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Sociological Imagination

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We live in a regime which promotes the ideas of egalitarianism. An egalitarian favours equality of some sort: People should get the same, or be treated the same, or be treated as equals, in some respect. Egalitarian doctrines tend to express the idea that all human persons are equal in fundamental worth or moral status (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2002) but in reality equality, especially racial equality is a huge farce.

In my essay I will attempt to describe Mills concept “The Sociological Imagination” and common-sense explanation and use the main ideas and differences between sociological imagination and common-sense to analyse the topic of racism in UK.

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Sociological imagination – what is it? The term Sociological imagination was coined by a colourful and controversial New York‘s Columbia‘s university professor C. Wright Mills. The sociological imagination is the ability to see the interrelationships between biography and history, or the connections between our individual lives and larger social forces at work shaping our lives (K.

Brown, 2005). One of the primary goals and main benefits of sociological imagination are to help to develop the ability to participate in social life and then step back and analyze broader meanings of what is going on in the world around us and finally to allow us to look at your own society as though you were an outsider. Mills encouraged every one of us as individuality to understand that our own personal fortunes or misfortunes must be understood in terms of larger public issues that we should see beyond self, see the hidden and be aware how our individual problems can impact the society.

For example very specific circumstances might lead to one person becoming unemployed but when unemployment rates in society as a whole rise it becomes a public issue that needs to be explained (M. Harambolos & M. Holborn, 2004). He felt that developing a sociological imagination will help us to avoid becoming ‘victims’ of social forces and better control our own lives. By understanding how social mechanisms operate, we can better work to bring changes and influence history (K. S. Stolley, 2005). On the other hand, common sense has a longer history, when sociology was out of the question. People in ancient civilizations like ancient Greese or Rome often wondered about different ways of the world and how their society worked. They believed in gods, myths and astrology which lead to a common sense – when people knew something because everyone believed it to be true. Today we know common-sense as ideas that people know, just because it is a common knowledge.

Those ideas are tightly bound up with beliefs of a particular society at particular periods of time. Different societies have different common-sense ideas (K. Brown, 2005). However, common-sense and what we know cannot always be true. ‘People often do not realize that their appeals to common sense are based on the norms they have established with other likeminded people – based on gender, class, education, shared world view, history, etc. ’ (Common sense racism and common sense sexism, 2007).

So how sociological imagination and common-sense differ? The idea of sociological imagination is to describe a perspective on society that is based on theory, research, evidence and conclusions, looking at familiar routines of daily life in unfamiliar ways, from different angle, rather than “common sense,” which is like a first level reaction based on what we learned growing up. Common sense is not necessarily wrong, but it tends to reinforce, rather than challenge the existing scheme of things (E. J. Karlsen et al, 2010).

Using sociological imagination sociologists re-examine existing assumptions, by studying how things were in the past, how they are changed and how they differ between societies, and how they might change in the future (K. Brown, 2005). Sociological imagination and common-sense approaches may be used to examine the topic of racism in UK. Racism is a powerful and destructive form of prejudice and it refers to the belief that one racial category is innately superior or inferior to another (J. J. Macionis & K. Plummer, 2008). Racism has pervaded world history and was connected to exploitation – slavery, colonialism, indenture and immigration.

Racism was imbricated in labour exploitation. The economic factor was dominant in the way racism changed, was shaped and became functional (H. Athval et al, 2010) in previous times and is still alive now in modern society. It is 21 st century but racism is still a powerful and dangerous issue even though it is prohibited by law but still there is a problem with our communication with people different than us. Even in a country like UK which we can boldly call ‘Cradle of race’ there are still people who use violence, racially charged language and directly insult those who are different. Why is it like this?

Looking from sociological imagination perspective we can find that UK historical context, political aspects, economy, social forces, circumstances and common-sense has a significant role in people’s behaviour and attitude. Recently I had the opportunity to think how sociological imagination work when I read a newspaper article ‘The killing of Anthony: The boy who died because of the colour of his skin’ (I. Herbert, 2005). It is about a 17-year-old boy who has been found guilty of murdering black student Anthony. According to a newspaper article the killer harassed Anthony by a bus station calling him ‘nigger’.

Anthony tried to walk to another bus stop via park, where killer pounced from the bushes and dealt Anthony a single blow with the axe, Anthony died. So why stories like that still happen all over again? Could it be that history, politics and social structure are at play or is it a personal problem of the perpetrators? To be sure, I condemn the crime and after reading in the article that Anthony was not the first victim of killer’s racial abuse I assume that hostility toward different people must have been learned at home or school.

But as the sociological imagination requires that I probe further I ask myself if school authorities and family knew that students occasionally harassed different race people for entertainment, why they did not stopped it, didn’t the fact that those behaviours and attitudes were tolerated by adults undermine our thoughts that a boy responsible for the murder is just a bad seed? Let’s move further. Since sociological imagination encourages us to look at things in wider way I can connect this story with UK historical context. Racial violence against ethnic minorities here is centuries old. Race riots’ which indeed led to deaths have taken place in many UK cities. Though there were outcries against such violence, they were localized only to specific incidents.

