Chapter 2: An Imaginative Approach to Social Science Research

Mills insists on the need to see the individual in the context of the social structure and place this is in historical period: he demands an analysis which moves from the macro to the micro and back again; he points to the gross inequities of our time in terms of the domination of the political elite in an intensely divided class society; he sees the sociological imagination not just as an attribute of highly trained sociologists (indeed often the reverse) but as a world view which can arise out of the individual’s attempts to make sense of a dizzying world. (Young, 2011: 7)

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Having some familiarity with the writings of C. Wright Mills, I began toying with the idea of applying some of his ideas and techniques pertaining to social science research and his concept of the Sociological Imagination to my own investigation of OWS. Widely considered C. Wright Mills’ most influential book on the practice of sociology, The Sociological Imagination (originally entitled The Autopsy of Social Science; 1959) offers both a critique of the then state of American sociology, and a justification for the mode of sociological scholarship that Mills had already begun to explore in earlier books like White Collar (1951) and The Power Elite (1956) (Gane & Back, 2012: 404). According to Gane and Back (2012), the purpose of Mills’ book is the promotion of a renewed critical sensibility; presenting a broader set of arguments about the ambition and form of sociology, or what Mills calls its “promise” and “craft” (404). My goal was to transform Mills’ critique of social inquiry, along with his recommendations for correcting the issue, into a viable theoretical framework, one that complies with the methodological guidelines provided Strauss and Corbin (1994) and discussed in the previous chapter. With this general direction in mind, I continued gathering literature surrounding OWS from several online sources, while simultaneously conducting a close reading of C. Wright Mills’ text, The Sociological Imagination (1959).

It became apparent part way through reading Mills’ text that, if I were to draw an analytical approach from his critique and recommendations pertaining to sociological research, it would need to be substantiated with additional sources. Mills’ critique of sociological research in late 1950’s America may be insightful, but it lacks direct applicability to my criminological investigation of Occupy Wall Street. Fortunately, a more recent publication by cultural criminologist Jock Young entitled The Criminological Imagination (2011), recommended to me by my thesis supervisor, could provide the information and analysis needed to bridge that gap. Young draws directly from Mills’ concept of the Sociological Imagination, dedicating an entire chapter to his interpretation of Mills’ text. The purpose of the book is made overtly clear on page one, “…to examine the way in which Mills’ predictions have panned out today, and to gauge the extent to which his warnings have been heeded” (Young, 2011). Young’s conclusion is essentially the same as Mills’: that a more imaginative approach to research must be employed if any meaningful insight is to be drawn.

The purpose of this chapter is to present the process I underwent in developing a theoretical framework to examine the Occupy Wall Street protests, that incorporates the fundamental tenets of Mills’ Sociological Imagination (1959) and Young’s Criminological Imagination (2011). Upon completing multiple close readings of each of these texts, a list of features and characteristics for “ideal” sociological and criminological research began to emerge; this “ideal” being grounded in Mills’ concept of the “intellectual craftsman.” I begin by presenting a summary of findings and conclusions that were drawn from the close readings performed on each text. From there, I present a summary of the characteristics for “ideal” sociological and criminological research stemming from the conclusions identified in the previous section. Finally, this chapter concludes with a discussion on how I intend to apply these characteristics to my investigation of Occupy, using the features outlined in the second section, and molding them into an analytical approach that can then be employed when sorting through the source material.

A Critique of Sociological and Criminological Research

The bulk of The Sociological Imagination (1959) discusses what Mills identifies as major trends within academic sociology that serve to compromise his ideal vision for the discipline, an ideal which he refers to throughout the text as a “classical” sociological approach. At its core, the Sociological Imagination is really an appeal to social scientists to bring sociological research back on course, striking a balance between two methodological extremes, which Mills (1959) identifies as “Grand Theory” and “Abstracted Empiricism.” Young (2011) maintains that these diametrically opposed tendencies are what is causing research in the social sciences to, “lose contact with social reality” (5). Both tendencies abstract the research, distancing itself heavily from the object being studied. However, according to Young, where they truly differentiate is in their scope, which is in line with the public/private duality expressed consistently throughout both Mills’ (1959) and Young’s (2011) texts. He notes that the process of thinking imaginatively involves a movement from micro to macro and back again, but that each of the tendencies only focuses on one aspect of the phenomenon, with Abstracted Empiricism concentrating solely on the local, while Grand Theory, on the system as a whole (Young, 2011: 5).

