Week 2 - C. Wright Mills (Sociological Imagination)

Essay Structure C. Wright Mills: 'The Promise'. Introduction in The Sociological Imagination. (1959)

Introduction block. People feel trouble, but fail to understand their problems in terms of historical change and institutional contradiction.

-Part 1. (The sociological imagination enables people to understand ‘how individuals…often become falsely conscious of their social positions. With three sub-sections a) What is the essential structure of society as a whole. b) Where does this society stand in human history? c) What varieties of men and women now prevail in this society? Allows a shift in perspective.)

-Part 2. (Personal troubles of the mileu and Public issues of social structure. Defines troubles/issues and gives examples: Unemployment, War, Marriage, the City.)

-Part 3. (“What are the major issues for the publics and the key troubles of private individuals in our time?” To know this, we must know “what values are cherished but threatened?” “Who has no cherished values?” Describes a ‘vague uneasiness’ and ‘indifference’. What is cherished itself has been thrown into question. “It is now the social scientist’s foremost political and intellectual task – for here the two coincide – to make clear the elements of contemporary uneasiness and indifference.)

-Part 4. (“The sociological imagination is becoming, I believe, the major common denominator of our cultural life and its signal feature. In factual and moral concerns, in literary work, and in political analysis. Sociologist as novelist. The need to reappraise science. C.P. Snow’s ‘two cultures’: Scientific and the Humanistic. And yet we cannot find orienting values in art.)

-Part 5. (What my book will do: Specify the kinds of effort that lie behind the development of the Sociological Imagination. Footnote on the use of the word ‘Science’. “The pretentious mediocrity of much current effort.” (20) Describes such scholarship.)

-Part 6. (Description of Sociological Tendencies: 3 ‘tendencies’. Conclusion: Promises of social science.)

Discussion: Mediated Societes and the Lecture by Dr. Nielsen

From my perspective, the lecture by Dr. Nielsen aimed at achieving three goals:

1. The introduction of the concept of a 'mediated society'.

2. The definition of several key sociological terms: Society, Institution, Culture, Social Structure, Agency, Values, Norms, Status, Roles, Private problems/Public Issues. 

3. The introduction of two film-clips. One which highlighted his notion of a mediated society, the second which was to be the object of an investigation using the sociological imagination. 

I will deal with each of these goals in turn. 


1. Mediated Society

The idea of mediated society is identical to the notion of a 'post-modern' society we discussed in class (The division between: Ye Olde Medieval Days or Traditional Society - Roughly until 1600 or 1700/The Modern Period - 1700 until around 1945/The Post-Modern Period - 1945 until today).

It is essential to understand that when Dr. Nielsen talks about 'media' or a 'mediated society' he is not talking about (just) the news. Media here means all communication. This of 'media' not as the news but as all 'mediums' of communication (ie: the alphabet, books, the telegraph, the telephone, the internet, cell phones, text messages, etc.) as well as anything that might 'carry' a message (ie: our clothes, which not only carry brands and so on but also 'communicate' to others a great deal about our self. We wear clothes to make a particular impression, and we send that message by wearing certain clothes in certain situations. Thus, clothes are a 'medium' of communication.) As should be obvious at this point this is a much broader idea than simply the news, but the news is also obviously a 'media', a medium by which we communicate ideas/symbols/concepts/etc.

A 'mediated' society, then, is one which relies on and exchanges most of its information and communication through mediated networks. This is also why mediated societies/post-modern societies are globalized societies. We achieved a global network of communication sometime in the early 20th century. This global communication network has greatly influenced the kinds of societies that have emerged.  

2. Definition of Terms

Dr. Nielsen introduced a series of essential terms used throughout sociology. I here provide my own definitions. The definitions found on the slides shown during the lecture can be found of moodle. 

Society: A word that arose in the modern period describing large social groups. Today, this word is used to describe almost any size of social group. Society is a specifically modern notion as it only arises with the coinciding rise of the (idea of the) individual in Europe. This coincides with the founding of nation-states, which were to be comprised of individual citizens that made up the nation instead of kin or family groups making up a kingdom, as was the case in the preceding medieval system.

Institution: A set of relationships and ideas that are handed down within a social group constituting a structure that persists over time. Institutions precede the individual and tend to change slowly. 

Culture: Meaning creating practices. 

Social Structure/Agency: 'Sociological' terms that stand in for common terms found in philosophy: Determinism/Free Will: Basically whether everything we do is pre-determined, or whether we have choice (free will, autonomy, the ability to change, correct, or heal our societies, etc.)

Values: Cherished, non-material things handed down and between social groups. 

Norms: Ideas of what is considered appropriate behaviour or thought in a given society. In more traditional societies these norms tend to be centred around the family and/or religion. In 'liberal' societies (metropolitan, capitalist, secular, democratic) these norms tend to be centred around individuals, health and consumption. 

Status: Distinctions between individuals based on group esteem. 

Roles: An institutional position. (Example: Fathers/Mothers; Administrators; President of a Country; Clergy.)

Private Problems/Public Issues: As described in the C. Wright Mills reading from week 2. 


3. Reading Films Sociologically: The King's Speech and Bon Cop, Bad Cop:

The two films that Dr. Nielsen showed during lecture were intended for two different ends. However, both were to be used as material for an application of the `sociological imagination.`

The King`s Speech was included to illustrate a mediated society. The prince, a representative of the old order overthrown during modernism, must address the entire country with the invention of the radio. The social forces around him (his father the present king, geopolitics - ie, the rise of Nazism and Bolshevism in Europe, etc.)  oblige him to overcome his speech impediment and learn to project his voice through this new wireless technology. The overall implication is that the structures of power and social order are changed by technologies of communication and mediation such as the radio.

Bon Cop, Bad Cop was included to be used as material in an exercise of the sociological imagination. The dynamics of English and French Canada deployed by the comedy are themselves indicative of the social facts and social forces of Canada itself, which underlie the film`s representation. This will be discussed further in class. 



Film Clips and Podcasts:

An example of Zizek applying the `sociological imagination`(in other words, doing a sociological analysis) of the film The Avengers:



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