C. Wright Mills

C. Wright Mills

Overview
Charles Wright Mills was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 sociologist
Sociology
Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...

. Mills is best remembered for his 1959 book The Sociological Imagination
The Sociological Imagination
The Sociological Imagination is a book by American sociologist C. Wright Mills, first published by Oxford University Press in 1959 and still in print....

 in which he lays out a view of the proper relationship between biography and history, theory and method in sociological scholarship. He is also known for studying the structures of power and class in the U.S. in his book The Power Elite
The Power Elite
The Power Elite is a book written by the sociologist, C. Wright Mills, in 1956. In it Mills calls attention to the interwoven interests of the leaders of the military, corporate, and political elements of society and suggests that the ordinary citizen is a relatively powerless subject of...

. Mills was concerned with the responsibilities of intellectuals in post-World War II society, and advocated public, political engagement over uninterested observation.

Mills graduated from Dallas Technical High School in 1934.
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Quotations

If we accept the Greek's definition of the idiot as an altogether private man, then we must conclude that many American citizens are now idiots. And I should not be surprised, although I don't know, if there were some such idiots even in Germany.

"Structure of Power in America", The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 9 (March 1958)

The point is that we are among those who cannot get their mouths around all the little Yeses that add up to tacit acceptance of a world run by crackpot realists and subject to blind drift. And that, you see, is something to which we do belong; we belong to those who are still capable of personally rejecting. Our minds are not yet captive.

Letters & Autobiographical Writings (1954) [University of California Press, 2000], p. 185.

To really belong, we have got, first, to get it clear with ourselves that we do not belong and do not want to belong to an unfree world. As free men and women we have got to reject much of it and to know why we are rejecting it.

Letters & Autobiographical Writings (1954) [University of California Press, 2000], p. 187.

If you do not specify and confront real issues, what you say will surely obscure them. If you do not embody controversy, what you say will be an acceptance of the drift to the coming human hell.

Foreword, The Marxists (1962)

IBM Plus Reality Plus Humanism=Sociology

Power, Politics, and People Boston: Beacon Press, (1963)

Every revolution has its counterrevolution — that is a sign the revolution is for real. And every revolution must defend itself against this counterrevolution, or the revolution will fail.

Listen Yankee (1960), pp. 54.

We know well that all new cultural beginnings today must be part of world culture; that no truly intellectual life can occur if the mind is restricted; that no art can have genuine and everlasting value if it is not in a universal language. East and West. God knows there is enough restriction. Enough laziness of stereotypes. Smash them, we say to ourselves. And the only way to do that is to open up a true world forum that is absolutely free.

Listen Yankee (1960), pp. 144-145.
Encyclopedia
Charles Wright Mills was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 sociologist
Sociology
Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...

. Mills is best remembered for his 1959 book The Sociological Imagination
The Sociological Imagination
The Sociological Imagination is a book by American sociologist C. Wright Mills, first published by Oxford University Press in 1959 and still in print....

 in which he lays out a view of the proper relationship between biography and history, theory and method in sociological scholarship. He is also known for studying the structures of power and class in the U.S. in his book The Power Elite
The Power Elite
The Power Elite is a book written by the sociologist, C. Wright Mills, in 1956. In it Mills calls attention to the interwoven interests of the leaders of the military, corporate, and political elements of society and suggests that the ordinary citizen is a relatively powerless subject of...

. Mills was concerned with the responsibilities of intellectuals in post-World War II society, and advocated public, political engagement over uninterested observation.

Life and work


Mills graduated from Dallas Technical High School in 1934. He initially attended Texas A&M University
Texas A&M University
Texas A&M University is a coeducational public research university located in College Station, Texas . It is the flagship institution of the Texas A&M University System. The sixth-largest university in the United States, A&M's enrollment for Fall 2011 was over 50,000 for the first time in school...

 but left after his first year and subsequently graduated from the University of Texas at Austin
University of Texas at Austin
The University of Texas at Austin is a state research university located in Austin, Texas, USA, and is the flagship institution of the The University of Texas System. Founded in 1883, its campus is located approximately from the Texas State Capitol in Austin...

 in 1939 and received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin–Madison
University of Wisconsin–Madison
The University of Wisconsin–Madison is a public research university located in Madison, Wisconsin, United States. Founded in 1848, UW–Madison is the flagship campus of the University of Wisconsin System. It became a land-grant institution in 1866...

 in 1941. After a stint at the University of Maryland, College Park
University of Maryland, College Park
The University of Maryland, College Park is a top-ranked public research university located in the city of College Park in Prince George's County, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C...