Mills (1959) states definitively that no single universal scheme or unified theory exists that, “can understand the unity of social structure,” or provide an “answer to the tired old problem of social order” (45), insinuating that the formation of grand theory is inherently a flawed process. It is evident that Mills questions the practicality of grand theory, arguing whether broad assumptions about society have any real-world value. Grand theory does not seek to solve or restate any problem more clearly, instead, observations remain abstract and conclusions highly theoretical (Mills, 1959: 45-47). The analysis conducted by grand theorists begins at a level of abstraction so broad, that it is impossible to make specific observations and identify particular problems relating to the historical and structural context of the phenomenon in question (Mills, 1959: 33). This level of inquiry does not improve our understanding of the phenomenon because its practitioners have difficulty moving from generalities to specific issues (Mills, 1959: 33).

According to Young (2011), in Grand Theory, the concepts dissociate from reality, ‘The Concept’ and the concepts interact together, but in Abstracted Empiricism, the methods detach from reality, “methods become methodology” (6). Mills (1959) also expresses contempt for the growing popularity of Abstracted Empiricism, or the application of research methods typically used in the natural sciences to the social sciences, which he believes brings nothing substantive to the table in terms of original propositions, theories and conceptions of the world (55), a critique that parallels the one made in regards to grand theory. Despite being an admirer of the physical sciences, Mills (1959) is critical of the scientific process as a whole, arguing that “the splitting of concepts and their endless rearrangement becomes the central endeavour” (23). As theory becomes less of a priority, the complexities of statistical manipulation involved in the method become a ready substitute (Young, 2011: 13-14). The reality of what is being studied gets lost in the method and measurement; the tools of observations become more important than what is being observed (Young, 2011: viii). Scientific investigation is more concerned with clarifying concepts than examining causes.

Young (2011) dedicates a portion of his book to describing examples of the influence abstracted empiricism has had in criminology, because “it is here where abstracted empiricism has flourished to the greatest extent” compared to other branches of social science (viii). In order to demonstrate the effect that Abstracted Empiricism has had on criminological inquiry, Young (2011), draws samples from a study published in Criminology entitled “Estimating Intervention Effects in Various Risk Settings: Do Police Raids Reduce Illegal Drug Dealing in Nuisance Bars?” Recalling his first impressions upon reading the study, Young (2011: 11) writes:

The confetti of Greek letters, beta, lambda, epsilon, the masquerade of science, the strange litany of indivators: Time, Unemp, Risk, Nuisance, Closed, Dosage, and Durationseems in a different universe from the louche bars, dope smokers, snitches and police harassment of downtown Pittsburgh.

Young’s (2011) utilization of the article is intended to highlight the fact that abstracted empiricists have a “fetishism with numbers,” resulting from the belief in the infallibility of statistical findings and results, what he refers to as the “illusion of precision” (Young, 2011: 44). Young (2011) highlights the motivation for such an approach, arguing that the goal of collecting and rearranging countless details and statistics is to generate as accurate a picture of the whole as possible, and that an understanding of the phenomenon as being the sum of all its individual parts necessarily establishes a level of precision that ensures “truth” is found in the research findings (Young, 2011: 7). He uses the analogy of a “House of Cards” in describing abstracted empiricism, suggesting that quantitative findings “lean” on each other, reinforcing one another to enhance the impression of accuracy and validity they possess (Young, 2011: 47). This fetish for quantification of research inevitably results in a “numerical othering” of the subject matter, increasing the distance between the researcher and what’s being studied (19). Young (2011) attributes this tendency to “the increasing commodification of scientific research in the social sciences” – for example, referring to data sets that eliminate the need for administering a survey, outsourcing the research to commercial survey organizations – causing contact between the researcher and those being studied to become a far more rare occurrence (45).

