Throughout The Sociological Imagination , he spells out how this works out in social analysis.
It is always important to ask research questions that refer simultaneously to both poles. The basic cause of grand theory is the initial choice of a level of thinking so general that its practitioners cannot logically get down to observation. This is Mills's fundamental criticism of grand theory, characteristic of the work of Talcott Parsons.
Grand theory, Mills says, works at a remarkably abstract remove from the lives of real people. It talks in generalities instead of specificities. And in turn, it cannot explain the problems people have or how to fix them. This is one pole of what Mills sees as being wrong with sociology today. The framework of such studies has been the simple classification of questions: who says what to whom in which media and with what results? Abstracted empiricism lacks any systemic understanding of social structure or the social forces that impact people's personal lives. In this quote, Mills diagnoses an essential problem with society today, and one which he thinks contemporary sociology exacerbates instead of remedies.
It is the problem that people are being standardized and are losing their individuality. Sociology has to remedy this, Mills says, by expanding individual consciousness to include an understanding of public issues in addition to private troubles.
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If nothing else, they provide employment for semi-skilled technicians on a scale and in a manner not known before; they offer to them careers having the security of the older academic life but not requiring the older sort of individual accomplishment. This style of research, in brief, is accompanied by an administrative demiurge which is relevant to the future of social study and to its possible bureaucratization. In this quote, Mills continues his critique of abstracted empiricism and its method of polling.
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The irony is that research becomes not about asking big questions, but just crunching the numbers. This is why, Mills says, sociology has become complicit with systems of domination instead of offering a way to overturn them. Mills calls on social science to return to its liberal investment in social reform. In order to do so, it has to reinvest in cultivating reason among everyday men so that they can liberate themselves and find freedom outside bureaucratic systems of domination.
Classic social science, in brief, neither 'builds up' from microscopic study nor 'deduces down' from conceptual elaboration.
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Its practitioners try to build and to deduce at the same time, in the same process of study, and to do so by means of adequate formulation and re-formulation of problems and of their adequate solutions. After detailing two distortions in social science—grand theory that is too general and abstracted empiricism that is too obsessed with data—Mills reminds us in this important quote about how social science used to do theory and data collection simultaneously.
Whereas most social science today only does one, classical social science did both at the same time. Only by asking questions that refer the microscopic and the macroscopic to each other can social science achieve its goals. Spaulding and G.
Simpson , Even one well-made observation will be enough in many cases, just as one well-constructed experiment often suffices for the establishment of a law. For a long time it has been known that the first systems of representations with which men have pictured to themselves the world and themselves were of religious origin. There is no religion that is not a cosmology at the same time that it is a speculation upon divine things.
If philosophy and the sciences were born of religion, it is because religion began by taking the place of the sciences and philosophy.
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The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life , trans. Swain 2nd edition , 9. It is only by historical analysis that we can discover what makes up man, since it is only in the course of history that he is formed. Charles Blend, in Kurt H. Wolff ed. Man is only a moral being because he lives in society, since morality consists in solidarity with the group, and varies according to that solidarity.
Cause all social life to vanish, and moral life would vanish at the same time, having no object to cling to. The Division of Labour in Society , trans. Halls , Science cannot describe individuals, but only types.
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If human societies cannot be classified, they must remain inaccessible to scientific description. Forerunners of Sociology , trans. Ralph Manheim , 9. Society is not a mere sum of individuals. Rather, the system formed by their association represents a specific reality which has its own characteristics The group thinks, feels, and acts quite differently from the way in which its members would were they isolated. If, then, we begin with the individual, we shall be able to understand nothing of what takes place in the group.
Sociological method as we practice it rests wholly on the basic principle that social facts must be studied as things, that is, as realities external to the individual.
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