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C. Wright Mills


C. Wright Mills

C. Wright Mills

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Best Known For:

  • His controversial critiques of both contemporary society and sociological practice
  • His book The Sociological Imagination (1959)
  • Studying power and class in the U.S. in The Power Elite (1956)


C. Wright Mills was born August 28, 1916.


He died March 20, 1962.

Early Life and Education:

C. Wright Mills was born in Waco, Texas. His family moved a lot when he was growing up and as a result, he lived a relatively isolated life with no intimate or continuous relationships. He initially attended Texas A&M University, but left after his first year. He eventually graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1939 and received his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1941.

Career and Later Life:

After graduating, Mills was appointed associate professor of sociology at the University of Maryland. Four years later, he left to take a research associate position at Columbia University's Bureau of Applied Social Research. The following year he was made assistant professor in the university's sociology department. He remained with the department until he died of a heart attack in 1962.

Mills' major focus of his work was on social inequality, the power of elites, the declining middle class, the relationship between individuals and society, and the importance of an historical perspective as a key part of sociological thinking.

Mills' most influential and famous work, The Sociological Imagination describes a mindset for doing sociology that stresses being able to connect individual experiences and societal relationships. The three components that form the sociological imagination are: History (how a society cam to be and how it is changing); Biography (what kind of people inhabit a particular society); and Social structure (how the institutional orders in a society operate, which ones are dominant, how they are held together, etc.). Mills believed that one must look inside oneself to help important research problems because social scientists often translate private troubles into public issues. The Sociological Imagination gives the one possessing it the ability to look beyond their local environment and personality to wider social structures and a relationship between history, biography and social structure.

Other Major Publications

  • The Causes of World War Three (1958)
  • Listen, Yankee: The Revolution in Cuba (1960)
  • The Marxists (1962)


Phillips, B. (2004). Dictionary of Modern American Philosophers. Bristol, UK: Thoemmes Press.

Johnson, A. (1995). The Blackwell Dictionary of Sociology. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers.

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