Mills’ Sociological Imagination

Paper Info
Page count 7
Word count 1976
Read time 7 min
Topic Sociology
Type Essay
Language 🇺🇸 US

Sociologists use the method of sociological imagination to study the values, customs, and beliefs of various cultures. This concept allows us to view other groups’ relationships and behaviors through the lens of their history and social structure. In this paper, I will utilize the first, third, and seventh chapters to assess my trip to Cape Town. I traveled to this city with my sister and her husband more than twenty years ago, and we spent one week there. Firstly, the terms from the first chapter that I will apply to my experience encountering a different culture are structural-functional theory, dynamic equilibrium, and social facts.

Secondly, the concepts I will use from the third chapter are material and nonmaterial cultures, ethnocentrism, and cultural imperialism. Thirdly, I will implement chapter seven to discuss the relation of deviance, crime, and cultural deviance theory to Cape Town. The sociological theory that I will implement to analyze my personal situation is the structural-functional theory, which claims that different societal parts contribute to the whole. I noticed the presence of dynamic equilibrium and functionalism because every member and group worked to maintain balance in the society.

Introduction

Sociologists study small and large groups and their interactions using various perspectives. For example, different cultures, including their values, beliefs, and traditions, can be examined using the method of sociological imagination (OpenStax, 2015). This term was first introduced in 1959 by Mills (OpenStax, 2015). Sociological imagination is described as “an awareness of the relationship between a person’s behavior and experience and the wider culture that shaped the person’s choices and perceptions” (OpenStax, 2015, p. 6). It can be explained as an opportunity to view other cultures, relationships, and behaviors through the lens of their social structure and history (OpenStax, 2015).

For instance, one can accept the European medieval hierarchical societal structure because it was typical for that period. Furthermore, people’s behaviors, customs, and dress codes from religious communities are also understandable because they have specific requirements and rules. In this writing, I want to focus on the concept of culture, and I will utilize the first, third, and seventh chapters. The sociological theory that I will implement to analyze my personal situation is structural functionalism, which claims that different parts of society work together to contribute to the whole.

Personal Explanation

The case that I chose was my trip to Cape Town more than twenty years ago to compare South African and American cultures. I went there for a vacation with my sister and her husband, who are very interested in Nelson Mandela’s life and ideas. We spent there only one week, but we were able to visit Table Mountain, Robben Island, Boulder’s Beach, the local market, the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, the Cape Wheel, and the Castle of Good Hope. This trip was relatively expensive for us, but the immersion to a different culture was worth it. Overall, it was fascinating to observe the peaceful coexistence of formerly warring groups and meet friendly people who were happy to talk about their history and provide any assistance free of charge.

The main problem during this trip was an extremely high crime rate in this city. In fact, we were in real danger of being murdered while walking the streets. Although we did not encounter any threatening situation, I heard from a hotel receptionist that several guests were robbed at Waterfront at night. Thus, my sister, her husband, and I decided to involve in sightseeing only during the daytime.

Sociological Imagination: Dynamic Equilibrium, Social Facts, and Functionalism

The concepts from the first chapter that I can apply to my experience encountering a different culture are structural-functional theory, dynamic equilibrium, and social facts. Structural-functional theory or functionalism views society as a unit consisting of multiple parts, each of which plays a distinct role, contributing to the whole and enabling its existence (OpenStax, 2015). This teaching was developed by Hebert Spencer, an English biologist, and philosopher, who believed that society works as a human organism to maintain stability or the dynamic equilibrium (OpenStax, 2015). However, to understand how a specific group functions, it is crucial to review social facts that include religion, morals, customs, fashion, laws, traditions, and values (OpenStax, 2015). For instance, governments develop regulations that public places are forbidden for smoking and alcohol intake, and if all citizens follow this rule, the equilibrium is maintained. If many people fail to obey established norms, the balance will be disturbed, and in that case, other laws may be applied to punish this behavior.

Functionalism in Cape Town

The functional theory could be observed in this city’s cultural, economic, and personal relationships. Indeed, I noticed the presence of a dynamic equilibrium because every member and group worked to maintain balance in the society. Before and during our stay in Cape Town, we studied their values, morals, customs, religion, and laws to understand the city’s life through these social facts. In fact, even though this theory is no longer considered applicable for macro-level analysis, it still can be used for reviewing smaller groups (OpenStax, 2015). I noticed that all people we met in Cape Town were, if not religious but at least spiritual, believing in destiny and a better future. It was fascinating considering the fact that a decade ago at that time, they had violent racial segregation.

People in Cape Town not only worked to improve the economic situation but also strived to show visitors the city from its best side, even if the hospitality business was not well developed in the 2000s. Still, guides were experienced in their craft, salespeople on the market seemed convincing, and food chain workers tried to provide the best service. I think all of them strived to cooperatively upgrade their tourism sector to attract more foreigners and their finances to the city. Indeed, their effort did matter because Cape Town was transformed into the world’s one of the best places to visit.

