is about." (P119 )

 

In chapter 4, there are two versions of the translation of the title. Beijing Normal University Press translated it as "各種實用取向"; the Communication University of China translated it as "形形色色的實用性". In any case, this chapter talks about the value orientation of human and social scholars in research. All of which means that by their work all students of man and society assume and imply moral and political decisions.

 

The more important argument in the first part lies in this: " one cannot infer judgments of value from statements of fact or from definitions of conceptions. But this does not mean that such statements and definitions are irrelevant to judgement." What does this mean?

 

Any of our statements and opinions have their own value orientation and are not neutral. So we say that statements and definitions are not irrelevant to judgments.

 

The author gives his own answer by enumerating a series of arguments concerning value: So far as conceptions are concerned, the aim ought to be to use as many “value-neutral” terms as possible and to become aware of and to make explicit the value implications that remain.

 

Having said this, we think that what we want to say in this part is that the social science research undertaken by any scholar is inevitably imprinted by the times. We conduct research within the political and economic framework constructed by the era,. It is a value orientation to maintain our existing social structure system.

 

Furthermore, only by understanding structural functionalism and abstract empiricism can we better understand what Mills describes as the "sociological imagination" that is critiquing. Structural functionalism advocates the use of functional analysis methods to understand and explain the relationship between the entire social system and social institutions. It is believed that social life can be sustained because society has found a means (ie structure) to satisfy human needs (ie function). In Mills' view, the implementation of history is the starting point of social research work. Only then can we articulate more clearly the problems facing our time.

 

As for abstract empiricism, this is a topic that The Sociological Imagination spends a lot of time discussing, but the author does not have a clear definition. (Abstract empiricists) "What they do is to embrace what they presume as a philosophy of science as the only scientific method. Like grand theory, abstract empiricism focuses on a single point in social science research, a cross-sectional study without a historical study. In Mills' view, a study is meaningless if it does not focus on historical and structural studies.

 

 The true face of Lushan is lost to my sight, for it is right in this mountain that I reside. In my work, some seniors often teach us that "in the report on Sannong, we should look beyond Sannong and look at Sannong from a broader perspective." The same is true when it extends to the field of academic research. In his book, Mills called for every social science to have a historical conceptual field and make full use of historical data so that we can jump out of the present and examine the present from a "spectator" perspective, so as to avoid the times. Limited experience increases our sensitivity to the ability to analyze everything at the moment.

 

We are a continuation of history. When cultivating our own use of history, we should put ourselves into the society in which we live, and realize that we are part of the constituent elements of society; and society is a part of our era. What kind of function does society play in the era, such function should be examined from the span of history. According to Mills, history does and history does not ‘repeat itself’; it depends upon the social structure and upon the period with whose history we are concerned. (P154)

 

All in all, the understanding of Mills' "sociological imagination" can be considered from the following two perspectives.

 

First, Mills' "sociological imagination" is based on a politically critical perspective. Giddens once said in reference to the concept that the term has been quoted so frequently that there is a danger of being trivialised. According to Giddens, the "sociological imagination" refers to several sensitivities that are linked together in the process of sociological analysis, namely historical sensibility, anthropological sensibility, and critical sensibility. force.

 

In short, when we respond to the major problems facing our times, we should expand the boundaries of scholarship and integrate many disciplines to select materials, concepts and methods. This is the key to "sociological imagination".

 

Second, the sociological imagination can also be applied to personal life as a mental quality and method. To solve the problem of "the infinite troubles facing modern man" raised by Mills at the beginning, there is only such a "mental quality", that is, an ability to help people use the information and develop reason so that people can clearly and concisely. Find out what is going on in the world and what people themselves will become.

 

From this, we can relate to the era we live in now and examine the current rapid social changes from the perspective of the historical span. The use of media has become popular in people's lives like never before. How do we use the media, how to use the media to obtain information, and make It is what we should think about in our contemporary times to become a "resistance" to "assist" rather than "alienate" adult sexual development. Modern media technology is the product of historical development to a certain stage, but we still insist on human subjectivity. When thinking about problems from a critical perspective, we should develop the "mental traits" called "sociological imagination", improve Media literacy, scientifically develop one's own rationality and freedom, and better participate in political life and observe society.

 

Conclusion and inspiration

 

Today it has been more than 60 years since Mills published this book. How should we face the conflict between private life and public value in today's society and the ever-changing social changes? And the point of view in Mills' book can still be answered, that is: to understand the changes of many personal milieux we are required to look beyond them...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 milieux.

 

For us as individuals, how should we realize our own value in our short life? How should I face my life? How do make decisions when faced with confusion? That is: linking personal ideals with national destiny, self-fulfilment with social needs, grand narratives with personal aspirations. The value of a person's life, in the final analysis, depends on whether it is conducive to social progress and development. This is where The Sociological Imagination inspires us.


(The author is a doctoral student at the Institute of Communication, Communication University of China, and a reporter from the Farmers' Daily. Views expressed in this article solely represent the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of "In Zhejiang" )


Editor: Zhou Xunnan

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