Appendix to C. Wright Mills’
The Sociological Imagination
Prepared by Muhammed A. Asad


To the individual social

  • “To the individual social scientist who feels himself part of the tradition (of sociology), social science is the practice of a craft. A man (or woman) at work on problems of substance, he/she is among those who are quickly made impatient and weary by elaborate discussions of method-and-theory-in-general; so much of it interrupts his proper studies. It is much better, he believes, to have one account by a working student of how he is going about his work than a dozen ‘codifications of procedure’ by specialists who as often as not have never done much work of consequence.” (C. Wright Mills)

How do you go about

  • How do you go about practicing your craft?
  • How do you make your experience relevant to understanding your condition and the condition of your society


  • 1. Do not split your work from your life. Live your work. By work is meant your work as a social scientist. Use your work to enrich your life and your life to enrich your work.
  • Your work as a social scientist will help you understand your life, that is how your work enriches your life & Your life experience will direct your research that is how your life enriches your work.

Intellectual “way of life.”

  • The scholarship is not only how you do your work, but it is also how you live your life: Your past guides your present and defines your capacity for future experience and research

How are you going

  • How are you going to make this experience meaningful?

The File

  • Your life experience is captured and organized and made meaningful to your work by keeping a journal in the form of a file that has categories for :
  • Personal experience
  • Professional Activities
  • Studies Underway
  • Studies Planned
  • Master section- major problems as you see them

A journal kept in this

  • A journal kept in this fashion will enrich your work and your life- (note I said “your work” not “corporate work” ) by:
  • Organizing your experience
  • Removing repetition, since you’ll have your experience documented
  • It will help you capture fringe thoughts that are lost if not noted down. We get these “revelations” all the time.
  • Personal experience is paramount as a source of ORIGINAL intellectual work. Don’t lose it, organize it, note it down, keep a journal. Use concepts to understand your experience, not concepts as ends in themselves

Awaken your “inner world.”

  • People in a bureaucratized ‘mass society’ have very little “personal experience,” their “experience” is conditioned from above: everything and every day are almost the same. The little “personal experience” they have can be a guide to original intellectual work. It should not be lost
  • By reasoning and arguing with yourself ( i.e., reflection), and organizing your “personal experience” by keeping a journal, you develop an ability to a) control your experience, b) develop a habit of writing and c) awaken your “inner world.” Once your “inner world” awakes, you will never feel bored. Your work will become your leisure.

The “Salesman Technician”

  • Most social scientists become technicians in a bureaucratic organization; they write only when they need to get grants ( i.e., money) for research, or what others tell them to write about (to sell books that are popular, etc.).
  • As such their work becomes a kind of “salesmanship” fitting in with what corporate culture demands, work that is measured regarding money, all originality and passion from work is lost, it becomes detached from the intellectual and you can tell the artificial character of their work when you read it.

The “Master Section” of the file

  • Now that you have a journal in the form of a file, make a list of problems that you want to research, and plans of research that you are going to follow. That will be the “master” section of your file. The “major” problems of social science as you see them
  • Don’t get stuck on any one plan, triangulate- don’t get lost in the method you use in maintaining the file and lose its purpose. Be flexible, not bureaucratic

How to use books

  • When you read books that are relevant to your topic of research, you can use them in one of three ways:
  • 1. You accept what the author says, just restate the same.
  • 2. You refute what he/she says
  • 3. Use the work only as one of many suggestions for your elaboration, e.g., how can you test what the author has said: by turning it into a testable hypothesis or statements.

Writing: a learning tool

  • Note-taking and writing during reading is a good way to learn. Notes often lead to reflection and enhance comprehension of what you are reading.
  • Keep designing studies and plans of studies even if you don’t have the funds or grants to carry them out.

Reasoning: How to Begin

  • 1. Elements, definitions and core concepts, which ones are you going to use
  • 2. The logical relationship between definitions and what you’re studying
  • 3. Eliminate false views using these relationships
  • 4. Restate the question now that you know the above.

The playfulness of the Mind

  • Reasoning and your file will help you to combine concepts that you never thought were combinable. You will develop the sociological imagination, a sort of “playfulness of the mind.”
  • Sociological Imagination => {history+biography+social structure} and their interrelationship.

