Charles Wright Mills (August 28, 1916, Waco, Texas – March 20, 1962, West Nyack, New York) was an American sociologist. Mills is best remembered for his 1959 book The Sociological Imagination in which he lays out a view of the proper relationship between biography and history, theory and method in sociological scholarship.
American sociologist who, with Hans H. Gerth, applied and popularized Max Weber’s theories in the United States. He also applied Karl Mannheim’s theories on the sociology of knowledge to the political thought and behaviour of intellectuals.
Mills’s work drew heavily from Weber’s differentiation between the various impacts of class, status, and power in explaining stratification systems and politics. His analysis of the major echelons of American society appeared in The New Men of Power, America’s Labor Leaders (1948), White Collar (1951), and his best-known work, The Power Elite (1956). In this last book, Mills located the “elite,” or ruling class, among those business, government, and military leaders whose decisions and actions have significant consequences.
C. Wright Mills described such thinking as the sociological imagination—an awareness of the relationship between an individual and the wider society. This awareness allows all of us (not just sociologists) to comprehend the links between our immediate, personal social settings and the remote, impersonal social world that surrounds us and helps to shape us. A key element in the sociological imagination is the ability to view one’s own society as an outsider would, rather than only from the perspective of personal experiences and cultural biases.
C. Wright Mills was born on August 28, 196, in Waco, Texas. He graduated with his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in 1941and joined Columbia University’s faculty. He was critical of intellectual sociology and believed sociologists should use their information to advocate for social change.
First, he is one of the few sociologists in the 20th century to write within the classical tradition of sociology. By this I mean that Mills attempts interpretive analysis of the total sociocultural systems, attempting to base this analysis on an overall worldview and empirical evidence. In addition, he writes about issues and problems that matter to people, not just to other sociologists, and he writes about them in a way to further our understanding.
From a neo-classical theoretical perspective, Mills writes about the growth of white-collar jobs, and how these jobs determine the values and perceptions of the people who hold them, and how the growth of these jobs affect other sectors of society. He writes about the growth in the size and scope of bureaucratic power in industrial society, how this concentration of authority affects those who hold it and those who are subject to it, and how this growth affects traditional democratic institutions.
His best-known book is The Power Elite (1956), explained the power structure of postwar American society in terms of the “power elite” which came to be known as the ‘military-industrial complex,’ each serving each others’ needs for the production and use of military spending. Mills’s other books include White Collar (1951), in which he discussed the propertyless middle-class whose loyalty maintained the position of the ruling elite, The Sociological Imagination (1959), Listen, Yankee (1960), and The Marxists (1962).
Informed by an older but still resonant farmer and labor radicalism, they displayed clear progressive and socialistic sympathies sometimes mistaken for Marxism. But Mills was no dialectical materialist. He produced, rather, popular scholarship that above all offered the average American a glimpse into the vast apparatus of interlocking power structures that comprised what President Dwight D. Eisenhower later called the “military-industrial complex.”
Married four times to three women, a devotee of organic farming, and a skilled craftsman who built his own house, he approached his life as an ongoing creative process, not to be constricted by convention. Importantly, he pursued scholarship with a similar intentional élan atypical in a peer-review profession. How much of this “man apart” persona was calculated by Mills to accentuate his distance from the ivory tower is debatable.
Mills distinguished between personal troubles and public issues and urged sociologists to probe the links between them. One might think that, of all people, the most eminent sociologists would have been able to use their sociological imagination to enrich their understanding of their personal troubles.