C. Wright Mills
|C Wright Mills|
|Born||28 August 1916
|Died||20 March 1962 (aged 45)
West Nyack, New York
|Alma mater||Texas A&M University
University of Texas at Austin
University of Wisconsin–Madison
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. He is also known for studying the structures of power and class in the U.S. in his book The Power Elite. Mills was concerned with the responsibilities of intellectuals in post-World War II society, and advocated public, political engagement over disinterested observation.
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 and received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1941. After a stint at the University of Maryland, College Park, he took a faculty position at Columbia University in 1946, which he kept, despite controversy, until his death by heart attack. In the mid-1940s, together with Paul Goodman, he contributed to Politics, the journal edited during the 1940s by Dwight Macdonald.
|Theory and History|
|Topics and Subfields|
cities – class – crime – culture
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'.
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 cultural 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.
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 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 ranked second, preceded only by Max Weber's Economy and Society. .
The novel The Death of Artemio Cruz (1962), by Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes, is dedicated "To C. Wright Mills, true voice of North America, friend and companion in the struggle of Latin America". Dwight Macdonald had an off-again-on-again association with Mills, and sometimes, in his capacity as magazine editor, published Mills' material.
There has long been debate over Mills' overall 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 Marxian and not Weberian camps.
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, 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 that 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 ongoing interactions 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' ideas also involve the Soviet Union. Mills was invited to the Soviet Union and acknowledged there for being critical of American society, yet Mills used the opportunity to attack Soviet censorship while there. Mills also holds in his ideas that the United States and Soviet Union are ruled by similar bureaucratic power elites and thus the two are convergent rather than divergent societies, which is a very controversial idea of Mills'.
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. ||–|
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 Nikolas (with Yaroslava).
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 an 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:
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