Stimulating the Sociological Imagination

  • 1. Arrange and rearrange your files, i.e., spend quality-time with your files. It represents the “meaning” of your life, respects it.
  • 2. Develop a “playfulness” of the mind- towards phrases, words, ideas, and levels of generalization- if generalizations are huge, break them down into testable forms.

Core-Concepts & Diagrams

  • 3. Cast your notions into types- (Typification), i.e., develop your core concepts based on knowledge (not stereotypes).
  • 4. Draw charts, diagrams and models not only quantitative but QUALITATIVE as well.

The Grammar of the Sociological Imagination

  • “Charts, tables, and diagrams of a qualitative sort are not only ways to display work already done. They are very often genuine tools of (intellectual) production. They clarify the dimensions of the types. They also help you to imagine and build…They are the VERY GRAMMAR of the Sociological Imagination
    (C. Wright Mills)

The Grammar


Imagined Worlds

  • 5. Think regarding extremes, the “ideal types” or “imagined worlds” and then try to understand what exists in reality. Mills says, “let your mind become a moving prism, catching light from as many angles as possible”-
  • Don’t get hung up on one thinker or idea. Don’t restrict your mind or your life with meaningless stereotypes or bureaucratic rationality.

History & Themes

  • 6. Orient your work historically, don’t ignore history
  • 7. In your work pick out the “themes” what you will address, keep these in your file and your mind as you do your work, your reading and writing.

Work-Oriented not “Career” Oriented

  • 8. Always present your work in clear, easy to understand language. Be work oriented as an intellectual and not “career” oriented. The desire for status is why academicians write in unintelligible ways, (soc-speak) so that we view them as “professionals” and not mere journalists.
  • Those who cannot write simply for all to understand often don’t understand the concepts themselves! (There is a positive relationship between arrogance are ignorance. The more ignorant a person is, the more arrogant he or she becomes and vice versa). The more you know you should make you realize how little we all know. Keep it simple, learn humbly.

Human not “Machine Manufactured.”

  • 9. Write like a human being who is living out a biography and not in “machine manufactured prose.”When you write, assume you are talking to people, addressing an audience that will make your writing more real rather than manufactured.


  • 1. Be a good craftsman/woman: Avoid rigid procedure, be flexible and creative. Be your person, a one-man/woman solution to the world and its problems. Have confidence in your solutions. No matter how inadequate your solutions are, they will still be better than the mess those on top have made and are making on a daily basis.
    Don’t respect the mess-making “power elite”. Don’t give them undue status. Have confidence in yourself and your solutions to the problems of the world


  • 2. Write simply, in clear language.
  • 3. Use the sociological imagination that you have developed. Don’t ignore the history part of that image.
  • 4. When you study small problems or areas, don’t overlook the larger social structures in which these occur. In other words be conscious of how personal troubles transcend local environments and become public issues, that have public/social/global solutions.
  • 5. Translate own problems into public affairs and then even larger world issues- be comparative in your analysis and not ethnocentric.

Avoid “Official” Definitions of Issues and Troubles

  • Don’t let official definitions of troubles or issues be your guide to the troubles and issues you study. Formulate them for yourselves and don’t be distracted by the “reality” defined for you by the powerful.
  • Be sovereign in essence and not just by “official” slogan.

The “traps” revisited

  • Mills began his book, The Sociological Imagination by stating:
    “Nowadays men/women often feel that their private lives are a series of traps. They sense that within their everyday worlds, they cannot overcome their troubles, and in this feeling, they are often quite correct…..” (C. Wright Mills)

Once you develop the Sociological Imagination, you can escape, at least intellectually, from these traps and get a vision of the structure of your society and the causes of these “traps”-

Doris Lessing (British Novelist)

  • “There are people in the world all the time who knows, but they are quiet. They just move about quietly, saving the people they know are in the trap. And then, for the ones who have got out, it’s like coming around from chloroform. They realize that all their lives they’ve been asleep and dreaming. And then it’s their turn to learn the rules and the timing

Advisor & Developer

  • Keep a file, make your life and experience meaningful
  • Be a sovereign Social Scientist, i.e., an advisor to “kings” and a developer of “publics”.
Follow by Email