Mills (1959) argues that this form of empirical social research is “methodologically inhibited” to a point where it has abandoned substantive questions relating to conditions of historical formation and the moral experience of social life (Mills, 1959: 55; Wilkinson, 2012: 182). To Mills, abstracted empiricists “are systematically a-historical and non-comparative,” dealing with “small-scale areas” and “microscopic findings” that shed no light on the influence history has on social structure (68). Young (2011) reiterates this idea poetically, stating that, “the structure fades out of sight, history is banished from thought, and the myopic eye of the researcher focuses on the immediate” (6). Abstracted Empiricism, in order for it to be able to account for the variety of individuals and problems under investigation in social research, must become both comparative and historical. To adequately examine social structures, the social researcher must be prepared to compare them to other modern social structures, as well as similar examples from the past (Mills, 1959: 68).  This “inhibition” to which Mills (1959) refers, is a tendency that empirical researchers have to formulate and investigate problems in a limited way, resulting from the constraints imposed by the Scientific Method (57). Mills (1959: 71-72) goes on to define “methodological inhibition” in a concise way later in his book:

“Methodological Inhibition”: nothing gets said unless it has been put through the rigorous “statistical ritual” that is part of the “Scientific Method”….Those in the grip of the methodological inhibition often refuse to say anything about modern society unless it has been through the fine little mill of The Statistical Ritual.

These constraints imposed by the “Statistical Ritual” result in what Mills (1959) describes as an issue of detail over form, arguing that numerous pieces of information accumulate throughout the research process, with little consideration paid to how the information is structured and presented (Mills, 1959: 54). In addition, the details themselves are not substantive enough to convince us of anything worth our effort to investigate (Mills, 1959: 55).

What Mills (1959) reveals, and Young (2011) reinforces, is that social research intended to construct a unified theory or explanation for some phenomenon, as well as research that glorifies numbers and statistics, ultimately produce no revelations or discoveries of value. Grand theories draw conclusions that are often too broad to have any practical application to everyday problems, while presupposing certain qualities of human interaction that make it impossible to investigate social conflict, a cornerstone of sociological investigation, especially from a critical perspective. Abstracted empiricism, on the other hand, suffers from issues of specificity, forcing research to be severely constrained when examining social phenomenon because of limits imposed stemming from the application of the Scientific Method. Also, the conclusions drawn from empirical inquiry tend to be applicable only under specific conditions. Mills (1959) states that most classic work “lies between abstracted empiricism and grand theory,” requiring a level of abstraction both broad enough to facilitate the observation of everyday milieux, while having a targeted focus on social and historical structures (124). He elaborates further on the level of abstraction necessary, pointing out that it exists on a level of historical reality that frames social problems as they relate to social and historical structures (Mills, 1959: 124).

Intellectual Craftsmanship

The key motif of The Sociological Imagination is the importance of understanding the relationship between biography, history and social structure. Mills (1959) defines the “sociological imagination” as the capacity to link biography, or the personal experiences of an individual life, with the impersonal workings of an historical era and social or institutional structure in which that life is located (5). Young (2011), draws a similar conclusion from his review of Mills’ text, stating that the key nature of the sociological imagination is to “situate human biography in history and in social structure” (2). In order to simplify Mills’ concept, Young (2011) emphasizes the importance of the relationship between three key elements: the inner life of human actors, and the social and historical setting in which they live, arguing that the three form a “fundamental triangle” (2). Put bluntly, the sociological imagination involves placing an individual within a social system (and the institutions that comprise that system) at a particular place and time (Young, 2011: 2). Mills (1959: 5) writes:

What they need, and what they feel they need, is a quality of mind that will help them to use information and to develop reason in order to achieve lucid summations of what is going on in the world and of what may be happening within themselves. It is this quality, I am going to contend, that journalists and scholars, artists and publics, scientists and editors are coming to expect of what may be called the sociological imagination.

Having this capacity to link history and biography, Mills argues, enables us ‘‘to understand the larger historical scene in terms of its meaning for the inner life and the external career of a variety of individuals” (1959: 5, 11). His praise of the sociological discipline as the cultural means by which to “grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society,” is undoubtedly a core tenet of Mills’ philosophy (Mills, 1959: 6). For Mills, the sociologist must be able to identify the relation between current experiences and less visible historical structures and forces, connecting autobiographical, personal challenges to social institutions (Fraser, 2009: 64; Gane & Back, 2012: 404).

