C. Wright Mills
Once the sociological nature of
individualism and the social problems
caused by it are understood, an appreciation
of the sociological is possible.
Until this appreciation is achieved, sociology
often remains mysterious in this, the most
ideologically individualistic of societies.
David R. Simons, 1995
This statement will become more
apparent when we look at Mills’
emphasis upon biography and
“Man's chief danger
today lies in the unruly
forces of contemporary
society itself, with its
alienating methods of
of political domination,
anarchy--in a word, its
transformations of the
very 'nature' of man and
the conditions and aims
of his life”
C. Wright Mills on
his way to work at
Biography and history
Personal troubles versus public issues
The social versus the individual
Each of us has a place in the world. We are
individuals. But as we relate to one another
we develop, over time, a place in that
history we were born into.
History cannot exist, per se, without people both
living it and making it. You live in an
historically specific moment that was
constructed out of a series of such moments.
As well, you are making history now.
Sociology is where biography and history meet. It
is where you, as a person, interact with those
larger forces around you – what Durkheim
called social facts.
Mills was concerned with class
issues. The working class had
changed after WWII. It was now
a “new middle class” of white
Contrary to Marx’s reasoning, the next
revolution would not come from a blue-collar
Perhaps major change would come from this
“new middle class.”
But this new middle class had
become “a kind of
of status-hunting that he called
‘the status panic.’” (Collins &
Work is an anonymous “great salesroom”
The trades are no longer independent but
merely “tools of the establishment.”
People have become “cheerful robots.”
“The new middle class is
superficially satisfied, but
inwardly anxious, and dishonest
about admitting it to themselves
They have no independent source
of power.” (ibid.)
Thus he comes up with the concept of the
A nexus of elites from the military,
corporations, and the political realm that
converge much like Eisenhower’s military-
“In this structure there is no effective challenge
to the power elite from the traditional
institutions of American democracy.” (ibid.)
If this sounds like today, yes, he was not only on
the mark, but quite prescient as well.
More on Mill’s perspective of society and its
Mills sees social problems as social ills that
arise from contradictions.
What are some social contradictions?
(Also called antagonisms)
Think in terms of what Robert K.
Merton called “structural strain.”
Imagine all the obstacles there
are to going to college now. That
Merton was clearly a functionalist. But
describing everything in terms of their function
was not satisfactory for analyzing the
uncertainties, complexities and social
upheaval of the 60s.
Mills has another take on things.
Mills sees conflict in the social structure. In
essence he revived the Marxist conflict
Overall, functionalism ended up relegated to
the minority of sociologists.
Conflict seemed the most appropriate approach
for the period.
According to David R. Simon, there
are four key issues related to the
sociological imagination (Mills) and
A critique (deconstruction) of
other paradigms or ideologies,
especially their contradictions.
The relationship between personal
troubles and social problems.
A model for analyzing the
relationships between the
structure of society, the historical
epoch, and the social character
A model for the analysis of social
These issues fit into two distinct views:
The Macro Perspective
The Micro Perspective
We look at specific niches of society. We
look at the human interaction that is at play.
(or just interactionism)
So the three primary perspectives are:
All parts exist to support the whole
The organic analogy
Social structures: media, religion, family, etc.
Manifest functions (intended)
Latent functions (unintended)
Karl Marx: Antagonisms (or conflicts and
contradictions) as a mode of change
C. Wright Mills: Contemporary views and
The American Dream
Social creation of reality (that is, how we, as
seemingly small entities, actually are a
powerful force in the creation of the larger
The interplay between individuals and society
Humans have agency (i.e. we do ultimately