Edited by John Scott and Ann Nilsen
Encountering the sociological imagination
Like many people, I encountered C. Wright Mills through The Sociological Imagination. When I began my studies as an undergraduate student in 1968 it was one of the books recommended to us as an introductory guide to what good sociology is all about. Its radical perspective and direct style of writing immediately appealed to me and served to give me a perspective on the social world that has stayed with me ever since. Mills’s view of the intrinsic and essential relationship between social structure, history, and biography gave a view of the discipline that resonated with those things that had drawn me into the subject and still provides a charter for a comprehensive view of sociological understanding. Before engaging with sociology proper I had read Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams and Marx’s Capital. Marx showed the ways in which individuals could be understood as determined yet active products of socially structured economic processes that exist as definite historical stages of social development. Freud showed that individual subjectivity and unconscious processes were an essential for understanding everyday social behaviour. While Mills was no Freudian, his argument did show me how psychological and historical-structural elements could be inter- related. It was only somewhat later, as I read more of his work, that I discovered the particular social-psychological preferences of Mills himself. Through reading The Sociological Imagination I discovered his Character and Social Structure, written with Hans Gerth. The textbooks we used were written from a largely structural-functionalist perspective and aimed at comprehensive empirical description.
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