Charles Wright Mills was an American sociologist. Among other
topics he was concerned with the responsibilities of intellectuals
in post-World War II society, and advocated relevance and engagement
over disinterested academic observation.
Mills graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1939
and received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in 1941.
In 1946 he took a faculty position at Columbia University, which
he kept, despite controversy, until his untimely death.
Collar: The American Middle Classes (1951) contends that bureaucracies
have overwhelmed the individual city worker, robbing him or her
of all independent thought and turning him into a sort of a robot
that is oppressed but cheerful. He or she gets a salary but loses
a whole world, having no effect on anything and living in a world
made by others, alien to the vast majority that inhabit it, yet
they adapt. For a short clip on the cheerful robots see this presentation
Power Elite (1956) describes the relationship between political,
military, and economic elite (people at the pinnacles of these
three institutions), noting that these people share a common world
view, 1) the "military metaphysic"- a military definition
of reality, possess 2)"class identity"- recognizing
themselves separate and superior to the rest of society, have
3) interchangibility: i.e. the move within and between the three
institutional structures and hold interlocking directorates 4)
cooptation/socialization: of prospective new members is done based
on how well they "clone" themselves socially after such
elite. Further these elite in the "big three" institutional
orders have an "uneasy" alliance based upon their "community
of interests" driven by the military metaphysic, which has
transformed the economy into a 'permanent war economy'. For a
summary video of the power elite model see http://elite.asadi.org
Sociological Imagination (1959) describes a mindset—the
sociological imagination—for doing sociology that stresses
being able to connect individual experiences and societal relationships.
The three components that form the sociological imagination are
1. History: how a society came to be and how it is changing and
how history is being made in it 2. Biography: the nature of "human
nature" in a society; what kind of people inhabit a particular
society 3. Social Structure: how the various institutional orders
in a society operate, which ones are dominant and how are they
held together and how they might be changing etc. The Sociological
Imagination gives the one possessing it the ability to look beyond
their local environment and personality to wider social structures
and a relationship between history, biography and social structure.
For quotes by C. Wright Mills on this, visit http://www.asadi.org
important works include: The New Men of Power: America's Labor
Leaders (1948), The Causes of World War Three (1958), Listen,
Yankee: The Revolution in Cuba (1960), and The Marxists (1962).
According to the basic shape of any "intellectual portrait"
of Charles Mills, his essays - as published in his anthology "The
Sociological Imagination" (Oxford University Press, 1961)
- are of particular interest. The appendix "On Intellectual
Craftsmanship" gives an impressive insight into what a sociologist
as a social scientist whenever working creatively (like an artist)
is able to work out. A summary of what Intellectual Craftsmanship
as C. Wright Mills saw it can be read in this slide presentation
far, C. Wright Mills reminds us of the very beginning of modern
scholarly thinking: substance and appearance are by no means identical;
moreover, whenever substance and appearance are looked upon as
identical there is no need for science, scientists, or scholars
at all. Given this setting, Charles Mills was indeed, as Irving
L. Horowitz told us, a social scientist sharply contradicting
the bulk of mainstream (sometimes called "bullshit")
G.F.W. Hegel once stated: "The most reasonable thing children
can do with their toy is to break it to pieces" (Enzyklopädie
der philosophischen Wissenschaften im Grundrisse, part III) this
might express the attitude of C. Wright Mills whenever looking
at the mainstream concepts of the sociology of his time.
a specific double-sense Charles Mills was quite a traditional
he knew what Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels stressed:
is not the consciousness determinating the every-day-life but
it is the very life [pre] determinating the consciousness"
(The German Ideology, 1st part, on Ludwig Feuerbach);
against any individualistic, reductionist, and obscure images
of what "society" constitutes C. Wright Mills knew for
sure what Marx fundamentally detected and clearly expressed:
society does not consist of individuals but expresses the sum
of relationships [and] conditions that the individual actor is
forming" (Karl Marx: Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen
Ökonomie/Rohentwurf, 1857/58: "Gesellschaft besteht
nicht aus Individuen, sondern drückt die Summe der Beziehungen,
Verhältnisse aus, worin diese Individuen zueinander stehn").
on what, within the 1980's, became prominent as British "Thacherism"
and its/her basic phrase: "There is no such thing as society,
only men and women and their families" - Charles Wright Mills
- from Texas who died, with his boots on, within his cultural
exile in New York in 1962, just 45 years old- was indeed an individual
sociologist analysing "such thing as society" trying
to detect the very roots of society. And that is, strictu sensu,
the way of scholarly thinking of any marginal man (Robert E. Park)
an old radical like Karl Marx taught us.
thought it was possible to create a good society on the basis
of knowledge and that people of knowledge must take responsibility
for its absence.
argues that micro and macro levels of analysis can be linked together
by the sociological imagination, which enables its possessor to
understand the large historical sense in terms of its meaning
for the inner life and the external career of a variety of individuals.
Individuals can only understand their own experiences fully if
they locate themselves within their period of history.
key factor is the combination of private problems with public
issues: the combination of troubles that occur within the individual’s
immediate milieu and relations with other people with matters
that have to do with institutions of an historical society as
modern society those centralization of power and that the men
who head government, corporations, the armed forces and the unions
are closely linked. The means of power at the disposal of centralized
decision makers have greatly increased. The Power Elite is made
up of political, economic and military leaders. Eisenhower’s
“military-industrial complex” gives a clear image
of the entwinement of these bases of power.
shares with Marxist sociology and elite theorists the view that
society is divided rather sharply and horizontally between the
powerful and powerless. He also shares their concerns for alienation,
the effects of social structure on the personality and the manipulation
of people by the mass media. At the same time however Mills does
not regard property (economic power) as the main source of conflict