Mills (1959) contends that a relationship exist between “the personal troubles of milieu” and “the public issues of social structure” (14). Young (2011) claims that this is the most forceful distinction of the sociological imagination, and that without it, personal troubles remain personal – “isolated pain often tinged with self-blame and doubt” (3). Imaginative help is needed to understand that, in actuality, the personal troubles of the many often equate to collective political and social issues, affecting the individual on an everyday, personal level (Young, 2011: 4). Scimecca (1976), based on his interpretation of Mills’ text, maintains that individuals who examine and explore social structure the way Mills advocates will ultimately come to realize that broader social issues are the source of personal hardship (188-189). Mills (1959: 8) defines “troubles” as problematic circumstances and events that “occur within the character of the individual and within the range of his immediate relations with others.” “Issues” have to do with “matters that transcend these local environments of the individual and the range of his inner life” (Mills, 1959: 8). Issues have far more to do with the complications that inevitably result from the intersection of various individual milieu, which overlap and bond to become large social structures; the social fabric we all recognize today (Mills, 1959: 8-9). According to Mills (1959), a social issue is typically related to a “crisis of institutional arrangements,” or what Marxists refer to as “contradictions” in the social order, which cannot easily be resolved by examining the personal milieu from which the issue stems (9). Whereas a “trouble” involves individually cherished values being threatened, “issues” involve publically agreed upon values being threatened (Mills, 1959: 8-9).

Research Methodology & Theory Development

The idea of intellectual craftsmanship is linked closely with the concepts of “method” and “theory,” with the definition that Mills (1959) provides drawing reference to the connection between the two concepts. Mills (1959) differentiates between “methods” and “methodology,” stating early on in the text that methods are “procedures used by [researchers] trying to understand or explain something,” while methodology is the study of these methods, both specific procedures and general frameworks alike (57). Towards the end of the text, Mills (1959) adds to his definition, adding a dimension of academic credibility to the concept. “Method” is defined as a procedure for looking at information that provides some assurance that the answers to the questions being asked have some “durability,” or weight, behind them (Mills, 1959: 120). Statements of method are no more than promises that the conclusions being drawn from the investigation will have some degree of truth supported by observable facts (Mills, 1959: 122).

“Theory” is concerned primarily with the vocabulary being used when describing or examining an event or phenomenon, with particular attention paid to the extent to which word usage is broad and abstract, as well as their “logical relations” with other terms and constructs (Mills, 1959: 120). Theoretical statements are “alerts” that draw attention to distinctions that we may encounter when interpreting the data (Mills, 1959: 122). In accordance with the New Criminology, an adequate theory must address the problem of human nature and social order while being cognizant of the fundamental human predicament: human beings “make history, but not in circumstances of their own choosing” (Young, 2011: 213). As such, theories that are formulated using the New criminological paradigm must consider the class nature of society, the inequalities of wealth and power and the extensive pluralism of values in modern capitalist societies (Young, 2011: 213).

Mills (1959) identifies the purpose of theory and method to be “clarity of conception and economy of procedure,” effectively advocating for the simplification of sociological research procedures for the purposes of freeing one from the limitations imposed by traditional scientific research methods, while still allowing the researcher to be both rigorous and systematic (120). By not adhering to a rigid set of theoretical and methodological protocols, the social science researcher can truly exercise his/her sociological imagination. Mills (1959: 121) writes:

For the classic social scientists, neither method nor theory is an autonomous domain; methods are methods for some range of problems; theories are theories of some range of phenomena.

Mills (1959) argues that, in practice, social scientists must be both their own methodologist and theorist; that in no way are the two roles mutually exclusive (121). In essence, Mills (1959: 128) is asserting that classical sociological research need not take either a “top-down” approach, one that begins with broad theories and attempts to find evidence to support or disprove them (i.e., deduction), or a “bottom-up” (grounded) approach, that begins with small observations that form the foundation for larger explanations and conceptions (i.e., induction). Instead, the classic craftsman must attempt “to build and to deduce at the same time,” which is essentially a process of formulating and re-formulating both problems and solutions (128).

To illustrate his own methodological process when conducting research, Mills (1959) dedicates an entire chapter to discuss the topic, drawing on examples from the process he underwent to write a book on the economic and political elite in American society. It is clear, upon reflection of his process in its entirety, that several unique phases emerge that provide a basic framework for social study, without making the process too rigid or finite.

When formulating a “problem,” the intellectual craftsman must seek to identify “substantive” problems, those whose solutions can be found by examining them historically (Mills, 1959: 128). In what amounts to a restatement of the sociological imagination, Mills (1959) asserts that the proper formulation of problems occurs when the researcher identifies the private troubles of a variety of individuals within specific milieux, placing them within larger historical and social structures (129). The problem must make explicit reference to the range of personal troubles and public issues involved, allowing for the investigation of the “causal connections between milieu and social structure” (Mills, 1959: 130). In establishing these causal connections for the purposes of developing theory, what must be made readily visible are the values that are being threatened by the troubles and issues involved, with consideration paid to the individuals and groups who accept the values, along with who or what is threatening them (130).

