Human being is trapped by the environment and social structures that operate in one’s life. Ordinary men are, therefore, bounded by the forces and structures that operate in their environment (Mills 3). In order to fully decipher the manner in which the larger society shapes the life stories and autobiographies of an individual, Charles Wright Mills developed the concept of sociological imagination. Andersen and Taylor (6) echo C. Wright Mills’ contention that sociological imagination is that quality of the mind that enables an individual to understand the historical scenes and the contextual nature in which human life is interconnected to the history of his/her society and how this interconnection functions to strain and enhance the operations of an individual at any given time (Mills 3-4; Ritzer 598).
Sociological imagination is the notion coined by Mills and other sociologists to describe the critical ability of the human mind to discover the forces operating in his/her environment (Mills 5). This enables one to accurately locate the root of individual social problems and the false consciousness that set people into confusion and disarray. Mills contends that in the course of this confusion, people tend to seek the social frameworks of the society (Mills 6). The consequence of this process is a discovery of the psychologies and the operational structures surrounding one’s life in history and his/her autobiography (Mills 5-6). The sociological imagination, in essence, is, thus, the idea that an individual can understand his or her own experiences and consequently, it is possible to gauge one’s fate through tracing the historical factors that have been in operation during one’s life period (Ritzer 598-599).
Sociological Imagination and the Rise of Unemployment Levels
Having built a foundational principle behind the framework of sociological imagination, it is imperative to use this principle and test its relevance in explaining a social phenomenon, such as unemployment. Unemployment is a socioeconomic variable that has affected the operation of humanity across the globe. This problem affects every individual at a personal level differently. Irrespective of the weight of the pinch felt by people as a result of the rising rates of unemployment, there is general consensus that the consequences of unemployment affect people either directly or indirectly.
C. Wright Mills postulates that in order for distant or lay persons to clearly and comprehensively understand their personal problems, they must be able to situate themselves and the current challenges into context (Mills 6). This statement implies that the accuracy and comprehensiveness in the understanding and explanation of unemployment is hidden in the ability of the victims or a society to develop a sociologically imaginative mind. This mental and coherent process enables one to delve into the historical and structural factors that may have contributed to the rise of unemployment to the level that it is threatening humanity (Andersen and Taylor 6). This deduction is founded on the belief of Charles Mills that in order to understand a social problem that is affecting an individual, there has to be a deliberate and systematic process in seeking the interconnections between the individual’s plight and the structure of the society (Mills 6-8). Mills based his argument on the assumption that private ordeals have connections with the structures in operation in one’s environment.
Unemployment is a socioeconomic factor that is two-sided. This is because whereas it is a private matter that may be affecting only an individual in a particular confined environment, the society also contributes to it and may stretch to lay many other people victims. This may be through the economic, political, cultural or technological structure that operates in one’s own environment. Whereas an unemployed group of people may be faulted for contributing to their state of affairs, the structures may also have hindered one’s ability to overcome this socioeconomic challenge. When it gets this level, unemployment graduates to a public issue. This is why C. Wright Mills contends that sociological imagination enables an individual to decipher and unravel the mysterious principle of a duality (Mills 8). Unemployment, according to Mills conceptualization of sociological imagination, is, therefore, a coin with two sides: that of the unemployed and the historical and structural forces of his/her environment.
Whereas it may be true that one is not employed due to lack of relevant skills needed in the corporate world for one to secure a job, it is unfair to avoid investigating the underlying causes of this state. As the most economies across the globe continue embracing capitalism, the sections of the population that have historically been bound by the chains of poverty may lack the resources to even train and acquire the employable skills in the increasingly industrializing society (Ritzer 598). Thus, those in the lowest class in a socially and economically stratified society may be victims of unemployment not by their wish but because of their historical, economic and even cultural background and orientations. These structural forces may thus function against the wishes of an individual, making him/her a mere victim of the society which he/she is rightly a part of.
In society where some few individuals are unemployed, there may be significant belief that they have contributed to their own fate and plight. This means that the policy-makers may not consider this as a public issue. In fact, there are extreme cases where such individuals may be subjected to condemnation, mockery and public ridicule for not doing enough to transform their situation (Ritzer 598). However, there may be the cultural side of the debate, which is beyond an individual. For example, in a community where girl-child education is not embraced, it may become a great hurdle for women to climb the academic ladder and overcome unemployment. Such women may be deprived of the opportunity to participate in the labor market because of the cultural belief systems of that community that has historically worked against women, as boys and men are favored in every decision. In such set-ups and realities, it may be unfair to fully heap the blame on individual who is unemployed. This is only achievable through the development of a mind that understands sociological imagination in its true sense and meaning.
Understanding the reality and cause of unemployment among a group of people requires sociological imagination. Mills (8) cited that this is because unemployment is “a personal trouble of milieu” and “public issue of social structure”. Unemployment is interwoven with the individual factors and the social structures as well as history of one’s society. Going back to the illustration of the cultural implications and interconnection with unemployment, most governments have developed policies to tackle gender discrimination through formulation of strategies of eliminating the straining structures that limit women from accessing education and employment. This has been achieved majorly through a re-visit to the historical and cultural beliefs of the concerned society. This confirms C. Wright Mill’s postulation about the contextual and the interwoven nature of the human problems.
Why Unemployment is a Significant Public Issue?
Unemployment must be understood and dealt with through careful understanding of its roots. This is because effective policies need to be developed to deal with it. Unemployment is a public issue because it directly relates to food insecurity, crimes rates, family sizes, and the socioeconomic conditions of households and a nation in general (Ritzer 598). According to studies that have been conducted, one of the socioeconomic determinants of economic development of a nation is the employment/unemployment index. This explains why stakeholders and strategic state ministries and departments develop policies that could help in addressing the challenges of unemployment. Thus, whereas it affects people differently, indirectly and directly, one should not ignore and conclude that unemployment is absolutely and expressly a personal and private problem of the parties concerned.
Unemployment has become a key issue and a public concern that states are strategically addressing. This is based on the understanding that the victims are not absolutely to blame for their state of affairs. Ritzer cited that the political history of a country, the economic policies of the past and the employment laws of the country as well as the educational structures of a state could have contributed to the unemployment rates (Ritzer 598). For example, unemployment rates may rise in a particular race, ethnic group or religious groups because of the role of discrimination, prejudicial employment practices, and racial stereotyping. Thus, whereas one may have all it takes to be employed, such political and social structures and forces may still inhibit one’s employability. Therefore, unemployment is both a private and a public issue. Recognition of this fact leads to true consciousness of what the sociological imagination as espoused by C. Wright Mills aims at.
Unemployment rates in the industrializing society have been on the increase in most states. This trend needs to be altered through careful selection and development of effective employment policies. Such policies must, however, be founded on the understanding that this problem is both personal and public. Thus, the personal issues that may contribute to unemployment should be discovered and addressed along with the public ones. The public issues relate to the structures of the society that could function to strain one’s employment goals. This could be socio-cultural, economic, political or technological changes in the society. This is achievable through application of the principles of sociological imagination as suggested by C. Wright Mills.