C. Wright Mills: The Sociological Imagination

In his work “The Sociological Imagination,” published in 1959 published by Oxford University Press, C. Wright Mills mentions two arguments. First, that entities turn private troubles into public issues. Second, Mills argues that problems are structural, rather than personal faults. Mills’ argument is deeply ingrained in society. This is especially relevant when there is anomie in society, or conflicting ideas, which can cause conflict between groups. A common example offered by sociologists is the ‘War on Drugs’ facilitated by the powerful politicians in the 1980’s.

Drug use, especially illegal drug use, was very common in the 1980’s by low income minorities. Drug use was and still is a personal problem, but powerful politicians turned it into a public problem that must be eradicated. In fact, Nancy Reagan lead a ‘Just Say No’ campaign to eliminate illegal drug use. Some would argue that this illegal drug use is a structural problem, caused by the lack of equal and legal employment opportunities to minorities so they resort to illegal activities. They resort to illegal activities because they have to make a living to support themselves and their family somehow.

I argue that Sociological Imagination as proposed by Mills also applies to labor unions. More specifically, why labor unions form. According to Michael D. Yates’ book “Why Unions Matter” published in 1998 by Monthly Review Press, Unions form because employers are unhappy with their circumstances, such as horrible pay and subpar benefits. More specifically, the workers are turning a private troubles [poor pay and benefits] into public issues on a mass scale by forming unions. Unions exist to try and solve structural inequalities, caused by the inherent social stratification within companies, by negotiating or protesting against their employer until demands are met.

It is very apparent that Mills’ concept applies to various aspects of society. It is a way to understand where our troubles come from and how our troubles can be solved. Using Mills’ argument, it is apparent that as long as minorities get equal and legal opportunities to make money, underground economies and drug use will be on the decline. As long as employers pay the workers fairly, unhappy workers will start to decrease.

Mills C.W. 1959. The Sociological Imagination. Oxford University Press: New York.

Yates, M.D. 1998. Why Unions Matter. Monthly Review Press: Ny, New York.

Image Credit: Fredonia


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