COMPONENT ONE: ACTIVE READING
Chapter One: The Promise
C. Wright Mills (1959)
- How would you describe the sociological imagination?
The sociological imagination is the ability to understand the society and our place in it by joining history to biography. It is an attitude, a state of mind by which we can connect the individual and the collective. But it is also having always in mind that the reality could be different from what we think of it. To illustrate, we can take the case of a racial discrimination in the United States: on the one hand, we have to think about the history of slavery, the civil rights movements and the entire history of the country. On the other hand, we have to feel like the person who has been discriminated. Finally, thinking sociologically about this example is understanding how all this history impacts the personal experience of discrimination.
- Why do we need a sociological imagination?
This thought is not only for sociologists, any person who is enough curious about how the world works can use the sociological imagination. The only way to avoid conflicts, intolerance and communitarianism is to step outside our original milieu, to put ourselves into our neighbour’s shoes to have an objective point of view.
- What sort of ‘personal troubles of milieu’ does Mills identify?
Mills provides a historical interpretation of the evolution of sociology in the United States. The personal troubles identified by the author are unemployment, war, divorce, the city and the economy, which are often the result of structural changes. To illustrate these phenomena, we can develop the example of unemployment: if, in a big city, only one man is unemployed it is his personal problem, but when the unemployment rate is higher within a society and the structure has collapsed, this is considered a public issue, because it requires the engagement of several institutions, both political and economical.
4. Rewrite the 3 consistent questions of the sociological imagination in your own words
The three steps required to activate our sociological imagination are related to three level of the society, history, and the individual. The first question concerns the essential components of the society that we are studying, such as consumerism, democracy, liberalism etc… The second one is about the link between the society and human history, about how the Roman influence, the Renaissance or the Enlightment which affected the society. Finally, at the level of the individual, what kind of people are produced by social relations? In this historical context, what current circumstances impact the behaviours of the new social groups?
5. Think of something going on in your own life, can you link the biographical to the historical and structural?
When I was sixteen, I was the only girl who had a very short haircut. A friend of mine showed the class photo to her parents, who were both doctors, and they asked her if I was a lesbian. My physical aspect was close to the gender’s border, thus I was victim of the stereotype that androgynous people are homosexual, and that is a personality disorder.
COMPONENT TWO: Précis of Chapter One in ‘Chavs: the demonization of the working class’ by Owen Jones (2012) entitled ‘The strange case of Shannon Matthews’.
With ‘Chavs: the demonization of the working class”, the British journalist Owen Jones has written an analysis of British society. The origin of the English insult “chavs” in the title of the book is not clear at all. Some explanations go back to a Romani word for “child”. According to others it is an acronym for “Council Housed And Violent” (people living in a social housing and violent). Today “chavs” is the term commonly used to demonize the lower class and deprive them of any form of social dignity.
In the chapter one of his book, called “The strange case of Shannon Matthews”, Owen Jones shows how the British working class is both denigrated and discredited. Shannon Matthews is a British girl who disappeared in February 2008 in West Yorkshire, England. The search for her became a major missing person police operation which was compared to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. She was eventually found in March 2008 at a house belonging to the boyfriend of the kidnapped girl’s mother, Karen. The kidnapping had been planned by the mother and her boyfriend to generate money: the boyfriend was supposed to “find” Shannon, take her to the police station and claim the reward money, which would then be split between him and the mother.
The media made a comparison between the publicity given to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann with the much lower level of publicity for the Matthews. The difference of social class structure was illustrated by comparing lower-class people from Northern England with middle-class people from East Midlands. The disappearance of Madeleine had all the good points the media needed: a story involving a white, middle-class, nuclear family going through a nightmare which happened abroad. While a international news tabloid offered a reward of £1.5 million for Madeleine, another one offered just £20,000 for information about Shannon Matthews, who had gone missing and whose mother, from a welfare housing, had seven children by five men.
It is the period of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (1979-1990) that the author considers as being the starting point of a deliberate government strategy of correcting social roles. But Thatcher was not only a strong personality with opinions. Her ideas on the role of the state was nothing new but went back to an old tradition within the Conservative Party. The first purpose of this party had always been the permanent exercise of power and the maintenance of privileges for rich people based on the exploitation of others.
To conclude, this book may nevertheless contribute to a new interest in the social struggle for a fair and legitimate society. In this chapter, the author’s main goal is to make the reader realize that we all have an unconscious tendency to almost automatically consider the values of the middle class as universal standards.
COMPONENT THREE: Locate and download some data on social class or poverty and offer some descriptive and explanatory analysis
Source: Labour Force Survey (2011) Young adult unemployment: Over time (proportions). Available at: http://www.poverty.org.uk/35/index.shtml (Accessed: 23 November 2013)
First of all, we can define the unemployment rate as the proportion of the ‘economically active’ population who are not working (that is to say the number who are unemployed divided by the number who are either in paid work or unemployed, excluding those who are ‘economically inactive’). The following graph describes the unemployment rate of young British people for 16- to 24-year-olds, from 1993 to 2010. We can see that this rate decreases from 1993 to 2001, then stagnates between 2001 and 2004, and finally since 2004 it has been increasing.
Young workers are more affected by unemployment than other age groups because they are entering the labor market, they are less qualified, they have precarious contracts, and the crisis adds to their difficulties. The percentage of young people aged 16-24 who are either unemployed or inactive without having recently completed training, is an indicator of integration problems of youth and lack of opportunities, and it can marginalize them.