Literature Study GuidesThe Sociological Imagination

The Sociological Imagination | Study Guide

C. Wright Mills

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "The Sociological Imagination Study Guide." Course Hero. 14 June 2019. Web. 3 July 2022. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2019, June 14). The Sociological Imagination Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved July 3, 2022, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2019)



Course Hero. "The Sociological Imagination Study Guide." June 14, 2019. Accessed July 3, 2022.


Course Hero, "The Sociological Imagination Study Guide," June 14, 2019, accessed July 3, 2022,



C. Wright Mills

Year Published






At a Glance

The eponymous term, sociological imagination, originates in C. Wright Mills's 1959 book, which criticizes trends in the social sciences of his day. Specifically, practitioners of social study aspired to create a pseudoscientific paradigm in which they attempted to conduct value-free investigations of people and society. In other words, they were overly concerned with developing theoretical explanations for human behavior that were not informed by empirical study of the populations these theories aimed to explain. Mills challenges such attempts to understand humanity and its social structures in a valueless vacuum, ignoring both history and context. He stands within the radical tradition of American sociology—carrying the torch passed by German sociologist Max Weber (1864–1920) and American economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen (1857–1929) and inspiring the New Left of the 1960s. Mills was arguably the most important American sociologist of the last half the 20th century. In The Sociological Imagination, he calls on social scientists to locate their understanding of the social structure at the intersection of personal biography and world history and urges them to advocate for freedom and reason. His prescient critique of postmodern democracy and explanation of the ways in which large bureaucratic institutions have curtailed it are highly relevant today. Mills predicted some of the ways in which monopoly capitalism would come to undermine the Enlightenment ideals of the earlier American era. The text remains important as a handbook for how to approach social science as well as a trove of insights on the American social structure.

Perspective and Narrator

The Sociological Imagination combines third-person and first-person narration. When the author switches to first-person narration, he sometimes includes the reader with the pronoun we.

About the Title

The title The Sociological Imagination is a phrase coined by C. Wright Mills, which has become a keystone concept in sociology. The sociological imagination is the ability to make connections between personal biography, or the facts and circumstances of an individual life, and larger social, political, and economic structures. Mills himself defined the term as "the vivid awareness of the relationship between personal experience and the wider society." The sociological imagination allows a thinking person to grasp how the larger societal context both reflects the individual context and also shapes it.


This study guide for C. Wright Mills's The Sociological Imagination offers summary and analysis on themes, symbols, and other literary devices found in the text. Explore Course Hero's library of literature materials, including documents and Q&A pairs.

Buy this book from
Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about The Sociological Imagination? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!