C. Wright Mills

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Early Life


Charles Wright Mills was born August 28, 1916, in Waco Texas. His father, Charles Grover Mills, who was an insurance agent, and mother, Frances Wright Mills who was a house wife, moved around quit often. Since the family constantly moved (7 times), Charles was isolated and often didn't make friends. He graduated in 1934 from Dallas Technical High School and moved on to be a cadet at the Texas Agricultural & Mechanical college, which he attended from 1934-35. He then transferred to the University of Texas in Austin. From there he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology and a Masters Degree in philosophy. When Mills was 23, he left Texas to further his education. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison where he received his Ph.D. in sociology in 1941. While working on his Ph.D., his thesis focused on pragmatism and sociology of knowledge. While Mills was a student, he published in two journals; American Sociological Reviewand American Journal Of Sociology. Mills was born during the middle of WWI. He also lived through the New York Stock Market Crash in 1929, which was a jumpstart to the Great Depression during the 1930's. Mills also lived through the second World War from 1939-45.

Mills Timeline

Personal Life

Mills was married four times throughout his life. When he was 21, he married Dorothy Helen Smith. The two divorced after three years of marriage, and then got together again and married a year later in 1941. Their daughter, Pamela, was born in 1943. Four years later, the two divorced for life. In 1947, the same year that Mills divorced Smith, he married Ruth Harper. Harper was a bureau of applied social research at Columbia University. In 1955, the two had a daughter named Kathrine. After Kathrine's birth, the couple separated, and later divorced in 1959. Mills' fourth and final marriage was shared with Yaroslava Surmach, who was an artist. They conceived a son who was born in 1960, named Nikoas. Mills was married to Surmach until his untimely death in 1962. Throughout Mills' life, he developed a poor reputation. He was known to have many affairs, and he also was known to be violent with friends and colleagues. Mills also suffered from a serious heart condition throughout his life. He survived three heart attacks, with the fourth finally taking his life.

Sociological Outlook

Mills was a radical social theorist. He believed knowledge is a crucial element for social change. Mills was heavily influenced by the ideas of Max Weber and his social structures were similar to Weber's. His research focussed on how society affects people in their every day lives: how they fit into a group, which social "class" they belonged to, and how society affected their problems. He analyzed the connections between individuals and wider society. Mills strongly believed that people's personal problems were not on a personal level, but on a social level. He concluded that even if one may feel like their problems are personal, theoretically, it could be something that is being caused by the society in the community they live in, and therefore is happening to every one else. Thus, personal problems have social roots, and improving people's lives force social solutions. One of Mills' famous quotes on this is: "It is the political task of the social scientist…to translate personal troubles into public issues." Because Mills lived through the Great Depression in the 30's and World War II, him and his family experienced, along with many of his fellow Americans, financial burdens and lack of employment. One may suggest that Mills' views on personal problems could link back to the Depression. For example, if someone were having trouble finding a job during the Depression, they may feel discouraged and feel as though they lack what every employer wants. In reality, there was just a huge unemployment rate in America which meant that the inability of being hired was not necessarily due to someone lacking credentials, but rather just that employers could not afford to hire many employees.

Mills' first daughter, Kathryn Mills, states that this quote best sums up Mills' sociological views: 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.

In 1964, the Society for the Study of Social Problems created the C. Wright Mills award. This award recognizes individuals who excel in social science research, and have the most diverse understanding of society in the tradition of Mills.


Mills wrote his first book, New Men of Power: America's Labor Leaders in 1948. This book examines "Labor Metaphysic" and how labor leaders collaborate with business officials. His next book, White Collar: America's Middle Class was published in 1951. This book studied how the government and upper officials tore down middle class workers by taking away their free thought and individualism. In this book, Mills concludes that there is three types of influence in an American workplace: physical force, authority, and manipulation. The Power Elite, published in 1956, overviews how the upper class that controls much of the country's wealth, control many aspects of society today; including Universities, media, and government. Arguably, Mills' most famous book was The Sociological Imagination, published in 1959. The Sociological Imagination outlines a mindset for how one should study sociology. It covers the history of society, the biography of society, and the social structures of society. In addition, in 1958 Mills wrote Causes of World War Three and in 1960 wrote Listen, Yankee: The Revolution in Cuba. However, these two books were considered to be some of his poorest work.

Some of Mills' most famous quotes include:

"'Neither the life of an individual nor the history of society can be understood without understanding both."

"People with advantages are loath to believe that they just happen to be people with advantages."

"In the world of the celebrity, the hierarchy of publicity has replaced the hierarchy of descent and even of great wealth."


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C._Wright_Mills http://sociology.about.com/od/Works/a/Sociological-Imagination.htm www.cwrightmills.org http://publishing.cdlib.org/ucpressebooks/view?docId=kt7f59q5ms&chunk.id=ch04&toc.id=ch04&brand=ucpress http://study.com/academy/lesson/c-wright-mills-sociological-imagination-and-the-power-elite.html