Edited by John Scott and Ann Nilsen
Chapter 7: Class, elites and power: a contemporary perspective
Mills’s work on social stratification, and especially his work on elites, has been enormously influential. In this chapter I want to set out some elaborations of his view and to suggest some connections with aspects of Mills’s work that are generally treated as quite separate from his views on power. I look, in a particular, at his early arguments on ‘vocabularies of motive,’ arguing that these ideas are crucially important for developing a view of the legitimation of power. The idea of vocabularies of motives was set out in one of his earliest papers in 1940 (Mills 1963a), written at a time when he was thoroughly immersed in the pragmatist social philosophy of James, Peirce, and Dewey that he had worked on for his 1942 doctoral dissertation (Mills 1964). This idea was seen as an integral element in the social psychology that he was at the time developing as a basis for a sociology of knowledge. By the time he began to work on stratification he had encountered Hans Gerth and, through him, the work of Max Weber (see Gerth and Mills 1946). The two of them continued to see the social psychology of motives as an essential complement to a structural sociology and set out their joint ideas in a powerful statement of a radical sociology (Gerth and Mills 1953). Mills’s work on social stratification, however, made little direct reference to this, and it has not figured in the arguments of those who have followed him.
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