A key part of engaging in sociology is to adopt a sociological viewpoint or 'think sociologically'. Etymologically, sociology is the 'study of society' but this doesn't differentiate sociology from other forms of social study. Hence, many begin to describe thinking sociologically by what it is not - it is not thinking politically, thinking anthropologically, thinking historically or thinking psychologically, for example (Berger 1966: 11-36; Reiss 1968: 2-3). Others try to determine the nature of sociological thinking by detailing practical phenomena which can be thought about such as social systems and their subsystems, social institutions and social structure, and social aggregates, relationships, groups and organisations (Reiss 1968: 1), or by key mental tools that people who call themselves 'sociologists' use while thinking, such as continuity, change, action or form (Krauss 1980: 12-19). For Levin (1996) thinking sociologically is the human extension of seeing sociologically - observing the social world around us and trying to comprehend it.
But these explanations of sociology do not tell us about what Mills (1959) called 'the sociological imagination' - which is the key to thinking sociologically.
Focussing on the concept of 'thinking sociologically' provides a convenient way to grasp the field of sociology. The perspective outlined by C. Wright Mills in his The Sociological Imagination is widely recognised as a set of key tools in understanding social phenomena which Willis (1999) expands on. Willis uses Mills to argue that there are four distinct sensitivities that must be used when thinking sociologically - the historical, the cultural, the structural and the critical.
The historical sensitivity is essential as sociology is focused upon the mechanisms of change and the discipline's scope extends to societies of the past and future. Max Weber's work in explaining the nature of authority both in our own and other societies would have been...