In terms of the overall format and structure of the investigation, Mills (1959) returns to the general versus specific distinction, arguing that the classical intellectual craftsman must strike a balance between “macroscopic conceptions and detailed expositions” (126). This can be accomplished only by avoiding the development of large all-encompassing studies, and instead, dividing the investigation up into a series of smaller-scale studies (Mills, 1959: 126). Each sub-study addresses one aspect of the problem being investigated, the solution to which, can be modified or refuted as conclusions are drawn from each (Mills, 1959: 126). “Good work” in social science is comprised of multiple studies, each providing substantive evidence to support general statements about a topic under discussion (201).

Mills (1959) places emphasis on the importance of familiarizing oneself with the existing body of work surrounding the topic or object of inquiry. He goes as far as to say that, in order to have a full grasp of the problem being addressed in the research, the researcher must be “very well acquainted in a substantive way with the state of knowledge in the area with which the studies being examined are concerned” (121). He stresses the significance of considering and incorporating the work of other scholars immersed in the same subject, noting that advances in sociological methods as a whole can only be achieved through “modest generalizations” of current work in progress (Mills, 1959: 122). Mills is essentially making a case for an “open source” strategy for social science research, contending that researchers must contribute and build on each other’s work if true discoveries and revelations are to be made.

To Mills (1959), new ideas are often borne out of older ones. It is important to be a constant gatherer of new information in order to be as up-to-date and informed on the topics one is curious about. He draws on his own personal experience to illustrate this point, noting that, the idea to write a book on the power elite and social stratification did not occur to him overnight. Instead, having collected information and conducted research previously on surrounding issues for two books, a “file” began to take shape naturally, one that leant itself to the thorough investigation and analysis of stratification (Mills. 1959: 200). Mills (1959) gives credit for much of his academic inspiration, and hence, his sociological imagination, to the adoption of a “filing system” brainstorming process that he gradually developed. When it comes to the formulation of ideas pertaining to aspects of the social world worthy of investigation, Mills (1959) appears to align himself with the notion that inspiration can strike an individual at any time, advocating the creation of a “file” of ideas to add an element of organization to the chaos. This file is comprised of two things: first, a rough list of thoughts that can be revisited, added to, and edited on a consistent basis as ideas comes to mind, and second, a collection of books and articles related to those ideas (198). With regards to note-taking, the object is to collect and reflect on as much information as possible from any and all books you read in an academic capacity (Mills, 1959: 199). Almost as a safeguard for later, as a social science researcher, you can never really predict if and when that information might someday be useful.

Ideas and notions that are found during the file re-arrangement process will naturally begin to fall into different “types.” Mills (1959) maintains that a “new classification” is the first step towards “fruitful developments,” acknowledging that merely identifying a type is not enough, that researchers must also “search for the conditions and consequences of each type” (213). A proper type is one that requires the criteria for classification to be “explicit and systematic,” which can only be accomplished by adopting the practice of cross-classification (213). The researcher’s imagination is invoked by identifying recurring ideas that are both relevant and irrelevant within each type during the file audit process, making attempts along the way to draw connections between ideas that may, at first glance, appear to have no connection whatsoever (Mills, 1959: 201).

In order to clarify and elaborate on his discussion about “types”, Mills (1959) thought it necessary to differentiate between the terms “topic” and “theme,” words that are often used synonymously with “type.” A “topic” is defined quite simply as a subject, for example, ‘the careers of corporation executives’ or ‘the increased power of military officials,’ all of which can be elaborated on in a single chapter or a section of a chapter (Mills, 1959: 216). However, the order or arrangement of topics is often what helps to readily identify “themes,” which Mills (1959) describes as trends, master conceptions, or key distinctions, for example, ‘rationality’ or ‘reason’ (216). Themes are easy to recognize but they will appear across a variety of different topics, becoming almost repetitive (Mills, 1959: 216). The process of dividing the research content into different types is essentially the process of cross-classifying different topics with different themes, asking yourself how each topic is affected by each theme (217).

Mills (1959) offers several suggestions for ways to loosen one’s sociological imagination, enabling the “outside-the-box” thinking necessary for being a good social scientist. He reiterates the importance of “re-arranging” and reviewing your file on a specific topic; the mixing and sorting of various materials is intended to establish connections between elements otherwise thought impossible (212). He also recommends that we choose our words for definitions and terms in a relaxed and playful way, seeking synonyms for words and looking up meanings in order to get a sense of their full connotation (212). This practice will help to make writing more concise, and thus, less confusing and difficult to comprehend (Mills, 1959: 212).

