Among the significant number of sciences and teachings sociology always appears the most controversial and acute. Studying various social issues, this field covers the most interesting problems and questions related to the interaction between individuals. As long as human beings are involved in social life every minute, sociology remains relevant science for many years. Therefore the amount of theories and studies that are derived from sociology is truly enormous. One of these studies is the theory of sociological imagination, formulated by C. Wright Mills. Let us and try to analyze the application of sociological imagination theory to the contemporary news article.
To present the analysis adequately let us first briefly observe the object of our research. The text we will be discussing now is an article called “Racial issues have always been a part of Yale “ written by Jared Malsin, a senior in Berkeley College of Yale University. Published in online news column of Yale University website at January 29, this writing has raised a serious social problem of racial inequality. The theme of racism is indeed a significant and acute social phenomenon in the historical life of our country. Malsin describes an application of this problem to the history of Yale University. In his article, the author addresses numerous examples from university life of last centuries that indicated the relationship between outstanding personalities from this institution and the problems of slavery and racial injustice. Jared Malsin describes historical facts from biographies of Yale leaders, portraying a vivid and controversial image of university opinion as for the racial issues. The author emphasizes pro-slavery orientation of the majority of Yale leaders who owned slaves and plantations themselves. On the other hand, some critical personalities of the history of Yale were passionate slavery opponents. Therefore, the article of Jared Malsin discusses the serious social issue of racism through the history of slavery practice in the USA, questioning the position of these subjects onto the human scale of values. This text is a demonstrative object for investigation by sociological theories and studies.
First of all, let us concentrate on the essence of sociological imagination theory. C. Wright Mills had conceived this term in 1959 when the book The Sociological Imagination was published. The major idea the author put in this theory is a correlation between individual and society. Mills believed events that occur within the biography of a person might be viewed and analyzed from the standpoint of history. This means that developments in human life correspond to certain social issues in the history of society in general. The sociological imagination of Mills rests upon three main components, history, biography, and social structure. These elements interrelate tightly forming mutual influence. The author believes his theory is not a social science but rather a mindset with a specific direction of thinking, understanding, and reasoning. Let’s try to realize how Jared Malsin applies Mills’ theory of sociological imagination to the description of social issues in his news article.
The title of the article “Racial issues have always been a part of Yale “ provides a thesis statement of the entire text, picturing the initial thought Jared Malsin expresses. This phrase presents a subjective opinion influenced by historical facts, hence is shaped according to a general theme of sociological imagination. The article itself represents the author’s discourse on the subject highlighted in its title. To what degree does Malsin use Mills theory of sociological imagination? As we already mentioned above, the key components of sociological imagination are history, biography, and social structure. The article refers to multiple events from historical past concerning both certain individuals and American nation in general. Looking back at seventeenth through the twenty-first century, the author provides readers with historical facts that occurred during the development of Yale University. Therefore, the history component of sociological imagination is present in this article. On the other hand, the article does not describe a biography of the specific individual. However, the biographical facts of various personalities mentioned in the text interrelate closely with the life of Yale University. From this standpoint, the story of Yale can be viewed, to my mind, as the individual biography component of sociological imagination. Finally, the third element of Mills’ theory that refers to the structure of society affects the sense of the article soundly. According to Malsin, social issues were playing a significant role in shaping Yale University. Thus, the social structure component of sociological imagination is present in the article we observe.
However, the presence of all three major elements of sociological imagination theory in the text is not enough to make any dangerous conclusions about the degree to which Jared Malsin uses Mills’ study. The most significant indicator of the theory application can be interrelation of history, biography, and social structure, as well as certain way of reasoning. According to the sociological imagination, every historical event and phenomenon influences directly individual life of every society member. On the other hand, each biography including various problems shape the state of society of current period, subsequently affecting history. The ability to look “beyond the borders of social trap…” distinguishes sociological imagination, providing us with the opportunity to look differently at both individual and social issues. In the article “Racial issues have always been a part of Yale “ the author draws a mutual correlation between individual biographies and historical events. For instance, we can trace how personalities influenced history (John Calhoun, Timothy Dwight, Benjamin Silliman, and other Yale leaders supported slavery practice). On the other hand, we see the opposite process when history shapes biography (historical events in society affected life and development of Yale University). Moreover, Mills stated that political and economic entities of organization also interact with individuals directing them to certain behavior. Malsin considers this aspect in his article, discussing the role that political and economic situation in various periods of history played in shaping individual biographies. Therefore, as the interrelation of biographies, history, and society are drawn clearly, I can assume that in his article Jared Malsin used the sociological imagination theory, however, only partially employing its significant elements and general principles.
I suppose that the present article would somehow differ if the author used more of sociological imagination applying more profound knowledge of this theory. For instance, Mills argued that the area his theory covers contains two stages – “the personal troubles of milieu” (individual problems a person faces regarding his surroundings) and “the public issues of social structure” (social-historical problems of entire institutions). By this, he meant that the same phenomenon could be viewed differently considering the scale of its occurrence. From this standpoint, the opposite statement also works – each social aspect has a certain reflection in minor individual scope. Thus, this discourse can lead us to an unexpected conclusion. Yale leaders, mentioned in the article, which supported slavery, were trapped in a “personal troubles of milieu” that only reflected a social issue of slavery practice relevant in that period. Hence the biography of Yale University cannot be blamed for involving support of racial injustice due to inability to influence this social-historical issue. To my mind, if Malsin considered this particular concept of sociological imagination among others in his article, its thesis statement would change from “Racial issues have always been a part of Yale” to “Social issue of racial inequality has always affected Yale history”.
Regarding our discussion, some other specific sociological ideas besides sociological imagination may appear relevant to the subject of news article we observe. The purpose of socializing and cultural agents may partially explain the behavior of society members portrayed in the article. The theory of multiple layers of interpretation can be useful when considering sublayers of the meaning of racial inequality social phenomenon. However, some other sociological ideas will be much more helpful in analyzing social issues discussed in the present article. One of these ideas is Nature vs. Nurture concept. This expression is used to describe the influence that innate characteristics of a person (nature) and his experience acquired through entire life (nurture) have upon the individual behavior. The nature vs. nurture debate was often used to explain pro-racist concepts, exploiting the statement that genetic nature of individuals prevails over their environmental experience. This idea is relevant to the article we observe, as for it may explain the essence of the attitude of mentioned Yale leaders who held slaves to the racial problem in general. The other relevant sociological idea is an issue of Social Roles in functionalist, social action, and interactionist theories. Because this issue implies behavior that society expects from an individual, it can be effectively applied to the subject of Jared Malsin’s article. To some extent, the personalities mentioned such as Berkeley, Livingston, and others were playing social roles in their societies, showing adequate behavior regarding social expectation in the particular historical period. From this point, the individuals of their social status usually had no role conflicts while supporting slavery or racism.
The issue of racial inequality for many years has been the cutest subject of discussions. Various sociological theories turned to this question to analyze and explain this phenomenon.
Although I do not underestimate the role sociology plays in understanding diverse spheres of social life, I think that regardless of theory used to debate racism, slavery should never be excused in civilized and morality-oriented society.
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