Mills, C. Wright

Mills, C. Wright (Charles Wright Mills),

1916–62, American sociologist, b. Waco, Tex. He studied at the Univ. of Texas (A.B., M.A., 1939) and the Univ. of Wisconsin (Ph.D., 1942) and spent his academic career (1946–62) as a professor at Columbia Univ. A controversial figure, Mills advocated a comparative world sociology and criticized intellectuals for not using their freedom responsibly by working for social change. He was an advocate of an economic determinism heavily influenced by Karl MarxMarx, Karl,
1818–83, German social philosopher, the chief theorist of modern socialism and communism. Early Life

Marx's father, a lawyer, converted from Judaism to Lutheranism in 1824.
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 and Max WeberWeber, Max
, 1864–1920, German sociologist, economist, and political scientist. At various times he taught at Berlin, Freiburg, Munich, and Heidelberg. One of Weber's chief interests was in developing a methodology for social science, and his works had a considerable
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. His best-known book is The Power Elite (1956), in which he explained the power structure of postwar American society in terms of a ruling militarized corporate-capitalist oligarchy. Mills's other books include White Collar (1951), in which he discussed the propertyless middle-class workers who provided a vast staff for the ruling elite, The Sociological Imagination (1959), Listen, Yankee (1960), and The Marxists (1962).


See biography by I. L. Horowitz (1983); K. Mills and P. Mills, eds., C. Wright Mills: Letters and Autobiographical Writings (2000).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Mills, C. Wright


(Charles Wright Mills). Born Aug. 28, 1916, in Waco, Texas; died Mar. 20, 1962, in New York. American sociologist and journalist. Graduated from the University of Texas (1939). Professor of sociology at Columbia University from 1956.

A follower of the German sociologists M. Weber and K. Mannheim, Mills was also influenced to some degree by the ideas of K. Marx, whose method he considered useful. Nonetheless, he adhered to the view that Marxist theory was “obsolete.” He became popular because of his sharp critique of antihuman tendencies in contemporary American society. His main work was devoted to the problems of the distribution of power and social stratification in American society.

Mills juxtaposed the concept of the “power elite” to that of the “ruling, dominant class,” defining the former as a social group consisting of the industrial, political, and military elite. He saw the primary social threat in a growing “rationality without reason”—that is, in the power elite’s use of rational means worked out by scientists to achieve irrational ends. Placing his hopes for a humanization of society on the intelligentsia, whom he considered capable of possessing a “sociological imagination” (the quality of understanding the ongoing processes in society), he denied the revolutionary role of the working class.

Mills called his sociological method comparative and historical. He believed that it was necessary to create a new sociology, the purpose of which would be the elucidation of the specific historical characteristics of the present era and the study of the social changes that Mills, C. Wright overcome alienation. Although he criticized both the empiricism of American sociology and the abstract nature of the “high theory” of the American sociologist T. Parsons, he was unable to provide a positive alternative to them. Mills’ views influenced the formation of the “new left” ideology in the USA.


The New Men of Power: America’s Labor Leaders. New York, 1948. (Coauthor.)
White Collar: The American Middle Classes. New York, 1959.
The Causes of World War Three. London, 1959.
The Marxists. New York, 1962.
Power, Politics and People: The Collected Essays ofC. Wright Mills. New York, 1963.
The Sociological Imagination. London, 1967.
In Russian translation:
Vlastvuiushchaia elita. Moscow, 1959.


Modrzhinskaia, E. D. “Progressivnoe iavlenie v sovremennoi amerikanskoi sotsiologii.”Voprosy filosofii, 1963, no. 4.
Aptheker, H.The World of C. Wright Mills. New York, 1960.
The New Sociology: Essays in Social Science and Social Theory in Honor ofC. Wright Mills. New York, 1964.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Mills, C. (Charles) Wright

(1916–62) sociologist; born in Waco, Texas. A radical humanist and professor of sociology at Columbia University (1946–62), he was a leading critic of American society who became controversial for his rejection of value-free, scientific sociology in favor of socially responsible social science. He was in the vanguard of the 1950s radical revival. His important works include White Collar (1951), The Power Elite (1956), The Sociological Imagination (1959), and "Letter to the New Left" (1960).
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.