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’.

Encounters with pragmatism

Ann Nilsen

Subjects: social policy and sociology, sociology and sociological theory


The Sociological Imagination was on the reading list for my introductory course in sociology in 1980 and was my first encounter with C. Wright Mills’s writings. In this historical period the women’s movement had made quite an impact on Norwegian society and in ‘institutions of higher learning.’ The critical writings of feminist scholars received acclaim among many women sociologists in particular. As a young student I, along with many other women, was drawn to the novelty of feminism and the new perspectives on society they offered. In this climate The Sociological Imagination was considered a great title for a book, but the text itself was, by many, deemed irrelevant and outdated and seen as having little contribution to make in the study of gender and of women’s lives in particular, so I had no great hopes of finding it of interest. I did however have to read it for my first sociology exam and was struck by the freshness of the text (it was a joy to read!) and the call for sociologists to recognize history as important for understanding con- temporary society. I had studied history as a subject for my lower degree and was planning to return to it to write my master thesis after my sociology course, so at the time history was closer to my heart. The Sociological Imagination made me realize that I needn’t choose sociology OR history – the two disciplines could actually be combined in research to gain a broader understanding of society and societal pro- cesses.

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