, in 1945 he took a research associate position at Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

's Bureau of Applied Social Research
Bureau of Applied Social Research
The Bureau of Applied Social Research was a social research institute at Columbia University which specialised in mass communications research. It grew out of the Radio Research Project at Princeton University, beginning in 1937. The Bureau's first director was Austrian sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld...

. The following year he was made assistant professor in the university's sociology department. He remained with the department, despite controversy, until he died in his home of a heart attack . In the mid-1940s, together with Paul Goodman
Paul Goodman (writer)
Paul Goodman was an American sociologist, poet, writer, anarchist, and public intellectual. Goodman is now mainly remembered as the author of Growing Up Absurd and an activist on the pacifist Left in the 1960s and an inspiration to that era's student movement...

, he contributed to Politics
Politics (journal)
Politics was a journal founded and edited by Dwight Macdonald from 1944 to 1949.Macdonald had previously been editor at Partisan Review from 1937 to 1943, but after falling out with its publishers, quit to start Politics as a rival publication, first on a monthly basis and then as a...

, the journal edited during the 1940s by Dwight Macdonald
Dwight Macdonald
Dwight Macdonald was an American writer, editor, film critic, social critic, philosopher, and political radical.-Early life and career:...

.

The New Men of Power: America's Labor Leaders


The New Men of Power: America's Labor Leaders (1948) studies the Labor Metaphysic and the dynamic of labor leaders cooperating with business officials. Mills concluded that labour had effectively renounced its traditional oppositional role and become reconciled to life within a capitalist system. Appeased by "bread and butter" economic policies, unions had adopted (Mills argued) a pliantly subordinate role in the new structure of American power.

White Collar: The American Middle Classes



White Collar: The American Middle Classes (1951) contends that bureaucracies have overwhelmed the individual city workers, robbing them of all independent thought and turning them into near-robots, oppressed but cheerful. They get a salary, but become alienated from the world because of their inability to affect or change it.

The Power Elite



The Power Elite (1956) describes the relationship between the political, military, and economic elite (people at the pinnacles of these three institutions), noting that these people share a common world view:

the military metaphysic
a military definition of reality;

possess class identity
recognizing themselves separate and superior to the rest of society;

have interchangeability
they move within and between the three institutional structures and hold interlocking directorates;

cooptation / socialization
socialization of prospective new members is done based on how well they "clone" themselves socially after such elites.


These elites 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
War economy
War economy is the term used to describe the contingencies undertaken by the modern state to mobilise its economy for war production. Philippe Le Billon describes a war economy as a "system of producing, mobilising and allocating resources to sustain the violence".Many states increase the degree of...

'.

The Sociological Imagination



The Sociological Imagination (1959), Mills' most influential work, describes a mindset—the sociological imagination
Sociological imagination
The term sociological imagination was coined by the American sociologist C. Wright Mills in 1959, to describe the type of insight offered by the discipline of sociology...

—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, how are they held together, how they might be changing, etc.


In The Sociological Imagination, Mills asserts that one must look inside oneself to help important research problems, and that social scientists "translate private troubles into public issues." This translation means that you connect the problems you face in your biography to social institutions, the collection of which forms social structure and that you locate that structure in history. Additionally on this topic, Mills maintained throughout The Sociological Imagination that it is very difficult for most individuals in society to link their personal troubles to the social institutions in which they live.

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.

Others


Other important works include: The Causes of World War Three (1958), Listen, Yankee: The Revolution in Cuba (1960), and The Marxists (1962).

In a 1997 survey of members of the International Sociological Association
International Sociological Association
International Sociological Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to scientific purposes in the field of sociology and social sciences...

 which asked them to identify the ten books published in the 20th century which they considered to be the most influential for sociologists, The Sociological Imagination
The Sociological Imagination
The Sociological Imagination is a book by American sociologist C. Wright Mills, first published by Oxford University Press in 1959 and still in print....

 ranked second, preceded only by Max Weber
Max Weber
Karl Emil Maximilian "Max" Weber was a German sociologist and political economist who profoundly influenced social theory, social research, and the discipline of sociology itself...

's Economy and Society
Economy and Society
Economy and Society is a book by political economist and sociologist Max Weber, published posthumously in Germany in 1922 by his wife Marianne. Alongside The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, it is considered to be one of Weber's most important works...

. http://www.isa-sociology.org/books/vt/bkv_000.htm.

