Personal Troubles and Public Issues: Sociological Imagination

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 1515 |

Pages: 3|

8 min read

Published: Feb 8, 2022

Words: 1515|Pages: 3|8 min read

Published: Feb 8, 2022

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. What is Sociological Imagination?
  3. Personal Troubles and Social Issues
  4. Suicide as a Problem Facing University Students in South Africa
  5. Suicide as a Societal Problem
  6. Social Cause of Suicide Amongst Black University Students
  7. Conclusion
  8. References


Introduction: In this essay I am going to look at what the sociological imagination is as defined by C Wright Mills. I will then distinguish between personal troubles and public issues in this essay. I will then look at suicide as a problem that South African university students face, particularly black male South African students. Thesis statement: The cause of this problem will be explored as well as the ways to address the issue. I will conclude with whether the sociological imagination is valuable in this particular case.

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What is Sociological Imagination?

Background: C Wright Mills came up the concept of sociological imagination. C Wright Mills (1959:3) mentions that; 'Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both.' The sociological imagination is a 'critical thinking tool' which allows us to critically look at issues within a society (Stewart and Zaaiman 2018: xxxvi). It further allows us to analyse an individual and the society they come from, as well as the impact the society has on the individual. The aim is to objectively assess personal troubles that an individual faces and social issues experienced in the community. This can be done be putting aside personal experiences and cultural biases when making assessments and trying to consider all aspects that influence the individual.

Personal Troubles and Social Issues

Personal troubles and social issues are the two main factors we look at when addressing the sociological imagination. 'There is a distinction between problems affecting the individual and problems affecting individuals collectively within a society' (Stewart and Zaaiman 2018: xxxvi). Topic sentence: Personal problems have to do with the individual and these are problems that affect and hold back the individual. This can include a learning disability that makes it difficult for the individual to comprehend certain things that an individual without the disability can comprehend so they would need assistance. Social issues affect all the individuals in the society due to the social structure. These include load shedding or water shortages. Imagine one person in the community commits suicide, it would be detrimental to the family and those close to them, but if individuals of the community start committing suicide it becomes a public issue and affects society as a whole. In order to understand the individual we need to look at their context, where they come from and factors that influence their behaviour, actions, way of life and thinking. It is important to look at the cultural background and historical context of the society they come from as this also impacts them and this needs to be done with absolute objectivity.

Suicide as a Problem Facing University Students in South Africa

Suicide is the successful attempt in taking one's own life by use of harmful substances or objects, these include: self poisoning using a pesticide, hanging or firearms. Yan (2012:14) states that most suicides among South African university students are due to identifiable stressors such as lack of support, use of alcohol and other substances, mental illness and societal factors such as sexuality and gender. A wide variety of factors such as work overload, stress or financial problems have been reported to increase suicide among the university population (Yan 2012:14). According to (Mail& Guardian 1999); 'David Malebana who was a student at Tompi Seleka Agricultural College in the Northern Province , shot three of his lectures before committing suicide due to an extension on his studies.' Commentary: The story of David Malebana shows us the intensity of the pressure he experienced with regards to doing well academically and an extension on his studies was the worst thing that could have ever happened to him.

Suicide as a Societal Problem

Topic sentence: According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG 2016) suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst university students, after accidents. 'The prevalence of suicide in South African university students is becoming a major concern. Since 1950, the suicide rate for white males (15-24) has tripled and for white females (15-24) has more than doubled. In the last 15 years, the suicide rate for black males (15-24) has risen by 2/3.'(SADAG 2016) Furthermore, Bantjies et al. (2016:15) suggests that studies have shown that as many as 20% of university students have suicidal thoughts at some point in their university career .Evidence & citing: The statistical information above shows us that suicide rates have increased significantly and could be caused by the transitional phase from high school to university where the student finds themselves in this new environment with no support structure. Commentary: Suicide is a problem that is shaped by larger societal structures as shown by the statistics above, it is not a matter of few cases of individuals committing suicide but it is a large number of individuals. This alludes to us that suicide is a problem that belongs to the society. The cause of suicide can therefore be found in society and how it is shaped.

Social Cause of Suicide Amongst Black University Students

Topic sentence: There are a lot of responsibilities and unrealistic expectations are placed on black males. 'Black South Africans students also tend to experience more financial difficulties, increased familial or personal expectations in terms of succeeding at university' (Peltzer et al.2000). Commentary: They leave home and come to university to study with no social support structure. The minute they leave home they already know that they have to do well academically so that they can finish in record time and eventually work to support their families. Those that are on bursaries even sometimes have to use the bursary money to help out at home. The responsibility is too great plus the academic pressure. It all becomes too much and suicide seems like the easy way out because in the black community people rarely talk about their feelings and expressing them is seen as being weak. Particularly for black males they are told to suppress their feelings and show strength. Suicide is seen as an attention seeking mechanism and is take lightly until it is successful. Peltzer et al (2000) focused on how ethnic differences affect suicide rates amongst university students. 'Suicide is negatively stigmatised across many South African ethnic groups particularly among Black South Africans.' Furthermore because of this negative stigma, (Young 2009 ; Cluver et al. 2015) believe that black South African University students would be more at risk of experiencing suicide than white students.

