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The Sociological Imagination and Understanding Personal Troubles as Social Issues sample essay

The Sociological Imagination allows us to question “things” or issues which are common and familiar to us and to find its deeper meaning. With the Sociological Imagination way of thinking, we find reasoning and uncover why many things in society are the way they are. The Sociological Imagination does not attempt to understand the individual and his or her problems alone, but focuses on issues and problems as it affects the greater society.

In society, many factors called social structures, influences our behaviour, thinking patterns, reasoning and our logical approach too many challenges. According to Mills “In order to analyse the effects it is important to see the world with a sociological state of mind and ‘…to see it whole.’” (1959:170). It is therefore important to note that as people grow up in different environments and surroundings; their way of thinking, reasoning and outlook on life differs. Due to various perceptions, values, ideals and experiences of life, many think that from their upbringing, the way they think and do things are “normal”. According to Mills, socialization takes place as people within a society learn to accept norms, values and roles without questioning it. (1959: 29). Therefore it can be said that Sociological Imagination enables us to look at social problems as a whole and not only from “our” own perspective. (Mills, 1959)

With unemployment we need to see the “bigger picture”, past our own perspective, why there are so many people without work. An unemployed person may think that because he or she can’t find work that it is his or her problem alone. Instead it can be seen as a social issue if many thousands of people in society are also unemployed and struggling to find work. The approach which should also be taken when dealing with a complex issue such as unemployment is that the stereotypes about the issue should be discarded because not all unemployed people are said to be lazy with no ambition.

There are many reasons for unemployment such as not having the necessary qualifications, education and/or the skills for a certain type of work that is in demand. It is also worth noting that as the world of work is continuously changing, jobs and work opportunities become scarce as certain services and skills become less needed in society. Also external factors which are out of an individuals’ reach such as the failure of Black Economic Empowerment to provide sufficient jobs, retrenchment and global recessions are also part of the reason why many people are unemployed despite being eager to work.

As with unemployment, crime is also another pressing social issue which society is faced with. Crime in itself is a complex issue because there are many forms of it and also different motives to why people resort to it. As a layman approach to the topic that all criminals are born ‘mad’, ‘bad’ or ‘crazy’ is incorrect because there are many criminals who are not “mad” and do crime as a survival strategy. White and blue collar crimes even occur with employed people although in many cases goes unnoticed. Also instead of stereotyping, we should rather try and understand the conditions, circumstances and the environments where crime takes place. (Mills, 1959)

People committing various crimes cannot all be seen as with unemployment as being lazy and not wanting to look for work. Mills looked deeper into society to discover that crime doers aren’t at fault solely because of themselves, but yet again because of their surroundings in which they grew up in. He also discovered that crime is prominent among working class people in poor areas due to the lack of opportunities to better their circumstances. Crime is also the result of history of discontentment over inequalities which exist in society. Racial antagonism and discrimination in society are also part of the bigger picture why crime is so severe today. (Mills, 1959)

With suicide we need to look beyond the obvious reasoning that all people who are suicidal just want to die and are unhappy with their living conditions. There are many people who appear very happy when in public or when around many people, despite having serious issues in their private lives. When someone that is always happy and never seem to have problems eventually commits suicide, society is greatly shocked and cannot understand why the person has resulted to such a tragic death. People who are suicidal have various reasons for wanting to end their lives which may not appear obvious and clear to society.

People who commit suicide do not really want to end their lives as many seek the attention and acceptance they so dearly want from society. Thinking along the lines of the Sociological Imagination we need to understand the social forces, or the lack thereof, that drives people to commit suicide. Emile Durkheim discovered that levels of integration into society played a big role with suicide. Durkheim argued that there were different social forces responsible for suicides and that there were different cases for suicides. He stated that egoistic suicide was a result of an individual experiencing a low level of social integration whereas altruistic suicide is a result of too much social integration and a loss of individuality. Anomic suicide is associated with moral regulation and due to a sudden breakdown of social order. Fatalistic suicide occurs when the individual was forced to live in unbearable circumstances living a life with little or no reward. (Durkheim, 1951)

To society, divorce is also just another situation where couples want out of unbearable relationships. As more and more couples are getting divorced and the divorce rate of society keeps rising, it is seen as a social issue. When dealing with divorce, we need to research the social forces, society’s attitudes and its’ perceptions on marriage. Also how society is influenced by social structures such as the laws of the land and the media needs to be looked at.

As a layman approach, the most common argument would be that divorce occurs with couples who cheat on each other and are unfaithful in their marriage. Thinking beyond common perceptions held by society, many people get divorced for abuse, lack of communication, financial problems, and imprisonment due to criminal behaviour of a spouse. Also not so clear reasons for divorce are the intellectual incompatibility of spouses, deserting a spouse and the influence of pornography in a marriage.

As Mills has said that the Sociological Perspective helps us understand personal problems as social issues, we begin to see the world in a very “different” light. Thinking with the Sociological Imagination allows us to discover new knowledge about the world we live in by separating common sense and reality. With everyday issues such as unemployment, crime, suicide and divorce we notice that these personal problems become social issues as it affects everyone directly or indirectly.

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