Charles Wright Mills, 1916-1962
C. Wright Mills was born in Texas to a white-collar insurance broker and a housewife. His childhood consisted of moving around a lot within Texas, causing him to grow up with many intimate friendships. After grade school, Mills anticipated an engineering career and enrolled in Texas A&M. One year later he transferred to the University of Texas. He received a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a master’s degree in philosophy, and went on to receive his PhD. Mills became a Professor of Sociology at Columbia University and later, one of the most controversial figures in American social science.
Mills has concentrated on power elites within business, expressing his interest in the political influence of business. Those key people included in the power elite are in three major institutions of major society according to Mills: Economy, Government and Military. Things seem to come in three’s with Mill’s as he addresses three forms of power: coercion or physical force (used as a last resort), authority, and while bureaucratic structures are based on authority, Mills saw such authority shifting toward manipulation (in the sense of science and technology, rather than terror).
In researching more on Mill’s background, I came across numerous occasions that outlined some basic assumptions Mills had about the nature of man and society. These I found very interesting, and for anyone else taking Organizational Theory (MGMT 339), we have talked in great lengths regarding structure. I will list a few of these basic assumptions below:
- Human beings cannot be understood apart from the social and historical structures in which they are formed and in which they interact
- While human beings are motivated by the norms, values, and belief systems that prevail in their society, structural change over throw these “vocabularies of motivation” into some confusion
- The number and variety of structural changes within a society increase as institutions become larger, more embracing, and more interconnected
Mills left his legacy with books that changed the way many people viewed their lives, the structure of the U.S. and continually challenged those he sought knowledge from and the status quo. His works include White Collar (1951) and The Power Elite (1956). He is best known for The Sociological Imagination (1959) which he lays out a view of the proper relationship between biography and history, which we spoke to in class.
His upbringing and how events shaped the outlook he had on life is pretty fascinating from what I’ve read so far. If you want to read up more on C. Wright Mills, check out Letters and Autobiographical Writings!