The novel
Novel
A novel is a book of long narrative in literary prose. The genre has historical roots both in the fields of the medieval and early modern romance and in the tradition of the novella. The latter supplied the present generic term in the late 18th century....

 The Death of Artemio Cruz
The Death of Artemio Cruz
The Death of Artemio Cruz is a novel written in 1962 by Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes and is considered to be a contributor to the Latin American literary movement known as the Latin American "Boom".-Plot summary:...

 (1962), by Mexican
Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

 writer
Writer
A writer is a person who produces literature, such as novels, short stories, plays, screenplays, poetry, or other literary art. Skilled writers are able to use language to portray ideas and images....

 Carlos Fuentes
Carlos Fuentes
Carlos Fuentes Macías is a Mexican writer and one of the best-known living novelists and essayists in the Spanish-speaking world. He has influenced contemporary Latin American literature, and his works have been widely translated into English and other languages.-Biography:Fuentes was born in...

, is dedicated "To C. Wright Mills, true voice of North America
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, friend and companion in the struggle of Latin America
Latin America
Latin America is a region of the Americas where Romance languages  – particularly Spanish and Portuguese, and variably French – are primarily spoken. Latin America has an area of approximately 21,069,500 km² , almost 3.9% of the Earth's surface or 14.1% of its land surface area...

". Dwight Macdonald
Dwight Macdonald
Dwight Macdonald was an American writer, editor, film critic, social critic, philosopher, and political radical.-Early life and career:...

 had an off-again-on-again association with Mills, and sometimes, in his capacity as magazine editor, published Mills' material.

Outlook


There has long been debate over Mills' intellectual outlook. Mills is often seen as a "closet Marxist" because of his emphasis on social classes and their roles in historical progress and attempt to keep Marxist traditions alive in social theory. Just as often, however, others argue that Mills more closely identified with the work of Max Weber
Max Weber
Karl Emil Maximilian "Max" Weber was a German sociologist and political economist who profoundly influenced social theory, social research, and the discipline of sociology itself...

, whom many sociologists interpret as an exemplar of sophisticated (and intellectually adequate) anti-Marxism and modern liberalism. However Mills clearly gives precedence to social structure described by the political, economic and military institutions and not culture which is presented in its massified form as means to ends sought by the power elite, which puts him firmly in the Marxist and not Weberian camp.

While Mills never embraced the "Marxist" label, he nonetheless told his closest associates that he felt much closer to what he saw as the best currents of flexible, humanist Marxism than to its alternatives. He considered himself as a "plain Marxist", working in the spirit of young Marx as he claims in his collected essays: "Power, Politics and People" (Oxford University Press, 1963). In a November 1956 letter to his friends Bette and Harvey Swados
Harvey Swados
Harvey Swados was an American social critic and author of novels, short stories, essays and journalism.-Family and Early Life:...

, Mills declared "[i]n the meantime, let's not forget that there's more [that's] still useful in even the Sweezy
Paul Sweezy
Paul Marlor Sweezy was a Marxist economist, political activist, publisher, and founding editor of the long-running magazine Monthly Review...

  kind of Marxism than in all the routineers of J. S. Mill
John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill was a British philosopher, economist and civil servant. An influential contributor to social theory, political theory, and political economy, his conception of liberty justified the freedom of the individual in opposition to unlimited state control. He was a proponent of...

  put together."

There is an important quotation from Letters to Tovarich (autobiographical essay) dated Fall 1957 titled "On Who I Might Be and How I Got That Way":
These two quotations are the ones chosen by Kathryn Mills for the better acknowledgement of the nuanced thinking of C.W.Mills.

It appears that Mills understood his position as being much closer to Marx than to Weber, albeit influenced by both, as Stanley Aronowitz
Stanley Aronowitz
Stanley Aronowitz is professor of sociology, cultural studies, and urban education at the CUNY Graduate Center. He is also a veteran political activist and cultural critic and an advocate for organized labor.-Social Text:...

 argued in A Mills Revival?.
Mills 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. The 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 a whole.
Mills shares with Marxist sociology and other "conflict theorists
Conflict theory
Conflict theories are perspectives in social science that emphasize the social, political or material inequality of a social group, that critique the broad socio-political system, or that otherwise detract from structural functionalism and ideological conservativism...

" the view that American society is sharply divided and systematically shaped by the relationship 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 elites and the mass media. Mills combined such conventional Marxian concerns with careful attention to the dynamics of personal meaning and small-group motivations, topics for which Weberian scholars are more noted.

