geez, I can be wordy...
I wasn't joking when I said you could take a sentence as a way to introduce students to sociology and use an entire semester to do that. IMO, THAT is the sociological imagination at work. Allow me to demonstrate...
take the word...ME
first how do we understand that word? those of us who speak English, understand it because of the joining of the two letters, M & E.
Our understanding of those two letters speaks to our individual embeddedness in a linguistic/social reality; a linguistic/social reality complete with millenia of history that links us (through the understanding and internalization of those two letters) to millions of people who came before us; those people who "brought forth" our language, that same language (having gone through countless iterations) that we now use to create meaning in our lives. The soc imagination is the intersection of biography (me — this body which sits here and types this in 2005) and history (all of those people and all of those iterations of our current language). My personal experience of life is mediated by thousands of years of social history and in some respects is ONLY possible because of that past history. so, I use something thousands of years old, that has been passed through millions of minds, to understand MY CURRENT EXPERIENCE. Pretty freaking amazing, if you ask...ME.
Then think of how you learned those letters — how they were taught to you, in what situation? in school? in your family? why is it that those two letters, in particular represent something that we find to be so personal? what is about those two letters in particular...why not S & E? what were the consequences you received when you misused those two letters?
Moving on to the word itself, ME...think of this personal and social history of this word. How many millions of people have used it? What were they referring to when they used it? was their ME the same as my ME? if not, how did they differ? what do I currently think about ME? as a word? as a sociological concept? as part of a theory of self? as a reference to this thing, this "self" that allegedly inhabits my body? how are the different ideas of ME that i have had reflect my social situations? how about the ME's that others have had?
IMO, we can do this with any object. Granted it is a rather micro use of the SI, but I use it to demonstrate how pervasive social reality is. it is inescapable. and it inflitrates ALL of what we do, who we think we are, how we make sense, how we think, etc.
in sum, the fact that we can even talk about something called, "the sociological imagination" is evidence that it exists.