Many individuals experience one or more social problems personally. For example, many people are poor and
unemployed, many are in poor health, and many have family problems, drink too much alcohol, or commit crime.
When we hear about these individuals, it is easy to think that their problems are theirs alone, and that they and
other individuals with the same problems are entirely to blame for their difficulties.
Sociology takes a different approach, as it stresses that individual problems are often rooted in problems stemming
from aspects of society itself. This key insight informed C. Wright Mills’s classic distinction
between personal troubles and public issues. Personal troubles refer to a problem affecting individuals that the
affected individual, as well as other members of society, typically blame on the individual’s own personal and
moral failings. Examples include such different problems as eating disorders, divorce, and unemployment. Public
issues, whose source lies in the social structure and culture of a society, refer to social problems affecting many
individuals. Problems in society thus help account for problems that individuals experience. Mills felt that many
problems ordinarily considered private troubles are best understood as public issues, and he coined the term
sociological imagination to refer to the ability to appreciate the structural basis for individual problems.