At first glance, it might seem that the two concepts – the anarchist squint and the sociological imagination – have almost nothing in common.
Although both concepts promise to drive humanity to a better future if implemented by people, there is a distinct difference in the main ideas: where sociological imagination aims to teach people to use their own experiences to address large social issues (Mills 5), the anarchist squint refers rather to the use of collective mind in solving global issues (Rathmann 232).
However, the fact that the two approaches address the importance of both the individual perspective and the community action allows finding the use for a combination of the two views. This essay aims to provide a broader definition of both the anarchist squint and the sociological imagination and to see the underlying similarities and differences that would allow for the employment of both concepts in ensuring a better future.
The sociological imagination is an idea that was first introduced by C. Wright Mills, a prominent American sociologist, in 1959. In his book The Sociological Imagination, Mills describes the concept in depth while also suggesting the possible benefits that the implementation of sociological imagination would entail.
The author defines sociological imagination is the perspective that allows the person to view larger historical events and issues through the prism of his or her personal experiences and also to see his life and individual problems in the light of the current historical period (Mills 5).
According to Elwell, this was a significant drift from the approach used by the social science at the time, which targeted the development of society into an administratively approved form (par. 2), rather than the shape that would be beneficial for the development of humanity on a global scale.
Through the idea of sociological imagination, Mills addressed the structural and historical features of the community that significantly affect the views, values, actions, and motivations of the people who compose this community (Elwell par. 2).
According to Miller, sociological imagination involves a capacity to shift from one perspective to another across various religious, national, social, and cultural barriers (7), which makes it is an important tool to address the issues not just within one community, but across the world.
Despite the fact that many people perceive anarchism as a socially destructive notion, which is chaotic and unreasonable in its aggressiveness, the anarchist squint, developed by Scott, is yet another viewpoint that could be adopted to improve people’s lives in general, especially in relation to the individual’s freedom of choice.
Scott admits that he adopted one of the main ideas that contributed to the development of this concept from a Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakunin’s statement “Freedom without socialism is privilege and injustice; socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality” (xi).
And, even though the Russian’s statement implies communistic ideas through the rejection of the “privilege,” Scott’s final concept goes beyond that, creating a framework of vision for the global community with the end goal of achieving a better, freer society.
As opposed to the more traditional anarchistic notions, Scott’s anarchist squint does not reject the state entirely: “While he occasionally expresses regret that the state’s elimination is probably impossible, more typically he denies any desire to get rid of the state” (Stone 8).
Scott insists that the state is not the only source of social problems and that other factors need to be addressed in the anarchist squint: “Nor do I believe that the state is the only institution that endangers freedom. To assert so would be to ignore a long and deep history of pre-state slavery, property in women, warfare, and bondage” (xiv).
Overall, anarchist squint implies looking at the history of various movements and states from the point of view of an anarchist. Scott believes that such an approach would promote “the ideas of mutuality, non-hierarchical cooperation and freedom to learn from one’s own mistakes” (King par. 8).
Similarities and Differences
Despite the fact that initially, the two concepts seem to have almost nothing in common, some similarities are indeed fundamental to them.
For instance, both the sociological imagination and the anarchist squint are based on adopting a certain viewpoint that emphasizes the connection between large issues and smaller ones, either focusing on an individual or the community.
By employing this technique, both concepts promote the empowerment of an individual and stress the influence of every person in society on the issues they intend to address.
Another similar idea that is present in both viewpoints is the idea of unity. Scott sees the community as one of the key contributors to freedom: “Forms of informal cooperation, coordination, and action that embody mutuality without hierarchy are the quotidian experience of most people” (Scott xxi). Mills, on the other hand, does not openly proclaim cooperation.
However, sociological imagination becomes a uniting force due to its flexibility and applicability in many societies all across the world. The idea of unity allows both concepts to be used in finding a solution for global social issues.
Finally, both ideas see the threat to individual’s freedom as one of the key matters that have to be addressed, while at the same time recognizing the need for some form of control over the people: “having accepted the values of reason and freedom, it is a prime task for any social scientist to determine the limits of freedom and the limits of the role of reason in history” (Mills 184).
For Scott, this is what distinguishes his approach from the thoroughly anarchist one; he admits to rejecting the image of the ideal control-free world that has prevailed much of anarchist thoughts before: “Unlike many anarchist thinkers, I do not believe that the state is everywhere and always the enemy of freedom” (xiii).
There are also, however, certain dissimilarities between the anarchist squint and sociological imagination. For example, whereas Miller proposes sociological imagination proposes a way of thinking about fundamental issues, Scott implies that part of the anarchist squint is the action: “Acts of disobedience are of interest to us when they are exemplary, and especially when, as examples, they set off a chain reaction, prompting others to emulate them” (Scott 7).
This makes an anarchist squint an active movement rather than a theoretical one. Another fundamental difference is the difference of focus: where social imagination is based on the experience of an individual, anarchist squint concentrates on the views of the individual as part of a community; according to Scott, it is the joint action that changes the world, not an individual’s way of thinking.
Given the differences in their structure and some of the proposed ideas, both the anarchist squint and sociological imagination can be used to tackle different problems in contemporary society. For example, Mills’ work presents alienation as one of the most significant “troubles” of an individual that inevitably affects the society as a whole (172).
Alienation causes the people to distance themselves from the prominent social, political, or economic issues, and to ignore their capacity to solve these problems through social action. When individual experiences are applied to the global challenges, the latter becomes more personal and thus harder to ignore.
Moreover, sociological imagination stresses the individual’s capacity to aid in solving global issues. Together, these notions create motivation for action by giving personal meaning to the world’s troubles and attributing more value to the decisions of a single individual.
Scott’s anarchist squint, on the other hand, provides a cause for active individuals to address the inequalities and problems through cooperation and mutually beneficial relationship. Despite giving more value to the action of the community, Scott does not underestimate the contribution of every individual to this action, which is why his concept can be seen as built on the perspective of social imagination.
Overall, despite the differences in focus and structure, the anarchist squint and sociological imagination can be combined to create an opportunity to address and potentially solve some of the persistent issues of our time.
Acting on the individual’s motivation that has arisen from Miller’s proposed viewpoint, Scott urges the people to form communities and to work together, thus creating an active social response to the global problems. Using the two angles as complementary, we could build a clear strategy that would actually battle the alienation and empower the individuals, while also promoting the value of community and concerted action in solving global problems.
Elwell, Frank W. C. Wright Mills on the Sociological Imagination.
King, Richard. “Seeing the World with an ‘Anarchist Squint’.” The Australian.
Mills, C. Wright. The Sociological Imagination. Oxford University Press, 2000.
Rethmann, Petra. “Imagining Political Possibility in an Age of Late Liberalism and Cynical Reason.” Reviews in Anthropology, vol. 42, no. 4, 2013, pp. 227-242.
Scott, James C. Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play. Princeton University Press, 2012.
Stone, Peter. Review of Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play by James C. Scott. Marx & Philosophy Review of Books, 2013.