Walter Lippmann on the sociological imagination

I found this passage from Lippmann’s Public Opinion reminiscent of what C Wright Mills later described as the sociological imagination. This meant for Mills a sensitivity towards the interconnection between private troubles and public issues, enabling someone to see how the seemingly idiosyncratic facts of their lived experience are shaped by wider social and historical forces. It’s an antidote to the individualisation of social problems by making clear how the circumstances we confront are not of our choosing and furthermore they are confronted by others for similar reasons. What Lippmann describes her is the absence of sociological imagination, with my emphasis added:

The character they give it varies not only with sex and age, race and religion and social position, but within these cruder classifications, according to the inherited and acquired constitution of the individual, his faculties, his career, the progress of his career, an emphasized aspect of his career, his moods and tenses, or his place on the board in any of the games of life that he is playing. What reaches him of public affairs, a few lines of print, some photographs, anecdotes, and some casual experience of his own, he conceives through his set patterns and recreates with his own emotions. He does not take his personal problems as partial samples of the greater environment. He takes his stories of the greater environment as a mimic enlargement of his private life.

2 responses to “Walter Lippmann on the sociological imagination”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.