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Measuring the Sociological Imagination Via Undergraduate Explanations of Social Inequality

Nathan Palmer, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


In this dissertation, I examine the following questions: (1) What is the sociological imagination and how does this skill develop within students? (2) How do people make sense of various forms of social inequality and what relationship (if any) exists between individuals’ social location and the cultural frames they use to explain/make sense of social inequality? (3) What relationship (if any) exists between being exposed to sociological curricula and students’ use of their sociological imagination to make sense of social inequality? To explore these questions, I use data from a content analysis of the journal Teaching Sociology and a pair of surveys of undergraduates at a large public university in the southeast United States and. Through three separate analytic studies, the results indicated that (a) previous scholars have identified the sociological imagination as one of the most important concepts to sociological curricula in general and to introductory sociology curricula in specific. The sociological imagination has received ample attention within the field of sociological scholarship of teaching and learning. There is a wealth of research available on pedagogical interventions to convey the sociological imagination to students and a dearth of research that conceptualizes how the sociological imagination develops within students. Furthermore, much of the existing scholarship that claims to develop students’ sociological imaginations does not provide sufficient evidence to support their claims. (b) both current and former sociology students increased their support for structuralistic explanations of inequality in general and educational gender inequality in specific over the course of the semester. This finding and the research design used to gather it suggests that the development of students’ sociological imaginations can be conceptualized as a skill and measured in a standardized way. (c) undergraduates generally placed more importance on structuralistic explanations of inequality as compared to individualistic explanations. Their explanations of inequality varied by their social location. Furthermore, some evidence suggested that respondents explained social inequality differently based on how it advantaged or disadvantaged members of social groups they were a part of. Taken together, these findings enhance our understanding of how the sociological imagination has been measured, explanations of social inequality, and how explanations of inequality can be used to assess the development of students’ sociological imaginations.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Palmer, Nathan, "Measuring the Sociological Imagination Via Undergraduate Explanations of Social Inequality" (2017). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI10271973.