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Category: The Sociological Imagination

“The world is a stage I just play my part” [From J. Cole to The Sociological Imagination]

I am a hip hop fan, and since a little girl in my house, my mother used to play her records, as she was into the 90’s rap at the time. For that reason, music powerfully shaped my whole youth, bringing critical thinking as never, and like no other rhythm could contribute to my life.

 Back in the day, hip hop was a way to be proud of yourself no matter what. A culture that helped to develop curiosity, to teach responsibility, create a community way of thinking. And the most important gave base start to understand that the facts of history have an impact in life and around, also, are facts of success and failure in our lives. 

 As well, hip hop was a technology innovation in the ’70s, as hip hop introduced a new way to create music. This movement brought the turntable as a central music instrument, a device that DJs used and use to infusion songs for the Mc to rap. 

 Between my classes and readings, I am always listening to music. It’s helped me to concentrate and connect all the dots between the lectures and articles, also to expand my thought from what I just have learned, and even, create something or elaborate better the discussion. 

In one of those moments, listening to hip hop and reading articles about sociological perspectives, I came across an interesting topic that was part of a class conversation, the concept of sociological imagination from C. Wright Mills.

In Mills paper, the sociological imagination is a concept base on the value of understanding the meaning of history in time and our personal lives, along with the power of enabling people to understand the larger historical scene they are part. Likewise, to grasp history and biography and the relation of those with society. 

In this piece, the author, C. Wright Mills, talks about how connected we are not only with our past, present and future, along with several moments in history and scenarios. Some of those moments we didn’t participate, physically speaking. Although it impacts our lives today and thinking deeper or connecting with digital technologies, it defines and impacts our access and opportunities in life.

In a paper with a concept written in 1959, C. Wright Mills brings the lack of critical thinking for some part of society, the mass. However, in this piece, he calls “ordinary people”. I prefer to call “people with critical thinking and vision in the process of development”, as it is complex to understand all the aspects that make people not to understand the meaning of history, as Mills’ better describe, the epoch, in their lives. It’s still a modern discussion and a reality in 2020. 

 Just bring Mills citation from 1959 on how “yet people do not usually define the troubles they endure in terms of historical change and institutional contradiction” to the actual time. Or to knowledge “patterns of our lives and the course of the world history”. How people are not aware of how it is connected or impact their lives, and continually believe in meritocracy, post-racial world, or digital technologies as an equal platform that brings everyone together. And several other discussion and issues that still for centuries part of society. 

To get back, sociological imagination it is a concept that can “enables its possessor to understand the larger historical scene in terms of its meaning of the inner life and the external career of a variety of individuals”. To extend the perspective of social structures, connecting sociological imagination concept with social structure concept. A piece from King, Anthony, “social theory argues that individuals contribute to the creation of this objective reality, but it also insists that this reality can never be reduced merely to human social relations”.

It is a process when your mind posses the sociological imagination, you start to question the around and see it with a critical perspective, a different eye and examining it. The importance of understanding the social structure that has been created and now exists in world history. Along, with the capacity shift from one perspective to another. To view and examine a single-family at the same time institutions in a broader scale, or even from considerations of an oil industry to studies, along with contemporary poetry, as examples in Mills articles. In the same way, the connection I am trying to bring between hip hop and the sociological imagination, how it can shift from one to another and how both things are blended.

When you practice the sociological imagination, you start to understand your role in society, how society views you as an individual, group, and where you are in the social structure and your part on this structure. It can give you direction to better navigate in the society we live, to understand the pros and cons you have in life. Of course, you still see and feel a series of traps in life, but no matter if it digital or analogical space [as I always question, if there is an analogical space in 2020]. You will develop a social and historical meaning of individuals in society, of being in the society, and what it is, the deep sense of it. 

It is incredible and terrible in the same sense. However, it can help you to understand how to operate in a way you can maybe overcome some social boxes and spaces that are created to confine us there, not enable to move from it to new possibilities and spaces. Of course, it is complex to say that it is just a matter of to have or not sociological imagination, and that will solve the individual problems we have. That the concept will probably provide tools to knowledge the inequality world we live, understanding that you as a woman or a black person, or both, maybe a trap and it will be hard to move away from that. To not fragment the social structure we live, to understand the connection, and understand our own experience. 

On this process of reading C. Wright Mills and elaborating his concept, I was listening to my hip hop, and I found J. Cole [a North American rapper], Kenny Lofton song. At the same time, I was elaborating my thoughts, I could make a connection to C. Wright Mills concept, in a modern and “lyrical” way. J.Cole and Mills were allowing me to shift from a sociology concept from 1959 to a hip hop lyric from early 2000′.

In Kenny Lofton, J. Cole talks about how “breaks his heart” to know that society “[they] only care about a n*** when, he dunkin’ the ball” or “[they] only care ’bout a n*** when he writing a rhyme”. How society cares about black man only when he’s successful and making money. If he weren’t rapping, no one would care about him, bringing questions of how society only cares about the black man as a stereotype, as a product. When black is playing sports, rhymes, and other stereotypes professions [I am not saying it is a shame to be good at basketball, not at all! But there are more].

He is admitting in his song that success and money are more significant than the individual experience of those black men and how we, black people, are merely players in this society. In verse “the world is a stage, I just play my part”, J. Cole brings a knowledge of the whole structure and the part he plays on society. In a different perspective, J. Cole knew what people would expect from him, as a black man and deciding from that what he will pursue. 

