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Jonathan Estrella

Dr. Henderson
SOCY 698 Social Problems
07 July 2015
Memo #1 Understanding Others
All of the readings focused on describing sociology and its importance. The underlying
themes from all of them were based on Mills writing of the sociological imagination, in which
people imagine lives outside of their own worries to come to an understanding of how social
forces influence our lives and the lives of others. I found it interesting that this was written in
1959, and not because I think less of the people then as if they could not conceive of these ideas,
but that most modern people have not heard of C. Wright Mills (I had not before today) or the
ideals he expresses, and how they can be implemented. Surely, there is so much written in our
society that it is impossible to read everything, but to never come across such ideas that combine
democracy with humanity aka the need to address social wrongs/ unjust structures for all of
humanity that can only be achieved through the participation of the people seems almost
unheard of in a country that touts itself as the foundation of modern-day democracy. Mills also
put into words what I found so hard to do that of acknowledging the difference between
personal experiences and how it relates to societal experience. For instance, his example about
unemployment and how one persons experience of unemployment does not constitute a societal
issue of unemployment it takes a collective experience of a significant portion of the
population being unemployed for it to be considered a societal issue. I also found it intriguing
that Mills states that no matter how small a part they may play, individual people are involved in
the creation, destruction, or maintenance of social structures. It made me think of innocent
bystanders, and if that is truly a concept. I found it conflicting because Mills interpretation of
the role we play in society pits us in a for/ against absolutist situation, where you are either for
social justice and work to achieve it, or you are against social justice and work to maintain the
current social structures, either through opposition or indifference. It seems unjust to judge a
person who just works and gets by in the current structure of society to provide for his family a
better life than they ever enjoyed. However, this interpretation cannot be denied just look at
history. The example of Nazi Germany is one where people remained indifferent about others
as they looked to improve their social status, especially their status internationally. This
indifference led to disastrous ends, which could have been avoided had the people stepped up to
acknowledge the wrongs being committed and fought against them. Or how the Civil Rights
movement was one that sprung from the bottom up, with people who were disenfranchised or
empathized with those who were disenfranchised working to challenge the status quo. It is
something I will continue to consider.
The other readings seemed to follow from Mills formulation of the sociological
imagination and its importance in changing the structure of societies. Hironimus-Wendt and
Wallace take the idea of the sociological imagination a step further by advocating the need for a
greater focus on sociological education. Acknowledging that many students do not take the
personal effort of getting outside of their comfort zone to understand the undervalued in society,
they argue that greater activism must become a requirement for sociological education. By
focusing on activism which can include merely interacting with those others in society
students can become well-rounded in their understanding of social structures and, more

importantly, actually care more about creating a more just and equal society which does not
stigmatize those with differences. As I read this article, I wished that my own experiences were a
mix of service to others and education. Growing up in the Catholic Church, service to others is
almost a requirement; so many of my weekends were spent feeding or helping to clothe the
homeless. However, interaction with the homeless was almost non-existent; I helped take care of
the menial tasks of cleaning, cooking, prepping, etc. It would have been more meaningful,
however much my selfish, sixteen-year old self would complain, to become engaged with these
downtrodden members of society as a way to understand the social structures we live under.
Feagins audience seemed to be those currently in the field of sociology, but I think it was just as
applicable to everyday people. It mirrored many of the same concerns of Hironimus-Wendt and
Wallace, namely that people (he states sociologists) should make activism and social justice the
key components that they build upon. I agreed when he acknowledged that sociology needs
empirical evidence but proposed that changes in the 1930s made sociology too impersonal in a
study that is all about understanding people. It made me think about whether the social sciences
should consider what is normally seen as too subjective e.g. thoughts, feelings, emotions as
useful evidence. The social sciences are basically studying people; people are personal, and their
emotions and thoughts guide their actions. So, should we not consider these subjective feelings,
especially if there are joint feelings shared by a significant portion of a population, as evidence?
Is this not how interpret why certain events occurred; for example, the feeling of being ignored
or relegated as second-class citizens to the crown was a major incentive for revolution.I also
thought his idea of the countersystem approach was basically a fancy term for understanding
different perspectives a key component of critical thinking in general. Perhaps countersystem
approach is just more applicable to sociology. Either way, it seems to just add to the complex
terminology Feagin believes should be eliminated so that the study of sociology can be more
accessible to all. Loseke, on the other hand, tries to interpret exactly what social problems are.
Loseke comments that social problems are socially constructed based on what we, collectively,
deem as an important issue that is a problem and should be addressed. Whereas Mills seems to
believe there are underlying problems that we discover through a collective rendering of the
sociological imagination, Loseke states that social problems are not problems until they are
named. Although Loseke makes a good point, I think we just do not acknowledge the problem
until it is named; it is still a problem whether we see it/ name it or not.
The most recent event that reflected the importance of the sociological imagination and
the acknowledging that personal experience can be different from societal experience was a
debate I had with an army friend about the Confederate flag. I wrote a long post on Facebook
about why the Confederate flag should not be on any government (national or state)building or
monument, and why if someone chooses to fly the flag personally, they should acknowledge the
history of the flag and how others interpret it. He argued that the flag was about Southern
heritage to most of those who are proud of it, and that its relation to Dylan Roof was just a way
to attack it. Every point or rebuttal I made to his arguments about understanding the meaning of
the flag to others while acknowledging that it does have the personal meaning to him and
multiple other Southerners was interpreted as a personal attack. He could not seem to separate
his personal experience with the flag with the multitude of other people other Southerners
who disagreed with what the flag represented. Ultimately, we could not come to an agreement,
and it made me realize just how much we need the sociological imagination in our society.