Mills had a very combative outlook regarding and towards many parts of his life, the people in it, and his works. In this way, he was a self proclaimed outsider.
C Wright Mills gave considerable study to the Soviet Union. Invited to the U.S.S.R., where he was acknowledged for his criticism of American society, Mills used the opportunity to attack Soviet censorship . He did hold the controversial notion that the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were ruled by similar bureaucratic power elites and thus were convergent rather than divergent societies.

Above all, Mills understood sociology, when properly approached, as an inherently political endeavor and a servant of the democratic process. In The Sociological Imagination, Mills wrote:

Personal life


When studying at the University of Texas, Mills met his first wife, Dorothy Helen Smith, who was also a student there. After they were married in 1937, Dorothy Helen, who became known as "Freya," worked to support the couple while Mills did graduate work, in addition to copyediting and typing many of the texts he wrote during this period, including his Ph.D. dissertation. They separated in New York City in 1945 and were divorced in 1947.

Mills' second wife was Ruth Harper, a statistician who worked with Mills on White Collar, published in 1951 and The Power Elite, published in 1956. Mills and Ruth were married in 1947, separated in 1957, and divorced in 1959.

Mills' third wife was Yaroslava Surmach, an American artist of Ukrainian descent whose varied work included glass paintings, book illustrations, and stained glass window designs. They were married in 1959, about three years before Mills' death in 1962.

By a strange coincidence, all three women died within a period of less than three months, Ruth on July 1, 2008, Freya on August 19, 2008, and Yaroslava on September 17, 2008. Mills had one child with each wife: Pamela (with Freya), Kathryn (with Ruth), and artist Nikolas (with Yaroslava).

Awards


The Society for the Study of Social Problems
The Society for the Study of Social Problems
The Society for the Study of Social Problems , founded in 1951 by Elizabeth Briant Lee and Alfred McClung Lee, is a non-profit interdisciplinary community of scholars, practitioners, advocates, and students interested in the application of critical, scientific, and humanistic perspectives to the...

 established the C. Wright Mills Award in 1964 for the book that "best exemplifies outstanding social science research and a great understanding the individual and society in the tradition of the distinguished sociologist, C. Wright Mills." The criteria are for the book that most effectively:
  1. critically addresses an issue of contemporary public importance,
  2. brings to the topic a fresh, imaginative perspective,
  3. advances social scientific understanding of the topic,
  4. displays a theoretically informed view and empirical orientation,
  5. evinces quality in style of writing,
  6. explicitly or implicitly contains implications for courses of action.http://www.sssp1.org/index.cfm/m/46/.

Further reading

  • Irving Louis Horowitz
    Irving Louis Horowitz
    Irving Louis Horowitz is an American sociologist, author and college professor who has written and lectured extensively in his field.-Personal Life:Horowitz was born in New York City on September 25, 1929, to Louis and Esther Tepper Horowitz...

    , C. Wright Mills, an American Utopian (1983).
  • Rick Tilman, C. Wright Mills, A Native Radical and his American Roots (1984). ISBN 0-02-915010-8.
  • John Eldridge, C. Wright Mills, Key sociologist (1984).
  • Kathryn Mills, ed., with Pamela Mills, C. Wright Mills: Letters and Autobiographical Writings, introduction by Dan Wakefield (University of California Press, 2000). ISBN 0-520-23209-7.
  • Tom Hayden with Contemporary Reflections by Stanley Aronowitz, Richard Flacks, and Charles Lemert
    Charles Lemert
    Charles Lemert is an American born social theorist and sociologist. He has written extensively on social theory, globalization and culture...

    , Radical Nomad: C. Wright Mills and His Times (2006). ISBN 1-59451-202-7.
  • Kevin Mattson, Intellectuals in Action: The Origins of the New Left and Radical Liberalism, 1945-1970 (2002). ISBN 027102206X.
  • G. William Domhoff, "Mills's The Power Elite 50 Years Later" in Contemporary Sociology, November 2006.
  • Stanley Aronowitz
    Stanley Aronowitz
    Stanley Aronowitz is professor of sociology, cultural studies, and urban education at the CUNY Graduate Center. He is also a veteran political activist and cultural critic and an advocate for organized labor.-Social Text:...

    , "A Mills Revival?", in Logos Journal, Summer 2003.
  • Keith Kerr. Postmodern Cowboy: C. Wright Mills and a New 21st Century Sociology. (Paradigm 2008) ISBN 1594515794
  • Daniel Geary, "Radical Ambition: C. Wright Mills, the Left, and American Social Thought" (University of California Press 2009). ISBN

0520258363

External links