The Sociological Imagination

The Sociological Imagination Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Cheerful Robot (Symbol)

The Cheerful Robot is the symbol Mills uses to describe the contemporary man whose work is increasingly mechanized by bureaucracy. For Mills, men are increasingly turned into robots in every sphere of their lives. Rationalization has caused them to act not in accord with their desires but in accord with the efficiency of a system. The question now is if men can be “cheerful” in this situation. In other words, men may be trained to accept this bureaucratization instead of acting to disrupt it.

Renaissance Man (Symbol)

In contrast to the Cheerful Robot today, the Renaissance Man is Mills’s symbol of man in Modernity. The Renaissance Man makes both himself and history. He makes himself through learning and through reason, mastering skills that lead to his own freedom. He make history by using this freedom to free others and make decisions together that affect their lives. The Renaissance Man encapsulates the relation between reason and freedom. Today, Mills thinks, reason no longer serves freedom but bureaucracy. Social science has to come in to correct this state of affairs, in Mills’s opinion.

Concept and Method (Allegory)

Mills capitalizes both of these words like he would a proper name, and they start to act like characters in The Sociological Imagination. Concept is the symbol of grand theory: it is an overly general idea that is supposed to explain everything. Method is the symbol of abstracted empiricism: it is the process of polling people and presenting numbers as science. They form an allegory because social science is always trying to move between them. For now, social science has gotten stuck in one or the other of the positions. But Mills thinks we can return to a classical social science in which concepts and methods work together to answer real sociological questions.