Max Weber’s sociological imagination was informed by the distinctly different constructions of the psyches of his parents. The real question would seem to be whether it is even possible to be the child of a devoutly religious and strait-laced mother and a far more worldly, ambitious and sexually revolutionized father. To grow up in that household without acquiring the ability to see outside one singular way of viewing the world around you would seem to be absolutely impossible.
When you add to his upbringing the fact that Weber came of age, matured and pursued his professional calling during the turbulent era marked not only by the high point of the Industrial Revolution, but the collapse of the last vestiges of monarchial rule and the mercantile system and the rise of democratic governments around the world and capitalism. In short, Weber stood right in the center of one of the most revolutionary periods in the history of Western Civilization. This was a period that forced millions of people to embrace the sociological imagination as an outgrowth of upheavals that saw rich people turned into beggars and penniless immigrants become captains of industry.
It is surely not mere accident that men with views that intertwine between a mingling of similarities and differences such as Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber all stood as first-hand witnesses to a world that saw the best and worst aspects of unbridled capitalism spread like wildfire across the globe in the face of mechanization and an increasingly dark materialism and took from it the view that labor was at the heart of sociological changes. What is most fascinating is how Durkheim could witness such economic forces and determine from it that class division arises naturally from how certain kinds of works appeals to certain individuals while for Marx everything stems from historical struggle between the owner and worker. And there stands Weber somewhere in between who looks around him at the great upheavals taking place and learns that the real key to explaining sociological movements within a such a profound shift in the basic foundation of economic thought is to see outside one’s own station.
For Weber, the use of the sociological imagination allows sociological positioning to escape the forces of mere economics and transport it into other worlds of thought like language, evolutionary science and even spiritualism. When the sociological imagine is fully engaged, it could result in something that was practically impossible for many other scientific discipline. A botanist could devote his entire life to a single species of plant and learn absolutely everything there was to know about it with one very profound exception: he could never adequately explain what might appear to be behavior.
Even the psychologist, whose business is to determining the causes of behavior, very often is forced by individual circumstances from attributing multiple instances of causality to behavior. For Weber, the sociological imagination is the geographical area in which behavior can and should be attributed to multiple causes. While Marx famously asserts that all of the history of society is the history of class struggle, Weber’s sociological imagination demands that locating the true cause behind the history of society requires studying the connections between history and economics and religions and forms of government and division of class and the means of organization and the ways in which information could be distributed and disseminated.
In other words, the sociological imagination of Max Weber rejects the acceptance of any single source of causation as the driving force behind any significant sociological event.