C. Wright Mills
|C. Wright Mills|
|Born||Charles Wright Mills
August 28, 1916
|Died||March 20, 1962
West Nyack, New York
|Alma mater||Texas A&M University
University of Texas at Austin
University of Wisconsin–Madison
|Known for||The Sociological Imagination|
Charles Wright Mills (August 28, 1916 – March 20, 1962) was an American sociologist, and a professor of sociology at Columbia University from 1946 until his death in 1962. Mills was published widely in popular and intellectual journals, and is remembered for several books, among them The Power Elite, which introduced that term and describes the relationships and class alliances among the U.S. political, military, and economic elites; White Collar, on the American middle class; and The Sociological Imagination, where Mills proposes the proper relationship in sociological scholarship between biography and history.
Mills was concerned with the responsibilities of intellectuals in post-World War II society, and advocated public and political engagement over uninterested observation. Mills biographer Daniel Geary writes that his writings had a "particularly significant impact on New Left social movements of the 1960s." In fact, Mills popularized the term "New Left" in the U.S. in a 1960 open letter, Letter to the New Left.
C. Wright Mills was born in Waco, Texas on August 28, 1916. His family moved constantly when he was growing up and as a result, he lived a relatively isolated life with limited continuous relationships. Mills graduated from Dallas Technical High School in 1934. He initially attended Texas A&M University but left after his first year and subsequently graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1939. By the time he graduated Mills had already been published in the two leading sociology journals in the U.S., the American Sociological Review and the American Journal of Sociology.
While studying at Texas Mills met his first wife, Dorothy Helen Smith who was also a student there. After their marriage in 1937 Dorothy Helen, or "Freya," worked to support the couple while Mills completed his graduate work, and typed and copy edited much of his work including his Ph.D. dissertation.
Mills received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1942. His dissertation was entitled "A Sociological Account of Pragmatism: An Essay on the Sociology of Knowledge." Mills left Wisconsin in early 1942 upon being appointed professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park.
In 1945, Mills moved to New York after securing a research associate position at Columbia University's Bureau of Applied Social Research. Mills separated from Freya with the move, and the couple were divorced in 1947. Mills was appointed assistant professor in the university's sociology department in 1946.
In the mid-1940s while still at Maryland, Mills began contributing 'journalistic sociology' and opinion pieces to intellectual journals such as The New Republic, The New Leader, and Politics, the journal established by his friend Dwight Macdonald in 1944.
1946 saw publication of From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, a translation of essays by Weber co-authored with one of Mills' mentors and friends at Wisconsin, Hans Gerth. In 1953, the two published a second work, Character and Social Structure: The Psychology of Social Institutions.
In 1947, Mills married his second wife Ruth Harper, a Bureau of Applied Social Research statistician who worked with Mills on New Men of Power (1948), White Collar (1951), and The Power Elite (1956). Mills and Harper separated in 1957 and divorced in 1959.
Mills married his third wife, Yaroslava Surmach, an American artist of Ukrainian descent, in 1959. Mills had one child with each of his wives: Pamela (with Freya), Kathryn (with Ruth), and artist Nikolas (with Yaroslava).
Mills suffered from a series of heart attacks throughout his life and his final attack lead to his death on March 20, 1962.
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. The book concludes 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) offers a rich historical account of the middle class(es) in the United States and contends that bureaucracies have overwhelmed middle-class workers, robbing them of all independent thought and turning them into near-automatons, oppressed but cheerful. Mills states there are three types of power within the workplace: coercion or physical force; authority; and manipulation. Through this piece, the thoughts of Mills and Weber seem to coincide in their belief that western society is trapped within the iron cage of bureaucratic rationality, which would lead society to focus more on rationality and less on reason. Mills' fear was that the middle-class was becoming "politically emasculated and culturally stultified" which would allow a shift in power from the middle-class to the strong social elite. Middle-class workers receive an adequate salary but have become alienated from the world because of their inability to affect or change it.
