…is one of the most famous quotes by sociologist C. Wright Mills. His book “Sociological Imagination” counts among the most influential books in sociology and is frequently assigned as reading in sociological syllabi in the US and beyond.
The quote is exemplary for Mills understanding of sociology, which he positioned at the intersection of individual biographies and social history. Sociological imagination refers to the capability of sociologists to switch perspectives between the personal troubles of individuals, and the social structures in which these troubles are embedded. Sociological inquiry only reaches maturity if both perspectives can be connected. Mills position implies a critique of sociology that is too narrowly focused on either individual experiences or social structures. It is pledge for a balanced account of biography and history. This pledge not only refers to the methods sociologists use, but also to making sociology more understandable to a broader public – an important aspect in public sociology.
Mills, who died only 45 years old, was a professor at Columbia University and an engaged public intellectual.
Jacobs, Jerry (2021): Sociological Curiosity, Updating C. Wright Mills, Journal of Indexing and Metrics, 20 (3).
Mills, C. Wright (1959): Sociological Imagination, Oxford University Press, New York.
Mills, C. Wright (2016): Soziologische Phantasie, edited by Stephan Lessenich and translated by Ulrike Berger, Springer VS, Wiesbaden.