In my view understanding the black culture and how black communities operate will be helpful in understanding why these pressures are put on black males. There are cultural expectations of the black man from the minute he is born. From young a black boy is told that crying shows weakness and he needs to show strength. As he grows older he is told that his job is to take of his family. He already has so much on his shoulders and carries it to university with him. Due to the fact that showing emotions is considered weak he won't even try and seek help. The only expression that is seen as socially acceptable is anger.

Firstly change of mindset is very important and we need to learn that suicide is not a seeking attention mechanism but it indicates a serious underlying problem. Talking about it and expressing feelings is also something that should be practiced. Things like therapy shouldn't be regarded for certain racial, ethnic groups or for mentally unstable people.

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Conclusion paragraph: In conclusion, I agree that the sociological imagination is valuable whenever we address issues that affect an individual or the larger society. In this case it makes us look at possible reasons of suicide amongst black university students without putting the responsibility on the individual. The factors above help us conclude that it is due to the social structure of the black society. Instead of seeing a troubled young black man who can't control his emotions, we now see a young black man who has societal pressures placed on him that have caused him to act out in a certain manner.


  1. Bantjies, J, R, Kagee, A, McGowan, T, and Steel, H. 2016. 'Symptoms of posttraumatic stress, depression and anxiety as predictors of suicidal ideation among South African university students'. Journal of American college Health , 64(6): 429-437.
  2. Cluver ,L ,Orkin ,M , Boyes ,M,E, and Sherr,L. 2015. 'Child and adolescent suicide attempts, suicidal behaviour, and adverse childhood experiences in South Africa: A prospective study'. Journal of Adolescent Health ,57(1): 52-59.
  3. Mail &Guardian. 1999.' Law Society to transform'. Accessed 2 March 2020, .
  4. Mills, C, W. 1959. The Sociological Imagination , London, Oxford University Press.
  5. Peltzer , K, Cherian ,V ,I and Cherian ,L. 2000. 'Cross-cultural attitudes towards suicide among South African secondary school pupils'. East African Journal, 77(3): 165-167.
  6. South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) 2016.' Teen Suicide, Accessed 2 March 2020, .
  7. Stewart, P. 2018. Sociological theory' in Sociology: A concise South African Introduction, edited by Paul Stewart and Johan Zaaiman, Cape Town: Juta.
  8. World Health Organisation (WHO) 2014 Preventing suicide:' A global imperative'. Accessed 2 March 2020, .
  9. Young, C. 2009. 'The CORE-OM intake norms of students attending a South African university counselling service: A comparison with UK counselling service data'. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 37(4):473-483.
  10. Yan , C. 2013. ' The lived experiences of Black South African University students who had suicidal thoughts: A descriptive Phenomenological study
  11. Master's dissertation. Johannesburg: University of Johannesburg Available from: (Accessed: 22 August 2017)

Introduction close-button

Should follow an “upside down” triangle format, meaning, the writer should start off broad and introduce the text and author or topic being discussed, and then get more specific to the thesis statement.

Background close-button

Provides a foundational overview, outlining the historical context and introducing key information that will be further explored in the essay, setting the stage for the argument to follow.

Thesis statement close-button

Cornerstone of the essay, presenting the central argument that will be elaborated upon and supported with evidence and analysis throughout the rest of the paper.

Topic sentence close-button

The topic sentence serves as the main point or focus of a paragraph in an essay, summarizing the key idea that will be discussed in that paragraph.

Evidence & citing close-button

The body of each paragraph builds an argument in support of the topic sentence, citing information from sources as evidence.


After each piece of evidence is provided, the author should explain HOW and WHY the evidence supports the claim.

Conclusion paragraph close-button

Should follow a right side up triangle format, meaning, specifics should be mentioned first such as restating the thesis, and then get more broad about the topic at hand. Lastly, leave the reader with something to think about and ponder once they are done reading.

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Sociological Imagination: Personal Troubles and Social Issues. (2022, February 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 20, 2024, from
“Sociological Imagination: Personal Troubles and Social Issues.” GradesFixer, 10 Feb. 2022,
Sociological Imagination: Personal Troubles and Social Issues. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 20 Jun. 2024].
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