The Power Elite
The Power Elite (1956) describes the relationships among the political, military, and economic elites, noting that they share a common world view; that power rests in the centralization of authority within the elites of society. This centralization of authority is made up of the following components: a "military metaphysic," in other words a military definition of reality; "class identity," recognizing themselves as separate from and superior to the rest of society; "interchangeability," i.e., they move within and between the three institutional structures and hold interlocking positions of power therein; cooperation/socialization, in other words, socialization of prospective new members is done based on how well they "clone" themselves socially after already established elites. Mills views on the power elite is that they represent their own interest, which include maintaining a "permanent war economy" to control the ebbs and flow of American Capitalism and the masking of "a manipulative social and political order through the mass media."
The Sociological Imagination
The Sociological Imagination (1959), which is considered Mills' most influential book, describes a mindset for studying sociology — the sociological imagination — that stresses being able to connect individual experiences and societal relationships. The three components that form the sociological imagination are:
- History: why society is what it is and how it has been changing for a long time and how history is being made in it
- Biography: the nature of "human nature" in a society; what kinds of people inhabit a particular society
- Social Structure: how the various institutional orders in a society function, which ones are dominant, how they are kept together, how they might be changing too, etc.
Mills asserts that a critical task for social scientists is to "translate private troubles into public issues," which is something that it is very difficult for ordinary citizens to do. Sociologists, then, rightly connect their autobiographical, personal challenges to social institutions. Social scientists should then connect those institutions to social structure(s) and locate them within a historical narrative.
Mills' other important books include The Causes of World War Three (1958), Listen, Yankee: The Revolution in Cuba (1960), and The Marxists (1962).
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, 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, so much that in his collection of classical essays, Weber's Protestant Ethic is not included. Weber's idea of bureaucracy as internalized social control was embraced by Mills as was the historicity of his method, yet far from liberalism (being its critic), Mills was a radical who was culturally forced to distance himself from Marx while being "near" him.
While Mills never embraced the "Marxist" label, he 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, Mills declared "[i]n the meantime, let's not forget that there's more [that's] still useful in even the Sweezy  kind of Marxism than in all the routineers of J. S. Mill  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":
|“||You've asked me, 'What might you be?' Now I answer you: 'I am a Wobbly.' I mean this spiritually and politically. In saying this I refer less to political orientation than to political ethos, and I take Wobbly to mean one thing: the opposite of bureaucrat. […] I am a Wobbly, personally, down deep, and for good. I am outside the whale, and I got that way through social isolation and self-help. But do you know what a Wobbly is? It's a kind of spiritual condition. Don't be afraid of the word, Tovarich. A Wobbly is not only a man who takes orders from himself. He's also a man who's often in the situation where there are no regulations to fall back upon that he hasn't made up himself. He doesn't like bosses –capitalistic or communistic – they are all the same to him. He wants to be, and he wants everyone else to be, his own boss at all times under all conditions and for any purposes they may want to follow up. This kind of spiritual condition, and only this, is Wobbly freedom.||”|
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 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" 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.
|“||I am an outlander, not only regionally, but deep down and for good.||”|
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:
|“||It is the political task of the social scientist -- as of any liberal educator -- continually to translate personal troubles into public issues, and public issues into the terms of their human meaning for a variety of individuals. It is his task to display in his work -- and, as an educator, in his life as well -- this kind of sociological imagination. And it is his purpose to cultivate such habits of mind among the men and women who are publicly exposed to him. To secure these ends is to secure reason and individuality, and to make these the predominant values of a democratic society.||”|
Contemporary American scholar Cornel West argued in his text American Evasion of Philosophy that C. Wright Mills follows the tradition of pragmatism. Mills shared Dewey's goal of a "creative democracy" and emphasis on the importance of political practice but criticized Dewey for his inattention to the rigidity of power structure in the U.S. Mills' dissertation was titled Sociology and Pragmatism: The Higher Learning in America, and West categorized him along with pragmatists in his time Sidney Hook and Reinhold Niebuhr as thinkers during pragmatism's "mid-century crisis".
