Got a Sociological Imagination?

Alice had to fall down a rabbit hole before she could see it. Neo had to be unplugged from the “matrix” before he could truly understand it; and, before Toto found himself in the position to pull back the infamous curtain, a tornado was needed to whisk Dorothy from it. Realities abound; thanks, in large part to human consciousness, which just so happens to separate us, from every other animal on the planet. Sorry, Toto. The human mind allows for a kaleidoscope of interpretations, analyses, and recountings of life-experiences, shared (culture, media, family, religion, state) or otherwise(individual). Along with this massive spectrum of possibilities comes the task to discern the “why” or the “how” of a situation and yourself, in relation, to the social environment you happen to be in at that specific time. In trying to make sense of these interactions between competing actors and socially constructed factors the discipline of sociology earns its place of importance in human society.

One does not have to go to school and major in sociology to “learn” how to understand one’s self and the world one lives in. I believe the sociological imagination is inherent among all human beings. Schooling does, however, provide the means to develop and hone one’s sociological imagination. Everyone has had that moment in their life when something did not add up and for a moment questioned something: a rule, a law, an official story, and so on and so on. In the most basic of senses this “questioning of something” is the foundation that the discipline of sociology has been built upon.

I believe an individual with a sharp sociological imagination asks the question, “why?” and is always considering latent functions of his/her findings while still trying to separate their biases from their research. I believe asking “why” is fundamental and essential for any society to grow. A good sociologist should become more politically or socially active just like Marx suggested when using the term praxis. However, I believe they should show restraint and thoroughly research the issues they are “for” or “against” before they socially act. I also think that an individual using his/her sociological imagination must remain grounded and humbled. To paraphrase a former sociology professor from Modesto Junior College, “I’ll be a student all my life.” This, coming from a woman who has been on this planet for over seventy years, should humble even the most prideful individual. This way of looking at life, that there is something you can always get better at or learn more about, is the backbone of my philosophy for life. It reminds me of something the existential philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once stated in The Dawn, “A snake that cannot shed its skin perishes; so do the spirits that are prevented from changing their opinions, they cease to be spirit.” In preventing yourself from changing your opinion you very well can be considered one of the mindless walking-dead aimlessly traversing the planet in search of your next meal and not much else. However, we must not go to the extreme in the opposite direction and not “believe in something” as the old saying warns “Those who believe in nothing, fall for anything.”

In many ways, reality can be stranger than fiction. The role of sociology is simple, separating the fiction from reality. By illuminating the dark areas of the man-made social structures to determine their effectiveness and efficiency in doing what they were designed to do, sociologists can contribute positive change for the individuals, families, and other socially-formed groups in the world. We should remember that everyone is a “sociologist” whether they realize it or not. Some have a better knack for it than others; but, by unplugging others from the matrix of deceit and denial, by “throwing back” the proverbial curtain and exposing the “fraud” of Oz, all, can know what it means to be a sociologist. The world could be a much better place if people were encouraged to simply ask “Why?”

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~ by jrparrott on June 24, 2010.

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