Individualism and the Sociological Imagination The belief that the individual controls his destiny and succeeds or fails based on talent, hard work, and perseverance is a central theme in the American way of life. This strong belief in individualism often dictates how Americans explain, and resolve social problems. This view that individuals are solely responsible for their success or failure in life, mostly unaffected by surrounding social forces, runs counter to the sociological imagination. C.
Wright Mills considered the sociological imagination the impact of larger social forces on our personal lives.
Mills contended that, “no matter how personal we think our experiences are, many of them can be seen as products of society-wide forces” (Newman 2011: 7). Fundamental to Mills’ theory of sociological imagination is the concept of personal troubles and public issues (Smith 2009). Public policy issues, such as high unemployment or rising obesity rates, contribute to private troubles. However, Americans usually explain these troubles in individual terms.
If a person has trouble getting hired or promoted, or has recently been fired from a job, these issues are usually explained by some individual inadequacy or problem.
For example, if a person cannot get hired, they think it is because the do not have enough experience or education; if they get fired, it is because they have failed to produce adequately at work or get along with upper management. Only after all individual explanations are evaluated do we consider the greater social forces such as high unemployment and corporate layoffs.
If someone is obese, the initial blame is always on the individual.
Though the person certainly deserves some of the blame, we often fail to consider social forces such as the proliferation of fast food restaurants, the ease of obtaining inexpensive, packaged food products, and a lifestyle that values convenience over health. Individualism frames an issue in terms of the individual and attempts to solve it based solely on that person’s activities and behavior. The person who cannot find a job may seek further education or seek a therapist to help with behavior modification.
The obese person may try fad diets, diet pills, or exercise. While many individual solutions are beneficial and can lead to am improved life, these personal troubles cannot always be solved without understanding public issues. Solutions suggested by the sociological imagination take into consideration those public issues that affect personal lives. The government and the people of the United States have often attempted to aid individuals by creating public programs or movements that help the whole of society.
The New Deal during the Great Depression, the War on Poverty during the 1960s, and the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s all helped improve individual circumstances by correctly utilizing the concept of the sociological imagination. Private troubles and public issues are invariably linked together as “the relationship between the individual and society is reciprocal” (Newman:2011: 20). Though Americans value independence and individualism, any solutions should consider both the individual and the sociological imagination. References Books Newman, David M. 011. Sociology: Exploring the Architecture of Everyday Life. 2nd Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. Electronic Resources – Online Article Kpohazounde, Grace. 2010. “C. Wright Mills, “The Sociological Imagination”, 1959” (http://dimension. ucsd. edu) Smith, Mark K. (1999, 2009) ‘C. Wright Mills: power, craftsmanship, and personal troubles and private issues’ the encyclopaedia of informal education. (www. infed. org/thinkers/wright_mills. htm) Other -Online Lecture Professor Soto. CSUDH Soc101: The Individual in Society. Lessons 1 and 2.
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