The Society for the Study of Social Problems 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:
- critically address an issue of contemporary public importance,
- bring to the topic a fresh, imaginative perspective,
- advance social scientific understanding of the topic,
- display a theoretically informed view and empirical orientation,
- evince quality in style of writing,
- explicitly or implicitly contains implications for courses of action.
- Radical Ambition: C. Wright Mills, the Left, and American Social Thought By Daniel Geary, p. 1.
- Letter to the New Left by C. Wright Mills 1960
- Crossman, Ashley. "C. Wright Mills". The New York Times Company. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
- Short biography of C. Wright Mills published in the Dictionary of Modern American Philosophers in 3 volumes by Thoemmes Press, Bristol, UK, 2004
- C Wright Mills An American Utopia By Irving Louis Horowitz, p. 40
- C. Wright Mills: Letters and Autobiographical Writings By C. Wright Mills, Kathryn Mills, Pamela Mills, Dan Wakefield, 2001, p. 77
- Daniel Geary (2009). Radical ambition: C. Wright Mills, the left and American social thought. ISBN 0-520-25836-3. "In early 1946, he was appointed assistant professor at Columbia College"
- C Wright Mills An American Utopia By Irving Louis Horowitz, pp. 67-71
- TIME April 4, 1994 Volume 143, No. 14 - "Biographical sketch of Dwight Macdonald" by John Elson (Accessed 4 December 2008)
- C. Wright Mills: Letters and Autobiographical Writings By C. Wright Mills, Kathryn Mills, Pamela Mills, Dan Wakefield, 2001, p. 47
- C. Wright Mills: Letters and Autobiographical Writings By C. Wright Mills, Kathryn Mills, Pamela Mills, Dan Wakefield, 2001, p. 93
- edited; Sica, with introductions by Alan (2005). Social thought : from the Enlightenment to the present. Boston: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon. ISBN 0-205-39437-X.
- Mann, Douglas (2007). Understanding society : a survey of modern social theory. Toronto: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-542184-2.
- The A - Z guide to modern social and political theorists. London [u.a.]: Prentice Hall, Harvester Wheatsheaf. 1997. ISBN 0-13-524885-X.
-  The Sociological Imagination ranked second (outranked only by Max Weber's Economy and Society) in a 1997 survey asking members of the International Sociological Association to identify the books published in the 20th century most influential on sociologists
- [Mills, C Wright. THE SOCIOLOGICAL IMAGINATION Fortieth Anniversary Edition. Oxford University Press, 2000.]
- Paul M. Sweezy, founder of Monthly Review magazine, "an independent socialist magazine".
- I.e., liberal intellectuals.
- 7-nov-2007 17.07 library.umass.edu Remo, I just reviewed the Mills correspondence in the Swados Papers, and, yes, that is an accurate quote. In a letter dated Nov. 3rd  Mills writes, "What these jokers -- all of them -- don't they realize that way down deep and systematically I'm a goddamned anarchist. I'm really quite serious and I'm going over the next few years to work out the position in a positive and clean-cut way. In the meantime, let's not forget that there's more still useful in even the Sweezy kind of Marxism than in all the routineers of JS Mills put together." I'm happy to send you a photocopy of the entire letter if you like. Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of further assistance. Best regards, Danielle -- Danielle Kovacs Curator of Manuscripts Special Collections and University Archives W.E.B. Du Bois Library University of Massachusetts 154 Hicks Way Amherst, MA 01003 (413) 545-2784 .
- From C. Wright Mills: Letters and Autobiographical Writings, edited by Kathryn Mills with Pamela Mills, introduction by Dan Wakefield (University of California Press, 2000.), pag.252. Wobblies are members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and the direct action they are favouring includes passive resistance, strikes, and boycotts. They want to build a new society according to general socialist principles but they are refusing to endorse any socialist party or any other kind of political party.
