Charles Wright Mills

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Charles Wright Mills

Charles Wright Mills


Charles Wright Mills was a sociologist American born in 1916 and died in 1962. Professor of sociology at Columbia University in New York, he distinguished himself by his reflection on the elites in the U.S., developed in his two major works The Power Elite (1956) and White Collar (1951). Going against the dominant sociological approach, then represented by Talcott Parsons, which he denounced the theorizing in The Sociological Imagination (1961), it is part of a tradition of critical sociology.

Before exploring the sociology of C. Wright Mills, there are two points about his sociology that I wish to briefly note. 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.


While the secondary literature on Mills often remarks on the influence of Marx and Veblen on his sociology--and these two theorists certainly have an influence--the main influence upon his overall world view is very much Max Weber. In all of his writings Mills interprets the world through a coherent theoretical perspective. He uses this theory to explain social structures and processes, rather than obscuring them (either intentionally or inadvertently) through data and jargon. Like the classical theory of the discipline, Mills' vision is a holistic view of entire sociocultural systems, this system is interdependent, and it has profound effects on human values, thought, and behavior. Consequently, his writing remain quite relevant and useful today in our efforts to understand social reality—in our efforts to understand what is going on "out there."

The second point about the sociology of C. Wright Mills that ...
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