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’.

War and peace, civil rights and gender:a few reflections about my father

Kathryn Mills

Subjects: social policy and sociology, sociology and sociological theory


Why did C. Wright Mills decide to write and speak about issues of war, peace, and international relations? After publishing White Collar (1951), The Power Elite (1956), and The Sociological Imagination (1959), he could have chosen to coast for a while – to work on relatively easy projects – but that idea didn’t interest him. Instead he took on an issue even more difficult than the ones he had chosen before; he confronted the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, the nuclear arms race, and the related international tensions after rebel forces in Cuba overthrew the regime of Fulgencio Batista and brought Fidel Castro to power in January 1959. Wright discussed his preoccupation with Cold War issues and some of the ways his travels outside the United States affected his thinking when he wrote the following to Tovarich, his imaginary counterpart in Russia, in a letter from Sarajevo in the winter of 1956–1957: The idea of writing to you came to me in the fall when I was here in Europe. Traveling in foreign countries, of course, turns you in upon yourself; you get away from your routines; and you begin to sort yourself out. At the same time, it makes you feel the need to tell the strangers around you what you are all about. You want to look at self and world together before the strangers.

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