- "These perspectives owed as much to the methodological precepts of Emile Durkheim as they did to the critical theory of Karl Marx and Max Weber. Using many of the tools of conventional social inquiry: surveys, interviews, data analysis—charts included—Mills takes pains to stay close to the “data” until the concluding chapters. But what distinguishes Mills from mainstream sociology, and from Weber, with whom he shares a considerable portion of his intellectual outlook, is the standpoint of radical social change, not of fashionable sociological neutrality." A Mills Revival?.
- Horowitz, Irving L. C. Wright Mills: An American Utopian. New York: Free Press, 1983.
- "C. Wright Mills Award". Society for the Study of Social Problems. Retrieved April 12, 2012.
- "C. Wright Mills Award Committee". Society for the Study of Social Problems. Retrieved April 12, 2012.
- Herbert Aptheker, The World of C. Wright Mills. New York: Marzani and Munsell, 1960.
- Stanley Aronowitz, "A Mills Revival?" Logos Journal, Summer 2003.
- Stanley Aronowitz. Taking It Big: C. Wright Mills and the Making of Political Intellectuals. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012.
- G. William Domhoff, "Mills's The Power Elite 50 Years Later," Contemporary Sociology, November 2006.
- Douglas F. Dowd, "On Veblen, Mills... And the Decline of Criticism," Dissent, vol. 11, no. 1 (Winter 1964), pp. 29-38.
- John Eldridge, C. Wright Mills (Key Sociologists). Ellis Horwood, 1983.
- Daniel Geary, "Radical Ambition: C. Wright Mills, the Left, and American Social Thought." Berkeley, CA: University of California Press 2009.
- Geary, Daniel (2008). "‘Becoming International Again’: C. Wright Mills and the Emergence of a Global New Left". Journal of American History 95 (3): 710–736. doi:10.2307/27694377.
- Irving Louis Horowitz, C. Wright Mills, an American Utopian (1983).
- Tom Hayden with Contemporary Reflections by Stanley Aronowitz, Richard Flacks, and Charles Lemert, Radical Nomad: C. Wright Mills and His Times. East Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2006.
- Keith Kerr. Postmodern Cowboy: C. Wright Mills and a New 21st Century Sociology. East Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2008.
- Kevin Mattson, Intellectuals in Action: The Origins of the New Left and Radical Liberalism, 1945-1970. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002.
- A.J. Muste and Irving Howe, "C. Wright Mills' Program: Two Views," Dissent, vol. 6, no. 2 (Spring 1959), pp. 189-196.
- Harvey Swados, "C. Wright Mills: A Personal Memoir," Dissent, vol. 10, no. 1 (Winter 1963), pp. 35-42.
- E.P. Thompson, "C. Wright Mills: The Responsible Craftsman," Radical America, vol. 13, no. 4 (July-Aug. 1979), pp. 60-73.
- Rick Tilman, C. Wright Mills: A Native Radical and his American Roots. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1984.
- A. Javier Trevino, The Social Thought of C. Wright Mills. Sage Publications, 2012.
- Kathryn Mills (ed.) with Pamela Mills, C. Wright Mills: Letters and Autobiographical Writings. Introduction by Dan Wakefield. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2000.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: C. Wright Mills|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Charles Wright Mills.|
- Official website
- The Power Elite-Full Book online
- Frank Elwell's page at Rogers State
- An interview with Mills's daughters, Kathryn and Pamela
- Mills-On Intellectual Craftsmanship
- Contemporary C.Wright Mills
- C.W Mills, Structure of Power in American Society,British Journal of Sociology,Vol.9.No.1 1958
- A Mills Revival?
- C.Wright Mills, The Causes of World War Three
- C.Wright Mills, Letter to the New Left
- Sociology-Congress in Köln 2000 workshop: C. Wright Mills and his Power Elite: Actuality today?
- John D Brewer, C.Wright Mills, the LSE and the sociological imagination 
- Daniel Geary (2009). Radical Ambition. C. Wright Mills, the Left, and American Social Thought. University of California Press. Chapter 6 
- Daniel Geary in C.S.Soong's radio program Against the Grain (KPFA 94,1 MHz) on C.Wright Mills