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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
The Sociological Imagination by C. Wright Mills 
26th-Jun-2009 10:00 pm
Wow, look who's feeling inspired to read scholarly books again? ^^;

Mills, C. Wright. The Sociological Imagination. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959.
          Summary: This book is C. Wright Mill's manifesto for good research. He combines scathing critiques of so-called Grand Theory and Abstracted Empiricism and calls for a return to classical sociology that "enables up to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society" (6). He argues that social scientists must not give into the temptations of power and focus on turning peoples' personal troubles into public issues.
          Comments: You know a fifty year old ptolemic is great when it feels as relevant now as it must have when it was first published. Mills' teardowns of Grand Theory and Abstract Empiricism are frighteningly prescient, as the academy as a whole becomes more boxed into ever more arcane specialties, and The American Journal of Sociology and the American Sociological Review become ground zero for ever more ridiculous iterations of data and statistics. But really, I don't love The Sociological Imagination for its snark--though, yes, his "translations" of Talcott Parsons are priceless--I love it for its idealism. At his best, Mills reminds you what the study of society and the teaching of the social sciences should be able to do, about how how they can reveal a personal misery as a systemic social ill and the opposite as well. (Mills believes in the perfectibility of humanity, by the way, and it's nice to see somebody who references the Enlightenment without any scare quotes.)
          Of course, from the perspective of a graduate student, Mills offers both advice and caution. He warns against aligning oneself too closely to power and bureaucracy; he repeats often the warning that increased rationality of institutions and technological progress does not necessarily translate more freedom of thought or conscience or self-determination. He also suggests pitching one's findings to a group of colleagues, students, and interested members of the public from off the streets--an excellent audience to imagine when preparing written work or lectures. And finally, I love his prescription for good (qualitative) work in the social sciences: "Social science deals with problems of biography, of history, and of their intersections within social structures. That this three--biography, history, and society--are the co-ordinate points of the proper study of man..." (143). Though for the most part, save for the appendix chapter, "On Intellectual Craftsmanship," he leaves the specifics of carrying out such research to the reader, it is a worth goal in which to aspire...and one to which all social scientists should periodically return to--lest they forget.
          Rating: 8.5/10 - If you want a monograph intended to light a fire under your researching behind, this book is bar none the best to kindle that flame.
27th-Jun-2009 06:46 am (UTC)
I was just thinking re: sociology - Have you read Kate Fox's Watching the English?

It would be a good preparation for the foibles of living in contact with them ^^ and she writes entertainingly (to my mind), as well. Her "Passport to the Pub" is available as a free pdf from SIRC http://www.sirc.org/publik/pub.html
27th-Jun-2009 12:35 pm (UTC)
Thank you--I will look it up!
27th-Jun-2009 07:45 pm (UTC)
Watching the English already out in paperback (which is when I bought it, because it became quite a bestseller in non-fiction in the UK and was available as an import book at most big German bookstores that carry English-speaking books).

I wouldn't be surprised if you could get it via library, too.
28th-Jun-2009 03:00 pm (UTC)
I got a copy. Looks amusing. Thanks for the rec! ^_^
29th-Jun-2009 01:42 am (UTC)
Sounds like an interesting book. I came across your journal, was wondering if you'd like to become friends.
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