We can relate J. Cole self-conscious to “The Sociological Imagination”, and it is the most fruitful form of self-conscious and as a fruit of the sociological imagination to understand society, history and your biography, and its interactions. 



Wright Mills, C, 2000. The Sociological Imagination. 14th edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fouché, Rayvon, 2011. Analog Turns Digital: Hip-Hop, Technology, and the Maintenance of Racial Authenticity. <>

Porpora, Douglas V., 1989. Four Concepts of Social Structure in “Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour”.

King, Anthony, 2004. The Structure of Social Theory.

Not my words but “The problem is that the system was not built for us”.

Last week class in my MSc in Digital Society, we talked about “Metrics, mobility and life chances”, and personally that class connected with me, my perspective and story. I think the story of the major of black people. Also, I found the article “This is how Big Tech is failing its Black employees”. 

Class, article and personal life all together bumping into my head and making me think about social mobility and life chances. Professor Karen Gregory gave a good and macro perspective of algorithms, digital technologies and how they impact those “life chances” for some people, bringing concepts of class [Marx and Weber] in one of her lectures during Digital Society masters, and the seed to understand that race and class will determinate somehow your access and that access your chances, in somehow.  

Bringing also the concept of inequalities in digital society, as an extension of it from non-digitalized world, as UN definition, ” Inequality is the state of not being equal, especially in status, rights and opportunities”. (United Nations, 2015) 

On the other hand, the article “This is how Big Tech is failing its Black employees”, talks about the gap of black professionals in the tech industry, giving a statement that I can relate and will comment: “People always want to find a reason that the rare few make it through a system that was not designed for them, and here it is: Systems are not precise, and sometimes people will bring the right personality to the right place at the right time. I had mentors who guided me through the industry and supporters who opened doors for me. I got lucky.” 

The “exceptions” just like the author, I got lucky also, to be honest. I am the first of my whole family that has enter a university, learned another language and won a scholarship. It is so impactful, that when I got the scholarship and my mother and I were talking, the first thing I said crying was “I am changing our family’s history. This will change our lives forever” in constant crying. Why?! Because inequality is about the people’s potential outcomes is the result of circumstances that is beyond our control, such as ethnicity, family background, gender, all that are constantly related. I am aware of it, I possess “sociological imagination” to understand the impact of my journey in life is beyond my capacity or “hard work”, because the starting point is different for each person and ethnicity, family background or gender, can define your starting point in life.  

It is not about meritocracy; it is lucky and to be prepared if you get lucky. And all that structure it is in the digital space, we are invisible as we are in our neighborhoods’ and without access or opportunities. 



Ellison, Michael (2020), This is how Big Tech is failing its Black employees at 

Fourcade, M. and Healy, K (2013). “Classification Situations: Life Chances in the Neoliberal Era.” Accounting Organizations and Society 

van Dijk, Jan A. G. M. (2013) “Inequalities in the Network Society” (105-124) in K. Orton-Johnson & N. Prior (Eds.), Digital sociology: critical perspectives. 

United Nations, Development Strategy and Policy Analysis Unit, 2015. Concepts of Inequality Development Issues No. 1. 

Social mobility and insights

After some readings and to watch the lectures, I started to think about the last two weeks discussion. The impact and how platformisation changed, if changed the dynamics of inequalities and power?! As we still have more than 40% of the population without access to the internet in the world. With the COVID crisis, we could see how those social structures, are also structured in the digital society, network and defines digital access. A great example was to shift face to face class to online classes, and several students do not have devices and/or internet access to study. How the shift to online, that happened when we started to need to stay [also who stayed in quarantine?!] home, impacted people’s lives, as their access was limited?!

I also, connected with class mobility, in Brazil [my country], It takes on average 9 generations for those born in a low-income family to approach mean income [to have social mobility], when you are a black person. The social situation will shape your network, your access, your connections, your access to information.

There is a research/study that asks general people, the working class, “what is the internet?!” and the question was “Facebook”. Just with the answer, it already can demonstrate how inequalities can shape how we look to the internet, interact with it.

The next billion users countries are more recognized for use digital platform to leisure and as we go up to social status, you can see the difference of how to use the internet and digital platforms, focus on education and work relation.
LinkedIn can be an example, as all your social “network” will be transferred and connected to the platform, so you need to have good connections, but your parents and family occupation will determinate that, your choices, your access to those connections, to information and after to opportunities.

Race and class can define the type of information you will have access, and your connections, those two combined will define how far you will go. It is not a matter of hard work or intelligence, it is a matter of social structure in digital and “analogical” society [if still exist].

We use a term “to hack the system” in Brazil when you somehow access spaces and start to make something that will someday be social mobility, and as being the first generation in college [of the whole family, not only parents], speaking another language, studying abroad, I hacked the system as I black women [colorism gave me some access], although, it is a beginning of social mobility.


Beer, David (2009), Power through the algorithm? participatory web cultures and the technological unconscious.

Gregory, K. 2020 forthcoming. “’My life is more valuable than this’: Understanding Risk Among On-Demand Food Couriers in Edinburgh.” Work, Employment and Society

Pathways for Prosperit Commission Technology & Inclusive Development “Meaningful Connections for the Next 3 Billion” Retrieved October 27, 2020 from

Selwyn, Neil (2019) “What is Digital Sociology?”.

van Dijk, Jan A. G. M. (2013) “Inequalities in the Network Society” (105-124) in K. Orton-Johnson & N. Prior (Eds.), Digital sociology: critical perspectives.

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