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Can we apply a sociological perspective and imagination’ to all aspects of our lives?
This essay will define sociological perspective and imagination, determine how they are portrayed as human behaviours, and apply them to a micro and macro level society.
“Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both” (C.W.Mills, 1916-62)
Sociological – Concerning the development, structure and functionality of human society. Perspective – A particular perspective is one way of thinking about something.
Imagination – The ability to form new and exciting ideas.
It is rather self explanatory to any sociologist or student in sociology what the meaning of ‘sociological perspective and imagination’ is. For others it is probably too self explanatory in a rather transparent way. To knowingly apply a sociological perspective or imagination to all aspects of life, it is important to understand the terminology. Without knowing that, it would appear that the person applying their sociologically imaginative perspective is merely an empath.
The person may apply symbolic interactionism to the tasks in their everyday lives without even knowing, for example; attaching symbols to events; Marriage, a white dress, pretty white bows, life committing vows and a cake.
It is far simpler to answer the question stated directly, and say “Yes, a sociological imagination and perspective can be applied to all aspects of our lives.” because as humankind, we certainly can. There are many examples of people applying a sociological imagination and perspective to a multitude of events in their lives.
There are also many actions carried out by humans that can appear on the face of it, sociologically imaginative. For example; buying fair trade milk and coffee beans, this seems like the buyer would be considering the hard work put in by farmers, pickers, packers and shippers. But, do you really have a 30 minute conversation with your conscious when buying the products for your morning beverage?
It is very easily said that as humans we can apply a sociological imagination and perspective to all aspects of our lives, although, as a macro-level society it would be extremely difficult to do that. There are minor implications that may impair somebody’s judgement. For example; social stratification; lack of education; class; gender, age and race. However, Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) believed that individuals make up society, but to understand society as a whole, sociologists have to look beyond individuals to social facts, laws, morals, values, religious beliefs, customs, fashion, rituals, and all of the different cultures that govern social life (OpenStax CNX,2018). Having said this, there is however a huge criticism in the structural functionalist theory. Earlier sociologists such as Durkheim hypothesised that repetitive behaviours within society supposedly have a function. Understandably in the late 1800’s this probably was the case, especially as people did not go around stabbing one another. However in 2019 the same hypothesis does not seem nearly as relevant, there are many behaviours that are being repeated daily here in the UK in 2019 with absolutely none or very little explanation as to why these behaviours are happening.
The above may seem rather irrelevant to this essay question but it incredibly important to consider behaviour as a part of sociological imagination. “There are situations where your fists aren’t going to help you. That’s why people carry knives. People are scared.” (Ashmall, L., 2016). I ask you, where is the sociological imagination or perspective in this? According to the likes of Durkheim and Merton, the revolution of carrying knives and stabbing people would include Merton’s idea of manifest functions ie: feeling safe whilst carrying knives. His idea of latent functions might include using that knife to stab somebody. Whilst adding a sociological imagination and perspective to the aforementioned situation, it can be observed that in cities like London where knife crime is extremely rife, the youth of the city may feel afraid, certain ethnic minorities might feel targeted and possibly feel that carrying a knife could offer them protection. In another aspect, there is the question ‘Do they know that for a knife to protect them, they have to use it?’
There is strong evidence to suggest that those who carry knives have absolutely no sociological imagination whatsoever. This is because they either are not aware of the one year (maximum four years) conviction law for carrying a blade that is not a folding pocket knife in excess of three inches. Or, they simply do not care about the repercussions of carrying a bladed weapon in the UK. This shows very little sociological imagination or perspective. Many youths in the UK continue to carry weapons, even after they have lost a friend or family member through knife crime. Again, this shows that they either do not have the capacity to empathise, or do not care (Cannon. Matthew., 2019)
In applying symbolic interactionism to the above, it can be strongly suggested that the macro-level society will consider knife carriers to be ‘chavs’, ‘criminals’, ‘down and outs’, and many other labels (Jones, 2011).
In considering the biggest ‘societal challenge in 2019, it is only fair to consider micro and macro societies from the late 1800’s, mainly because it will supply a conclusion to whether or not having a sociological perspective is outdated.
“Despite the tensions in the Borden household, Lizzie seemed sociable and utterly ordinary to people in the community.” (McNamara, 2019). Lizzie lived at home and was an active member at her church, she also attended many charitable events. Lizzie Borden was accused of murdering her father and step-mother with an axe in Fall River, Massachusetts in the year of 1893. She was not convicted for the murders and lived with her sister in Massachusetts for most of her life before dying in 1927. The trial of Borden was widely publicised by many tabloids. This type of crime was highly sparse in the late 1800’s so this pricked many people’s ears up. Society were quick to change their opinion of Borden, some would target her house and her sister. Sociologists Emile Durkheim and Robert Merton world have trouble finding a pattern in that behaviour. Children mustered up a rhyme regarding Borden it went, “Lizzie Borden took an axe, and gave her mother 40 whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41.”. This carried Borden’s name well into the mid 1900’s
through the local community. Today, her case is still spoken about and it is suspected that she was not the culprit at all.
In a sense of symbolic interactionism regarding the aforementioned, the micro-level society certainly shunned Borden, although there is a lack of evidence regarding any labels she may have been given, it can most definitely be assumed that there would have been some degrading labels attached to her name, much like the rhyme. On a macro-level, it is assumed that society simply knew Borden as an axe murderer. Moreover, the only theory in regards to Lizzie Borden that relatively fits is the Conflict Theory. Karl Marx (1818-1883) would suggest that Borden was simply competing to achieve mobility in her social status. By abolishing her parents, she may have stood a better chance at doing so (OpenStax CNX, 2018).
In conclusion, having evaluated some of the largest societal issues from today, and from the late 1800’s when popular sociologists like Merton, Marx, Durkheim and Gumplowicz indicated that a sociological perspective and imagination would be full steam ahead. This essay has provided some interesting insights into the history of the most famous sociologists and how their observations became theories. It appears that in the 1890’s the ideology that a sociological perspective could be applied was very soon after it was originally hypothesised. This means that society was somewhat unaware of what a sociological imagination or perspective was, therefore it could not be applied. Having said this, people could still be seen showing empathetic traits and self-actualisation, this manifests the idea that sociological imagination was being applied unknowingly. Much as the late 1800’s, today, general society seem to be unaware of the meaning of ‘sociological imagination’ or ‘sociological perspective’. This may be because the ideologies are not spoken about in everyday conversation and the studies of sociology are only available in education at A-Level. In America, college students are 40% less empathetic than 30 years ago. Narcissism has also increased by 58% (shwartz, 2017). This shows that people care less about others and more about themselves, which indicates a massive decline in those choosing to apply a sociological imagination or perspective.
In short, it seems as though people cannot be bothered to consider the pros and cons of particular situations in their lives. But, a sociological perspective can be applied to all aspects of life should one find the time to do so.
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