Sociology is the study of human society, including both social action and organization. Sociologists use scientific research methods and theories and study social life in a wide variety of settings. Sociology offers us not only information but also a distinctive way of looking at the world and our place in it. Whereas most people try to explain events by analyzing the motives of those involved, sociologists encourage us to look beyond individual psychology to the many recurring patterns in people’s attitudes and actions, and how these patterns vary across time, cultures, and social groups. Sociologists do not ask simply ” what kind of person is Sedum Hussein?” Instead, they ask “what kind of social conditions allowed him to rise to such power?” Sociologists do not ignore individuals. they show that to understand the actions of individuals-and our own experiences-we have to understand the social context in which they take place. Take the experiences of the American soldiers who have served in the Persian Gulf.
They were very different from the experiences of those who served in Vietnam. was this just because the wars were experienced by different people with different personalities? no. The different experiences arose from different social circumstances. These included different methods of recruitment, an all-volunteer army versus the draft. Different ways of developing troops different characteristics of the enemy combatants. All these social circumstances, beyond each individual control, were critical in shaping American soldier’s experiences. Understanding this point is a basic illustration of what the great American sociologist C. Wright Mills called sociological imagination. The sociological imagination is a way of looking at our experiences in light of what is going on in the social world around us. We come to see that we are more than just actors involved in our own personal dramas. We are caught up in larger social patterns acted out on a broader social stage. In discussing sociological imagination, Mills pointed out: nowadays people often their private lives are a series of traps.
They sense that within their everyday worlds, they cannot quite overcome their troubles, and in feeling this, they are often quite correct. In these terms consider unemployment. When, in a city of 100,000, only one man is unemployed, that is his personal trouble, and for it’s relief we probably look to the character of the man, his skills, and his immediate opportunities. But when many thousands are unemployed, that’s a social issue, and we may not hope to find its solution within the range of opportunities open to any one individual. The very structure of opportunities has collapsed. Both the correct statement of the problem and the range of possible solutions require us to consider the economic and political institutions of the society, and not merely the personal situation and character of a scattering of individuals. Consider war. The personal problem of war, when it occurs, maybe how to survive it or how to die in it with honor; how to climb into the higher safety of the military apparatus; how to make money; or how to contribute to the war’s termination.
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But the structure issues of war have to do with its social causes; with what types of men it throws up into command; with its effect upon economic and political, family, and religious institutions; with the unorganized irresponsibility of a world of nation-states. The sociological imagination is awakened in our own everyday life every time we realize that our personal experiences are part of more general social patterns, and every time you see other people are influencing what you do. For instance, although your choice of a college major and future career are personal choices, they are affected by many social factors: whether your parents are rich, whether the schools you attended taught you well or poorly, whether there are jobs open in the field you would like to enter, whether society is biased against people of your race. Sociological imagination helps you to see these factors at work; sociology is the systematic study of them.
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