Seeking a Balance Between Two Extremes

Having completed several close readings of Mills’ The Sociological Imagination (1959) and Young’s The Criminological Imagination (2011), an analytical framework and process for theoretical development began to emerge, one that complies with the methodological guidelines provided by Strauss and Corbin (1994), and incorporated into my grounded approach to Occupy Wall Street. I began to ask myself a question. If I was to construct a research strategy inspired by Mills’ (1959) and Young’s (2011) critique of traditional social science approaches, what might that strategy look like? And, what would the execution of that strategy resemble when applied to my investigation of Occupy Wall Street?

The concept of intellectual craftsmanship is best understood as “the imagination in action,” encouraging the observation of phenomenon on a level of abstraction that recognizes the connection between everyday individual problems and broader social issues, taking into consideration changes that occur to social structures and institutions over a given period of time. The researcher is not restricted by strict procedures or anchored by problems with definitions or a preoccupation with statistics, but instead, is granted a degree of freedom to explore the phenomenon in a way that is more fluid, and of course, imaginative. A method is no more than a framework set in place for understanding something better, a framework that lends credibility to the accuracy of the observations and conclusions being drawn in the research. Theories are articulated statements that detail certain distinctions about the phenomenon that are apparent upon comparative review of the research. They alert the reader to observable facts and trends about the phenomenon identified by the researcher during the investigation. The investigative process must be freeing enough to allow for the formulation and re-formulation of theory, in a constant cycle of revision.

If my method is to adhere to the recommendations made by Mills and Young, It would have to avoid many, if not all of the shortcomings of “Grand Theory” and “Abstracted Empiricism,” and would instead adopt a “Classical” approach to social research. Grand Theories, it is argued, are so broad, that more detailed observations on specific issues or topics get neglected. The application of natural science methods in social science research, which amounts to the overuse of quantitative, statistical analysis in the investigation of social phenomena, tends to significantly diminish the value of theory and abstract conceptualization. Seeking a balance between these two extremes does not necessarily imply that the research cannot explore all-encompassing explanations for social phenomena. Nor does it suggest that quantitative or empirical analysis will unequivocally render the conclusions meaningless. It means that the research cannot be heavily weighted one way or the other, and instead, utilize elements from both approaches in order to achieve the most informed, thorough understanding possible of the phenomenon being investigated. Ultimately, exploring the question of who was involved in the Occupy protests, what unfolded, and why, will require the incorporation of elements from both approaches.

Adhering to the guidelines offered by Mills (1959), I found it necessary to reformulate my research question in order to ensure that references to the personal troubles and public issues being explored, as well as the social structures and historical circumstances that surround them, are included. My initial reason for wanting to examine the Occupy Wall Street protests has remained unchanged since the research was initiated, which is to make sense of the countless facts and details being published by a wide array of sources, hoping to derive insight to help explain the broad who, what and why questions related to the event. To make the analysis more meaningful, the issue under investigation needs to be more specific. The progress I made up to this point in the research process, fortunately, made the formulation of a more specific problem easier to accomplish. The initial gathering of sources for this study described in Chapter 1, came to form the contents of my “file” on Occupy Wall Street. A first round of close readings of every document in the file was necessary in order to achieve two ends. The first was the division of texts into three categories: “News,” “Scholarly” and “Personal Testimonials.” The second was the identification of major topics, which divided the source material into further sub-categories. The information I was able to obtain during this preliminary classification process made it abundantly clear that the dissenting group in this particular dispute, the 99%, are protesting collective concerns regarding what they perceive to be corrupt social institutions and practices, and how those social problems translate into individual hardship and struggles. Instead of, ‘Why did Occupy Wall Street happen?’, the question should be, ‘Why are the 99% protesting against corporations and the government, a group consisting of exceedingly wealthy individuals they have designated as the 1%?” ‘What are their grievances and demands?’ ‘What are the historical and social circumstances surrounding the Movement?’ And perhaps most importantly, ‘Who are the 99%?’