It was during the late 1960s, when racial violence appeared to become a national sport in poor white communities into which ethnic minority’s families were forced, by poverty, lack of decent housing and job choices, to settle. Community campaigning – public meetings, marches and pickets, informal local protection against racist gangs – became the order of the day (H. Athval et al, 2010). So it is not surprising that from generation to generation, having role models in their home or schools who propagate or tolerate racial abuse, born and raised in atmosphere of tension people like Anthony’s killer develop racist sentiments. Today’s politics and media can be blamed for racial violence too. Let’s take example when Blair government have ordered longer sentences for crimes with a racial element and created a “task force” to tackle racist crime, with the other they have enacted even more legislation against asylum seekers.

They have been deprived of the right to work, isolated from the community, locked up and deported. Those who were not imprisoned were forced to survive on a starvation level of support, left on their own even made homeless: and so they became easy targets for racists. Meanwhile, the government accepts, or at any rate does nothing to reject, racist media stereotypes of immigrants as “scroungers”, a drain on the economy of Britain. Nothing is being done to prevent the most appalling racism being endlessly repeated in the press, with headlines linking asylum and terrorism commonplace (M. Rowley, 16. 5. 2006). This example illustrates common-sense of racism. If government and media says that asylum seeking people are not welcome in UK they are illegal and likely to be terrorists it means government and media knows better because both institutions works for people benefits, they both can not lie so it is true that asylum seeking people do not belong here, they are not equal, moreover they are a threat so we need to get them out of this country or how racist would say, get them first, because they are obvious cause of poor white people hardships for housing, employment and social services.

The same is about immigrants. Today media are drawing examples that immigrants are UK ‘economic enemy’ because people arrive in UK, claim benefits, get council housing, access health and education services (A. Palmer, 21. 03. 2009) but economic benefit of immigration is small and puts an extra pressure on schools, transport and health services (T. Whitehead, 14. 02. 2008). When such formed hostility is lent justification by government policies and harnessed by political parties for electoral gain, racial ideas become firmed into a quasi-ideology which, in turn, feeds and justifies popular racism (H. Athval et al, 2010). In conclusion I want to say that racism is alive because people do not use sociological imagination but find useful common-sense ideas: they do not think with own head just follow stereotypes.

If people with racist ideas used sociological imagination and looked at asylum seekers and immigrants from the perspective of culture and loss they would understand what must it be like to leave your country, family, language, and culture for a community in which you are treated as less than human (J. Rothenberg, 10. 05. 2009). Moreover if a racist used sociological imagination and looked at human but not at his skin colour, ethnicity or race I think they would understand that our all blood is red, we all feel pain and we are all equal. As for the future looking at our failing economy, increased number of hate crimes I think that teaching the next generation how to practice the sociological imagination is more crucial now than ever.


Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (16.08.2002) Egalitarianism. Available from: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/egalitarianism/ [accessed 23.09.2010]

Brown, K. (2005). An introduction to sociology (3 rd Edition). Cambridge: Polity Press

Harambolos, M. & Holborn, M. (2004). Sociology. Themes and Perspectives. (6 th Edition). London: Collins Educational

Stolley, K. S. (2005). The basics of sociology. USA: Greenwood Press

Siren. (18.02.2007). Common sense racism and common sense sexism. Available from: http://www.rabble.ca/babble/feminism/common-sense-racism-and-common-sense-sexism [accessed 01.10.2010]

Karlsen, J. E., Øverland, E.F. & Karlsen, H. (2010). “Sociological contributions to futures’ theory building”, foresight, Vol. 12 Iss: 3, p.60.

Macionis, J.J. & Plummer, K. (2008). Sociology: A global introduction. (4 th Edition). Harlow: Pearson Education Limited

Athval, H., Bourne, J. & Wood, R. (2010). Racial violence: the buried issue. IRR Briefing paper NO.6. Available from: http://www.irr.org.uk/pdf2/IRR_Briefing_No.6.pdf [accessed 23.09.2010]

Herbert, I. (01.12.2005). ‘The killing of Anthony: The boy who died because of the colour of his skin’. Available from: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/the-killing-of-anthony-the-boy-who-died-because-of-the-colour-of-his-skin-517644.html [accessed 23.09.2010]

Rowley, M. (16.05.2006). ‘Background: Racism in the UK’. Worker‘s liberty. Available from: http://www.workersliberty.org/node/6260 [accessed 10.10.2010]

Palmer, A. (21.03.2009). ‘All you need to know about immigration in Britain today‘. Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/5028913/All-you-need-to-know-about-immigration-in-Britain-today.html [accessed 07.10.2010]

Whitehead, T. (14.02.2008). ‘Does Britain have too many immigrants?’ Available from: http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/31409/Does-Britain-have-too-many-immigrants [accessed 07.10.2010]

Rothenberg, J. (10.05.2009). ‘Private Troubles and Public Issues in the Classroom’. Available from: http://chronicle.com/article/Private-TroublesPublic/11488/ [accessed

Cite this Sociological Imagination

Sociological Imagination. (2017, Mar 19). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/sociological-imagination-5/

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