C. Wright Mills defined the sociological imagination as the quality of mind that translates personal troubles into public issues. Troubles are located in very personal and individual biographies and their immediate milieu, a seemingly private experience, while public issues are those that are linked to the institutional and historical possibilities of social structure. In Mills' vision the task of sociology is to articulate the connections between these planes.
Social research is a significant activity by which the links between personal troubles and public issues are elaborated, and which brings together common sense understanding with theoretical and empirical insight. What distinguishes social research from assorted opinions, anecdotes and hearsay is the systematic way in which life worlds are investigated.
Sociology begins with individuals' experiences in order to explore the collective themes and patterning of human behavior (Chase 1996). This collectivization of experience enables broader substantive claims to be made about the relationship between milieu and personal circumstance. Mills argued that situating personal troubles within public issues, ropes biography to history and this forms the characteristic perspective of sociology (Mills 1959).
In sustaining a methodological practice that produces insightful analysis of this relationship between personal troubles and public issues, there is a tendency to conceive of subjectivity and objectivity as mutually exclusive research perspectives. This proves to be overly simplistic and unhelpful. In this paper I want to explore what I view as a misconception of this relationship between subjectivity and objectivity in research.
A reflexive approach to research methodology allows researchers to link milieu with individual experience while at the same time resolving the tensions between subjectivity and objectivity through a focus on common sense knowledge.