Edited by John Scott and Ann Nilsen
Learning from an early encounter with The Power Elite
For me, as for most sociologists, the strongest inspiration from Mills stems from The Sociological Imagination, which I first read around 1980 as a master’s student, and which ever since has been a good companion in introductory courses – or elsewhere – when presenting the idea of sociology as an engaged intellectual project, and when arguing for the relevance of a historical approach in sociological analysis. This, however, was not my first encounter with Mills. Already in my third semester as an undergraduate sociology student I was happy to join a course on ‘economy and society’ dealing with – among other themes – the military-industrial complex in the United States. On that course The Power Elite was a central text on the reading list. From my notes (kept, I suppose, for nostalgic reasons) I can see that we spent quite a lot of time on academic discussions of the elitist vs. the pluralist perspective on the development of the relations between the military, the economic, and the political elites. Stanley Lieberson’s (1971) article ‘An empirical study of military-industrial linkages’ in the American Journal of Sociology is carefully commented on. I did try to follow his argument supported by statistical regression analysis for comparing the relevance of the two perspectives. But I don’t think I was very impressed. Much more interest was found in reading C. Wright Mills himself – the main proponent of an ‘elitist’ perspective. Especially chapters 8, 9, and 12 of The Power Elite, dealing with the warlords, the military ascendancy and the power elite in general, were thoroughly read.
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