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. <https://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195388947.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780195388947-e-021>
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.