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What do you think C. Wright Mills meant when he said that to be a sociologist, one had to develop sociological imagination?

When C. Wright Mills said that to be a sociologist one had to develop a sociological imagination he meant that one has to separate oneself from daily life in order to study society more effectively. Such an approach is both scientific in that it involves objective study and imaginative in that it entails the sociologist seeing themselves as part of the society they aim to study.

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Wright Mills's concept of the sociological imagination is scientific insofar as it draws upon the positivist tradition in sociology in its attempt to gain objective, disinterested knowledge. Mills, no less than most of his predecessors and contemporaries, wants the discipline of sociology to show the same level of academic rigor as the natural sciences.

At the same time, in a novel twist on the positivist approach, Mills posits the notion of a distinct sociological imagination at work in the study of societies. On this reading, sociologists are not just scientists, they are also members of the relevant society that they seek to study. That being the case, it is necessary—and indeed, unavoidable—for the sociologist to recognize themselves as part of a larger social context.

Even so, achieving some measure of objectivity—which as we've already seen is a necessary condition to sociology's status as a science—is essential, and involves the individual sociologist abstracting themselves from the day-to-day environment, the better to gain an in-depth scientific understanding of society and how it works. In this way, a sociologist will be able to put themselves in other people's shoes, imaginatively reconstructing their lives from within.

And yet, the concept of the sociological imagination allows them to move back and forth between the perspectives of those they are studying and their own perspective as a sociologist. In the event, the sociologist hopes that a scientific synthesis can be achieved between the subjective and the objective elements of sociological study.

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