Peter Kaufman, a professor at SUNY at New Paltz, gives us a guide for exercising our sociological imaginations. Think of an item - any item in your bag, in your room, whatever. Then post your answers to the following questions:
1.Describe the item in detail. What is it called? What does it look like?
2.Analyze the item from a local perspective. How is this item a part of everyday life? How is it used? How and where is it bought and sold? Who benefits from it? Who is harmed/suffers because of it? Why does it look the way it does?
3.Analyze the item globally. Does it exist in other countries? If so, in what form? Is it used any differently there? Does it affect life on the planet in any significant way? Where and how was it made?
4.Analyze it historically. When did this object come into existence? Why did it appear at this time? How has the object changed over time? What other aspects of social life have changed as a result of this item? What will the object be like in the future - will it still exist and in what form?
5.Now think about your item. Do you see how it is part of a much larger context?Do you see how your experiences have shaped your ownership of that item? This is a sociological imagination.
(This exercise is adapted from Kaufman's article in Teaching Sociology, Vol. 25, No. 4. Oct., 1997, pp. 309-314)