Sociologický časopis
Czech sociological review


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Jan Balon:
The Ambivalent Legacy of Charles Wright Mills’ The Sociological Imagination [1055]

Balon, Jan. 2009. „Ambivalentní odkaz Millsovy Sociologické imaginace.“ Sociologický časopis / Czech Sociological Review 45 (5): 1055-1072

Abstract: Charles Wright Mills wrote his renowned and bestselling The Sociological Imagination fifty years ago with the ambition of providing an alternative to the theoretically unsubstantial and methodologically inhibiting approaches that predominated at that time. His battle against the idea of a politically and morally neutral understanding of social inquiry was rhetorically compelling and anticipated the radical voices that would be heard in the late 1960s. It is argued in this article that probably the best lesson we can get from Mills has to do with his understanding of ‘sociology as a profession’. His argument addresses crucially important questions about the public relevance of social inquiry and the underlying themes of social-scientific reflexivity, creativity, and non-conformity. However, despite his rhetorical force and stylistic brilliance, Mills’ overall message is considered ambivalent. His concept of social inquiry based on identification of morally and politically relevant problems ultimately leads to the vaporisation of the very substance of social inquiry and to the institutional debilitation of the field as such. The resulting uncertainty concerning the basic means and ends of sociology, together with a hyper-tolerance towards the delineation of sociological research area, often leads to the identifi cation of relevant problems on the basis of individual choice, inspiration, creativity, or imagination. It is suggested that this understanding of Mills’ legacy usually results in the trivialisation and parody of the overall message embodied in The Sociological Imagination.

Keywords: imagination, creativity, identification of problems, value-neutrality, morally committed social inquiry.

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