The Importance of a Global Sociological Imagination
Although existing sociological theory and research provide the foundation for sociological thinking. we must reach beyond past studies that have focused primarily on the United States to develop a more COu1prehensive global approach for the future. In the twentyfirst century. we face important challenges in a rapidly changing nation and world. The world's high-income cOlin tries are nations with hIghly industrialized economIes; technologically advanced industrial, administrative, and service occupations; and relatively high levels of national and personal income. Examples include the United States. Canada, Australia. New Zealand. Jaean, and the countries of Western Europe (see" Map 1.1).
As compared with other nations of the world. many high-income nations have a high standard of living and a lower death rate due to advances in nutrition and medical technology. However. everyone living in a so-called high-income country does not necessarily have a high income or an outstanding quality of life. Even among middle- and upper-income people. problems such as personal debt may threaten economic and social stability. For example. more than 1.1 million people in this country filed for bankruptcy [n 2006. and more than 97 percent of all U.S. bankruptcies were filed by consumers (U.S. Courts. 2006). In contrast. middle-income countries an: nations with industrializing economies, particularly In urban areas, and moderate levels of national and personal income. Examples of middle-income countries include the nations of Eastern Europe and many Latin American countries, where nations such as Brazil and Mexico are industrializing rapidly. Low-income countries are primarily agrarian nations with little Industrialization and low levels of national and personal income. Examples of low-income countries include many of the nations of Africa and Asia. particularly the People's Republic of and India. where people typically work the land and <u";: among the poorest in the world. However. generalizations are difficult to make because there are wide differences in income and standards of living within many nations (see Chapter 9. "Global Stratification").
The global expansion of credit cards and other forms of consumerism. including the proliferation of "big-box" retail establishments such as shows the influence of UJ-based megacorporations on other nations of the world. Consider Wal-Mart. for example. Sam Wallon opened his first Wal-Mart store in Rogers, Arkansas. in 1962. and the company's home office was established in Bentonville. Arkansas. in the early 1970s. From a small-scale. regional operation in Arkansas. the Wal-Mart chain has now built a worldwide empire. Although the global expansion of credit cards and Wal-Mart Superstores has produced benefits for-some people. it has also affected the everyday lives of many individuals around the world (see Box 1.2). Throughout this text. we will continue to develop • our sociological imaginations by examining social life' in tile United States and other nations. The future of our nation is deeply intertwined with the future of all other nations of the world on economic. political. environmental. and humanitarian levels. We buy many goods and services that were produced in other nations. and we sell much of what we produce to the people of other nations. Peace in other nations is important if we are to ensure peace within our borders. Famine. unrest,and brutality in other regions of the world must be of concern to people in rf:te United States. Moreover, fires. earthquakes. famine. or environmental pollution in one nation typically has an adverse influence on other nations as weU. Global problems contribute to the large influx of immigrants who arrive in the United States annually. These immigrants bring with them a
rich diversity of language, customs. religions. and previous life experiences; they also contribute to dramatic population changes that will have a long-term effect on this country.
Whatever your race/ethnicity, class. sex. or age. are you able to include in your thinking the perspectives of people who are quite different from you in experiences and points of view? Before you answer this question. a few definitions are in order. Race is a term used by many people to specify groups of people distinguished by physical characteristics such as skin color; in fact, there are no "pure" racial types, and the concept of race is considered by most sociologists to be a social construction that people use to justify existing social inequalities. Ethnicity refers to the cultural heritage or identity of a group and is based on factors such as language or country of origin. Class is the relative location of a'person or group within the larger society, based on wealth. power. prestige. or other valued resources. Sa refers to the biological and anatomical differences between females and males, By contrast, gender refers to the meanings beliefs. and practices associated with sex differences. referred to as femiuinity and masculinity. In forming your own global sociological imagination and in seeing the possibilities for sociology in the twenty-first century, it wijb.be helpful for you to understand the development of the discipline.