The Sociological Imagination

The Sociological Imagination Essay Questions

  1. 1

    In what sense does C. Wright Mills think men experience life today as a “series of traps”?

    For Mills, men today go through a series of confined spaces. There’s the workplace, the home, etc. Each is a trap because you’re told what to do in each space. But life is also a trap because men feel powerless to affect the decisions that impact their lives. This isn’t only at work, but also in politics. The everyday man worries about nuclear bombs, for instance, but doesn’t have a role to play in the decisions related to the Cold War.

  2. 2

    According to Mills, how is contemporary sociology complicit with bureaucracy?

    For Mills, one branch of sociology, which he calls abstracted empiricism, is itself bureaucratic. By emphasizing the repetitive task of polling large samples of people, sociology takes on the bureaucratic ideals of efficiency rather than truth. By studying how to be more efficient, sociology also helps bureaucracies­—sociology’s “clients”—extract more from their employees or citizens. Instead of serving the common man, sociology of this kind serves the common man’s boss.

  3. 3

    What are the main critiques Mills has of Talcott Parsons?

    Parsons is, for Mills, the prime example of “grand theory.” There are two main faults with this kind of theory. The first is that it is overly complicated in its language, using big words and long passages when the ideas are actually quite simple and could be conveyed in simpler prose. The second is that the work is so theoretical, thinking in general and universal terms like “human nature,” that it cannot actually explain what real people do in real life.

  4. 4

    What, according to Mills, should good social science incorporate and do?

    What Mills calls “classical social science,” and which he advocates, always includes three things. The first is biography, or the study of men’s private problems. The second is social structure, or the institutions of a society and how they are related. The third is history, or how societies are different from each other across time and place. Good social science, according to Mills, includes all three of these at once, connecting personal “milieu” with public social structures.

  5. 5

    What are the politics of doing classical social science, according to Mills?

    Mills tracks the history of sociology back to mid-19th century reform movements. Sociology is then, at its beginning, a liberal program. In the 19th century, it framed the private problems of working class people as public issues for the middle classes to help solve. Today, Mills says, social science can regain its liberal politics by addressing itself to a public and helping men see how social structures impact their lives. Then sociology can help society achieve democracy, defined as when everyone gets to participate in the decisions that affect their lives.