C. Wright Mills and the Sociological Imagination

C. Wright Mills and the Sociological Imagination

Contemporary Perspectives

Edited by John Scott and Ann Nilsen

C. Wright Mills is one of the towering figures in contemporary sociology and his writings continue to be of great relevance to the social science community. Generations of sociology students have enjoyed learning about the discipline from reading his best known book The Sociological Imagination. Over the years the title has become a term in itself with a variety of interpretations, many far removed from the original. The chapters in Part One of this book begins with general issues around the nature and significance of the sociological imagination, continue through discussions of modes of theorising and historical explanation, the relationship between history and biography, and the intellectual and political relationship of Mills to Marxism. They conclude with considerations on issues of class, power, and warfare. Part Two of the book includes a series of reflections from scholars who were invited to give personal thoughts on the impact of Mills’s writings in their sociological work, with particular attention to their own ‘biography and history’.

Introduction: Mills today

Ann Nilsen and John Scott

Subjects: social policy and sociology, sociology and sociological theory

Extract

C. Wright Mills is one of the towering figures in contemporary sociology. His writings continue to be of great relevance to the social science community today, more than 50 years after his death. A radical intellectual and an innovative sociologist in his day, he expressed opinions on politics and the social sciences that aroused controversy among his contemporaries in sociology and in the wider American society. In many ways he was a thinker ahead of his time and his political activities were unconventional – for instance during the height of the Cold War he went to Cuba and met with Castro and Che Guevara. The paperback version of the book published after the visit, Listen Yankee (Mills 1960), sold half a million copies. Generations of sociology students have enjoyed learning about the discipline from reading his best-known book, The Sociological Imagination (Mills 1971 [1959]). Over the years the title has become a term in itself with a variety of interpretations, many far removed from the original. Central to Mills’s thinking was the relevance of history for understanding contemporary society and the people who live in its specific communities. Similarly, he held that ideas must be considered in relation to the time and place in which they originate. It is precisely because of Mills’s insistence on relating the interpretation of concepts and theories to their historical context that his own ideas and writings still come across with a clarity and freshness that the years have not diminished.