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’.

What C. Wright Mills can teach us today

Ottar Brox

Subjects: social policy and sociology, sociology and sociological theory


Years before the so called ‘anti-positivist’ turn of the late 1960s, I struggled with the problems of getting my seniors to accept my ‘mixing of social science with politics’. Doing fieldwork in North Norwegian fishing communities, I found it very difficult to analyse and explain problems like depopulation without treating politically settled conditions on the same level as other variable factors, like natural conditions or fish prices on the global markets. How would specific changes in the rules of the game affect the future of coastal communities? I found support in The Sociological Imagination, especially through discussions with the historian Kåre Lunden, who told me that my ‘mix’ of social science and politics was no sin, but rather an attempt to follow Wright Mills’s advice: personal troubles must be understood in terms of public issues! As my North Norway project developed, methodically inspired by economic anthropology, as it was taught and practised at the University of Bergen, I became increasingly convinced that I was engaged in a political project, as well as a social-scientific one. The aspiring social scientist became – whether he wanted it or not – a participant in the drama that took place on the northern coast. And so did the government economists arguing for radical changes in the fishing industry – against the interests of the great majority of coastal fishermen. The North Norway Plan – NNP – was launched in 1952, to increase the productivity and general level of living of the Arctic population, and the aim of my project was to somehow measure the effect of the Plan.

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