In this presentation I will explore the unfolding of austerity politics in the UK in terms of longstanding tendencies towards the narrowing of political and cultural horizons in political life. I argue that this trend can, at root, be understood in terms of a ‘deficit of sociological imagination’ in mainstream political discourse. While Wright-Mills felt able to write in 1959 that ‘the sociological imagination is becoming, I believe, the major common denominator of of our cultural life and its signal feature’, there has been a precipitous decline in its prominence and significance since he made this (perhaps overly optimistic) claim. I suggest that without sociological imagination ‘private troubles’ become connected to ‘public issues’ in ideological and one-dimensional modes which, in denying the possibility of alternatives, so too undercuts the feasibility of political agency for large swathes of the populace. I frame my arguments in terms of what I take to be the most egregious and radical manifestation of this tendency: the contemporary politics of austerity.
Abstract for panel on C Wright Mills at BSA Conference 2012