The sociological imagination: making the familiar strange

C W Mills in the Sociological Imagination says sociology lies at the intersection of history and biography. People and the Past. What a great location. Mills says to think sociologically is about making the familiar strange. This requires thinking critically about the social world. Adopting a different way of seeing. Challenging conventional wisdom.

Questioning what is presented as social reality can change it.  A sociological lens is a powerful way of seeing.

An interpretative worldview is supposed to be a flexible one. You’re not fixed within an objective reality but can be influenced by new knowledge and insight.  This is the theory. I wonder how much interpretivists are still bound to their individual interpretation of the world.  In quite a positivist way. Yesterday I was told teaching is a face-to-face experience. Teachers want to see their students. Make eye contact. Get to know them as people, not avatars. We go online because we have to. Reach more people, do more with less. The only reason we turn to virtual solutions is for real life problems.

We talked about the student experience in large lectures where the lecturer is a dot in the distance. How well constructed multimedia resources can be revisited, revised, reused, reach people who can’t be on campus. Widening participation. Creating genuine higher education experiences – online. Isn’t there a case for digital education? But we’re not technicians was the answer. We can’t create those sort of resources? What do we know about the pedagogy of teaching and learning online? Where is the institutional support for content development?

My participatory action research will involve face-to-face interactions like these. I’m going to be challenged on all fronts when it comes to my position on digital education. This will be good for me because I know I’ve become an online person. I hide behind my keyboard and computer screen. I prefer email to telephone.  I hate Skype. My work involves positioning staff in unfamiliar virtual places, inviting them into my world of browser difference and multiple platforms, making their familiar worlds of lecture halls and seminar rooms strange. While I know their criticisms of Blackboard are not direct criticisms of my work, and as Feenberg says, ‘considerable progress has been made in using online education to support new forms of interaction among teachers and students.'(Transforming Technology, 2002:125),  it will still always feel like I haven’t done enough.

Making the familiar strange is not only about how we see the world. It’s about how other people see us and the work we do. I have been usefully reminded how making the familiar strange is a personal as well as a political process.

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