Defining the Sociological Imagination


We owe the term sociological imagination to C Wright Mills who is an author of a book of the same title. This essay will discuss drug addiction in the lives of university students. Sociological imagination will assist in unpacking this problem.

Definition of terms

According to C Wright Mills sociological imagination is the ' vivid awareness of the relationship between experience and the wider society. …enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two in a society' History is the study of the past that helps us in understanding the cause and effect of the development of human society Nasson Bill (2002).

Biography is human nature in society. Personal problems are problems that involve an individual in a society.

Sociologists consider a social issue to be an alleged situation that is incompatible with the values of a significant number of people who agree that action is needed to alter the situation' Earl Rubington and Martin S.

Weinberg (1989:4). An alleged situation is a situation that is said to exist. Drug addiction is defined by the existence of both psychological and physical dependence on at least one illicit substance.

Meaning of sociological imagination

The three basic components of sociological imagination are history, biography, and social structures. Imagine two roads, one history and the other one biography, the point where these two roads meet is the point of sociological imagination. For sociological imagination to be achieved one must understand the relationship between personal issues and public issues.

By acknowledging the relationship between history and biography we can understand the connection between personal problems and public issues. The sociological imagination is also achieved through viewing the world from the perspective of others.

Examples of sociological imagination

One of the most common examples of sociological imagination is unemployment.C Wright Mills himself discussed unemployment. If an individual was unemployed he will blame himself for being unemployed and the society would judge him as being lazy or incompetent. His unemployment would be his own personal problem. But if thousands of people were unemployed, no individual would be blamed and unemployment would be best understood as a public issue. Another example of sociological imagination is tea drinking. Drinking tea may be seen as a sign of good health, it can be seen as a social activity or as a tradition or ritual as some people drink tea ritualistically each day at certain times. Any case where one sees tea drinking from a different perspective, they are applying the sociological imagination. Other examples of sociological imagination include cooking, running, volunteering, dropping out of school, painting, public speaking, and more. To apply sociological imagination to these examples you must think about these issues from a different perspective from your customary approach. According to C Wright Mills (1959:170) ' In order to analyze the effects it is important to see the world with a sociological state of mind and …to see it whole'

Personal problems v/s social issues

The personal problem occur within the character of an individual whereas a social issue occurs within a number of people. Personal problems are normally within the ability of an individual’s control, they usually can be resolved by an individual. Social issues are public and can take time to be resolved as it can take a lot of time to figure out their cause.

Drug addiction

Commonly abused substances are narcotic analgesic, CNS stimulants, CNS depressants, hypnotics, hallucinogens and inhalants. The routes of admission of drugs are ingestion, inhalation or snorting, smoking, chewing, keeping under the tongue or lips, subcutaneous injections, and intravenous injection. The general complications of drug abuse include drug dependence, withdrawal states, loss of memory, and more. Drugs can cause university students to change their behavior and attitude towards life. University students may end up dropping out of university. University students use drugs to cope with the pressure and to forget all their personal problems.

Case study

Drug addiction is affecting many university students in South Africa including my cousin Irvin who is 19 years old. He began smoking cigarettes at the age of 14, he said he learned to smoke from his father. His father is a heavy smoker. At the age of 16, he began smoking weed with his friends. There were times when they did not have money to buy weed, during those times he would steal money from his father. One day his father caught him while he was going through his father's wallet, he was punished and stopped stealing from his father. He had to find other means to make money. Irvin and his friends worked at a car wash on weekends in order to have money for weed.

One of the guys from the car wash introduced them to cocaine and they quit weed, the cocaine got into his bloodstream and he became an addict. One day he got so highly intoxicated that he forgot to lock his room, his mother found him with the drug. They sent him to a rehabilitation center and he quit the drug. Two years later he matriculated and passed with an exemption to bachelor's degree. He had to leave his province Mpumalanga to move into Gauteng because he got accepted to study law at the University of Johannesburg. The transition to adulthood, being away from his family, and dealing with university's workload was too much for him, that he decided to snort cocaine again. He is a drug addict again.

Drug addiction is a social issue

It is easy to conclude that drug addiction is a personal problem. Drug addicts think that they are not harming anyone but themselves but in reality, drug addiction affects not just the individual but a large number of people including the family of the drug addict thus making it a social issue. According to Doctor Muhammed Rafeeque A. A. ' drug addiction is a social problem among people worldwide that causes serious ill effects resulting in degradation in the quality of life' In simple terms, drug addiction is affecting millions of people around the globe. Drug addiction has a negative impact on society.


Sociological imagination can assist one in dealing with their problems, knowing that your problems are experienced by a large number of people make it is to overcome that problem. People have to be taught about sociological imagination so that they can apply it when facing problems. In this essay drug addiction, an issue affecting university students was unpacked with the help of sociological imagination.
Using the sociological way of thinking, we can uncover why many things are the way they are in a society.

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