What is Sociology?
While I consider myself a strong advocate, I must also be among Sociology’s worst salespersons. Instead of citing its textbook definition (“Sociology is the scientific study of society”) or its subversive habits (“Sociology debunks common sense” or “Sociology and Anthropology give voice to the voiceless”), I ramble to curious friends about its diversity, as though the same is not true of any other discipline.
Little did I realize, I have known my answer all along. CW Mills (spoken as “C Wright Mills”) gave me the answer in the first week of my first year in the National University of Singapore.
The Sociological Imagination
“Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both.”
While highly quotable, the meaning of this statement can easily be reduced to fit within existing frames of understanding. Isn’t it obvious that individuals are shaped by society, and certain individuals can shape society? Perhaps, but to settle on this abstract interpretation means losing the utility behind Mills’ ideas. This is not merely an idea, but a quality of mind (it’s called an imagination).
While less quotable, this statement specifies (“in terms of“) the practical application. It is not just about a detached recognition that individuals are interwoven with societies and cultures – though this is a good start. The sociological imagination sparkles into life when one allows this recognition to transform understandings of self and others, on a human level.
Sociology at its base helps one to understand society. Sociology at its best helps one to reimagine the individual. I thus present to you the following 4 series of quotes: Sociology Quotes, Society Quotes, Self-Help Quotes, Empath Quotes. In truth, the sociological imagination is hardly confined to the first. I have no qualms citing Max Weber under Self-Help. Read on to figure out how!
Sociology Quotes (explanatory)
To challenge common sense, and recast individual problems as social problems (vice versa) – that is the imagination I hope you gain from such Sociology Quotes. Feel free to share them with those who judge, but think they don’t!
Society Quotes (evaluative)
To recognize the limits of past and present societies, and envision a better society – that is the situatedness I hope you gain from such Society Quotes. Feel free to share them with those who dream, or fail to dream!
Self-Help Quotes (action-oriented)
To reclaim thinking for the purpose of action, and plant seeds for self-improvement – that is the desire I hope you gain from such Self-Help Quotes. Feel free to share them with those who doubt, or think they don’t!
Empath Quotes (spirit-oriented)
To engage the bodies our minds work in, and sense the energies in others – that is the awareness I hope you gain from such Empath Quotes. Feel free to share them with those you love, or stopped to hate!
At the Crossroads of Life
We often assume that the question “Who am I?” is reserved for psychology and philosophy, and the question “What can I do?” is reserved for social work and specialist disciplines. We also tend to look to economics and political science for understanding worlds much larger than us. Sociology stands at the crossroads of these inner and outer concerns, sometimes secondary but never superfluous.
Give the sociological imagination a chance.
To be able to make a choice that others cannot, on what to think and how to act – that is the agency I hope you gain from these sociological quotes. My hope is that they will help you rethink structure and agency, in more fluid terms of constraints and possibilities in your life.