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’.

Chapter 9: C. Wright Mills on war and peace

John D. Brewer

Subjects: social policy and sociology, sociology and sociological theory


We are informed by Mills in one of his letters that he took no moral stance on World War II, seeing it as a capitalist war (see Mills and Mills 2000, p. 251), and a close colleague tells us he was scared of being drafted, going without food and sleep for three days before his physical examination in anticipation it would make him unfit (Form 2007, p. 157). It is ironic therefore that he was saved from the draft only by the silent killer that would eventually lead to his untimely death, hypertension. Mills wrote in a letter that on receiving the news of his exemption he almost came to believe in divine intervention (Mills and Mills 2000, p. 251). He was eventually reclassified as fit. However, Form (2007, p. 157) writes that Mills had already begun research of importance to the war effort in the expectation that it would justify an exemption, which it did. Ambivalence about World War II notwithstanding, Mills was convinced he needed to do all he could to avert a third. It is this issue I wish to explore, for he used the threat of a World War III as a lens into reflecting on the human condition in the modern epoch and on sociology’s essential contribution as a mode of analysis. War and peace were thus big issues for Mills that reached into the very nature of sociology.

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