When one delves into Mills’ process for developing theory, his assertion that method and theory are intimately connected becomes easier to see. The process of repeatedly reviewing source material, a process that involves making connections between themes found across different topics identified in the source material, is instrumental to the development of theory. The researcher exercises his or her sociological and criminological imagination through this comparative work, first by grouping content into “topics,” followed by the identification of consistent “themes” throughout the source material, concluding with the establishment of causal and explanatory connections between the themes that are both implicit and explicit. The process of ‘review – classification – cross-classification – imaginative reflection,’ is to be performed repeatedly until all relevant connections have been revealed, with theories pertaining to the research questions being generated from this cycle..

Exercising the sociological and criminological imagination, linking individual problems with larger social structures and institutions within an historical context, is unquestionably the most important feature of intellectual craftsmanship, a philosophy that will be the driving principle behind the grounded analysis performed in this study. A focus on the three “pillars” – history, social structure and the individual – is paramount to both Mills (195) and Young (2011), and will serve as the foundation for my analysis into Occupy Wall Street. Examining the connection between “private troubles” found within “public issues” and social structures, the relationship between history and biography, provides a dimension for examining the relationships that exist between the three pillars mentioned above, and will aid in the development of theory during the latter stages of the analysis process. A discussion regarding the links between private and public problems that exist and thrive within a historical context, stemming from the themes identified in the analysis of source material, can be found in Chapter 6.

Research projects, according to the Mills (1959) process, benefit from being divided into smaller sub-studies, each addressing one aspect of the phenomenon or issue being investigated. General statements about the phenomenon are tested with individual studies, each contributing to a broader understanding of the topic as a whole. Following this recommendation and incorporating the three pillars, the analysis performed on the data surrounding Occupy Wall Street, drawing from the three data sets outlined in Chapter 1, will be divided into three sub-studies. Each sub-study, making up the contents of Chapters 3 through 5, uses one of the three pillars – history, social structure, and the individual – as its primary focus.

The first of these studies (Chapter 3) will identify and elaborate upon topics related to the historical context of the New York City protests in mid-September, 2011. This particular study will draw upon the “News” and “Academic” data sets, exploring the statements made by media pundits and academic experts for insight. For the purposes of this study, the term “historical context” can also be understood as the “setting” for the protests, encompassing two broad topics: Time and Place. The first half of this study will elaborate on the subject of Time, highlighting the parallels that exist between Occupy Wall Street and other acts of social unrest that took place internationally in 2011. What the data reveals is that the Occupy protests were by no means an isolated incident, and that 2011 was an exceptional year for mass public uprisings against corrupt governments and social institutions. The second half of this study will focus on the subject of Space, elaborating on topics related to the notion that the act of “occupation” (a key feature of the Occupy protests) took place in both physical and virtual reality, having a significant, visible presence both on public streets and on the internet. Topics discussed include, how organizers of the protest were able to mobilize support using online media channels, the act of occupying Zuccotti Park, and the utilization of social media for both communication between protestors, and the dissemination of messages to garner further support.

The second sub-study (Chapter 4) will examine topics related to social structures and institutions. Topics explored in this study will also be drawn from the same data sets used in Chapter 3, and will cover a spectrum of issues, including, the core grievances and demands of Occupy protestors, political support and resistance to the movement, legal and law enforcement responses to demonstrations, political representation, “horizontalism” and participatory democracy. What analysis of the source material reveals is that economic inequality is the core public issue driving Occupy protestors to demonstrate, at least, from the news media and academic perspectives. The idea that Occupy has an official list of grievances and demands is a controversy explored in this study, but of those lists that have generated widespread public interest, many of the issues expressed have to do with an ever-widening income gap, caused by exploitative corporate interests that are perceivably given favorable treatment by the federal government. As well, many of the solutions recommended by protestors seek to create a more equitable distribution of wealth.

The final sub-study (Chapter 5) explores the personal biographies of those who align themselves with the 99% protest group, expressing their support by contributing to the Tumblr blog thread “We Are The 99 Percent.” This study is unique, in that, it draws exclusively from the Tumblr testimonial data set, using it to identify consistencies for the purposes of constructing common “protestor profiles.” The goal of this study is to investigate any recognizable patterns in terms of the complaints made by contributors, as well as any shared life experiences that speak to the hardships and obstacles one faces being a participant in the established American social and economic system. The Discussion that follows these three studies in Chapter 6 will draw links between the topics and themes found in each sub-study. Particular attention is the paid to the linking of private troubles with public issues, drawing relevant connections to social institutions and processes, and historical influences.

Jason Quintal | December 16, 2015

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