Edited by John Scott and Ann Nilsen
C. Wright Mills as designer, craftsman and stylist
C. Wright Mills saw biographical development as involving the different roles a person takes up and casts off in the various passages of life. For him, a person’s biography consists of the transformations in character that result from abandoning the old roles and taking on new ones. The challenge is to understand the content of Mills’s character in the elusive dynamic of his biographical development. Indeed, he has already been depicted variously by scholars as an ‘American utopian’, a ‘radical nomad’, and a ‘disillusioned radical’. I contend that another way to envisage Mills today is in the three main roles, and their sensibilities, that he repeatedly assumed throughout his life: those of designer, craftsman, and stylist. Mills typically called himself by his mother’s British family name of Wright. The noun ‘wright’ – with its etymological origins in the Old English word wryhta meaning worker or maker – refers to a person who creates, builds, or repairs something. The word is now most commonly used in combination with the thing being constructed, such as a playwright, a shipwright, a millwright. Although he was a tireless producer, who wrote fast and furiously, Wright Mills saw himself as a master builder and a skilled craftsman. Indeed, he often spoke of building lectures and of the craft of putting a book together. Craftsmanship, for Mills, had a moral, indeed a religious, quality to it. It was premised on the Protestant work ethic, or the wilful feeling that the individual can command the future to serve his or her ends.
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