Ethnocentrism, Cultural Imperialism, and Material and Nonmaterial Cultures

The concepts that I draw from the third chapter are material and nonmaterial cultures, ethnocentrism, and cultural imperialism. The tangible objects represent material culture, while ideas, thoughts, and beliefs are nonmaterial (OpenStax, 2015). One of the most significant examples of nonmaterial culture in Cape Town is Nelson Mandela’s legacy, while the material culture in this city is represented by a mixture of African, Dutch, French, and English souvenirs. Moreover, while in Cape Town, I noticed that I always compared their traditions and behaviors to ours. Indeed, the phenomenon when people judge other societies based on their perceptions and thinking that their own culture is better is called ethnocentrism (OpenStax, 2015).

Furthermore, travelers like my family and I often unconsciously apply cultural imperialism when visiting different countries. This term can be defined as “the deliberate imposition of one’s own cultural values on another culture” (OpenStax, 2015, p. 54). Although I tried to enjoy the trip and not make comparisons, it was quite challenging at that time. Still, contrasting Cape Town and my hometown did not make me conclude that some cultures are better than others.

Types of Crimes, Cultural Deviance Theory, and Social Disorganization Theory

I decided to choose chapter seven because it discusses the concepts of deviance, crime, and cultural deviance theory. These phenomena were present in Cape Town, which we were warned to be one of the dangerous places to visit. I always wondered why people living in areas with relatively high potential would engage in criminal behavior. According to the cultural deviance theory, “conformity to the prevailing cultural norms of lower-class society causes crime” (OpenStax, 2015, p. 139). Various types of crime are known: violent, nonviolent, victimless, street, and corporate. Violent crimes are directed against a person, resulting in rape, murder, or robbery, while the example of nonviolent one is theft of property (OpenStax, 2015). We heard about the prevalence of violent street deviance in Cape Town, but, fortunately, we did not have an experience of meeting local criminal groups.

Applying the Sociological Imagination to My Trip to Cape Town

Understanding a particular sociological group’s behavior and attitudes based on its history is crucial to maintaining peaceful interaction between nations. When I traveled to Cape Town, I was not aware of the concept of sociological imagination. Still, I was taught by my family and school that tolerance and empathy towards other people were essential because everyone had a traumatic experience or cultural restrictions that led one to have a specific mindset. For example, the fact that Cape Town had an extremely high rate of violent crimes may be explained by the generational trauma that apartheid caused. Although their history could not justify this criminal behavior, it helped not to judge these people who lived less than a decade without war and discrimination at the time of our visit. Moreover, the local population was very friendly and always ready to help. Indeed, the lack of Google Maps in the early 2000s made us ask for directions from strangers on the streets, and everyone stopped to have a small conversation and explain how to reach specific destinations.

Such contrast between people’s behavior and attitudes could be explained from the cultural perspective. In fact, the Bushmen, the indigenous population of South Africa, were known for their spirituality and connection to their lands (South Africa, n.d.). Furthermore, this multicultural society is religious, consisting of groups that belong to many different theologies. However, the violence probably stems from unemployment that was noticeably high in this city. Indeed, I compared these individuals’ lives to one of the gang members in the inner cities in New York and California in the 1990s. I realized that many of those who engaged in crime lived below the poverty line and did not have any hope for education, employment, and better life. I think that criminal behavior is the result of racial segregation of the nineteenth century because hatred at the national level leaves its traces on future generations.

Data/Statistics

Since crime, which is defined as an action that violates formal regulations and laws, is prevalent in Cape Town, I decided to focus on its statistics. The crime statistics that report federal agencies and witness citizens often vary. For example, a self-report study asks 160,000 participants each year about deviant acts that they saw, and this data usually shows a higher number of crimes than reported by the FBI (OpenStax, 2015). The criminal behavior rate is exceptionally high in South Africa and especially in one of its major cities, Cape Town. According to Chaturuka et al. (2020), South Africa was rated third among the countries with the highest crime rates, having 27 violent actions daily. It appears that this region is still not the safest place to travel and live.

Conclusion

In summary, I was able to apply such sociological concepts as functionalism, sociological imagination, cultural imperialism, ethnocentrism, deviance, and social disorganization theory to my trip to Cape Town. Even though I traveled there more than twenty years ago, I still could remember the places we visited and the local population’s attitudes. I was aware of the dysfunctional elements of society, like criminal groups, in this city, but we met only friendly and helpful individuals. In fact, cultural deviance theory explains unlawful actions by the conformity to established laws. Criminals might decide to engage in illegal acts because they did not like the fact that apartheid ended, or they were severely traumatized by it.

Furthermore, they might not afford education or could not find a job. Nevertheless, many people in Cape Town seemed to work towards improving their hometown by providing exceptional service to visitors. Moreover, it was challenging to escape cultural imperialism and ethnocentrism and not compare some aspects of their existence to an American lifestyle. Still, I think my experience in Cape Town was not only joyful but also an educational trip that taught me about a new culture.

References

Chaturuka, M., Duffett, R. G., & Haydam, N. (2020). Crime perceptions among international leisure tourists in Cape Town. Safer Communities, 1-21. Web.

OpenStax. (2015). Introduction to sociology (2nd ed.). OpenStax. Web.

South Africa. (n.d.). Cape Town’s history is a story you need to know. Web.

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