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Sociological Analysis of C. Wright Mills: Possibilities of Employing The Sociological Imagination

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Have you ever wondered if you have a voice in society? Have you been troubled by Ameri-can issues and wondered how you can enact change? If so, the work of C. Wright Mills may be of interest to you. Mills was a doctor of sociology, well known for the development of several contro-versial social theories in the years following World War II. While Mills’ theories were undoubtedly inspirational, they were considered radical for their time. However, it appears they may have been quite prophetic.

Mills wrote several renown books before his death in 1962. Drawing inspiration from the ideologies of Carl Marx and Max Weber, among others (Domhoff, 2006), most of his writing cen-tered on contemporary issues such as politics, the war, and the state of the union. Two of his most influential publications were The Power Elite, written in 1956, and The Sociological Imagination, written in 1959. Despite the success of his books, some perceived Mills’ theories as troublesome or irrelevant, given how prosperous the economy was at the time; Why shake things up when they were running so smoothly? (Henslin, 2014).

The Power Elite focuses on the relationships between different social classes, and how those relationships affect American democracy. Mills identified America’s social structure as a hi-erarchy of power. At the top of the hierarchy is the upper class; a select few from the military, cor-porate, and political realms (i.e., those who control the majority of America’s wealth). At the bottom of the hierarchy is the lower class - or the common working people (Henslin, 2014). He argued that there is no real American democracy because those at the top hold so much power that those at the bottom cannot be heard. He viewed this as a threat to our freedom, suggesting that the economically dominant group would make decisions in their best interest - to protect their wealth and power - but these decisions would be biased and unbeneficial to the U.S. majority (Domhoff, 2006).

Personally, I find a lot of truth in Mills’ theory. I believe many of the coalitions that have formed between corporate America and our government are detrimental to middle and lower-class Americans. Take, for example, our healthcare system. As a result of private spending, the U.S. spends more of its gross domestic profit on healthcare than any other industrialized country (Squires, 2015). This is because major mergers among healthcare entities have virtually eliminated competition in healthcare. These monopolies allow companies to charge astronomical prices for medical services (“Health Care,” n.d.). In some instances, people die as a result of inability to af-ford treatment. One would think the logical solution would be to implement government mandated price controls, as most other developed countries do, yet this may never happen due to conflicts of interest within the government. To put it simply, money equals power. That means the more money healthcare corporations (or corporations in general) make, the more political power they have. They can use their revenue to push their agenda in ways like lobbying against legislation changes. This is the quintessence of Mills’ power elite theory.

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Another interesting element of the power elite theory is the idea that people at the top of the hierarchy are able to move fluidly between positions in the three major realms (government, econ-omy, and military) (Elwell, 2013). I also find this to be true. For instance, Donald Trump, a suc-cessful entrepreneur, was elected president despite having zero political experience, practically mak-ing him a poster boy for the power elite.

Mills believed we needed social reform, and that change would be a result of awareness and critical thinking. He wanted people to become actively involved in the country’s agenda, rather than passively observing. This was the inspiration for The Sociological Imagination. He defined “socio-logical imagination” as, “an awareness of the relationship between an individual and the wider soci-ety” (Mills, 1959). It is the ability to connect your personal troubles to more complex, big picture issues. For instance, one individual may struggle with their weight, but when over 30 percent of the country is classified as obese, it has become a public issue. Mills stressed that there is an intricate relationship between a person and society, and believed that the better we understand these relation-ships, the more likely we are to become a catalyst for change (Geary, 2016).

Mills’ theory makes a lot of sense to me. I believe that in order to correctly identify the root of a problem, you often need to look at it from a different perspective. Going back to the obesity issue: One explanation would be to say that people are just lazy or lack self-control; that it is a per-sonal issue. However, if you employ sociological imagination, you see that factors such as the so-cial norm of eating at gatherings, lower cost and increased availability of unhealthy foods, bom-bardment by fast food advertisements, and our biologic drive to seek out high calorie foods are all major contributing factors. Once you understand that, you are more likely to recognize when you are being influenced by those factors, and consciously make healthier choices.

Learning about Mills’ theories was interesting to me because I have many similar thoughts. I share the sentiment that our country is in need of some fundamental changes, and it is up to the “everyday people” to educate ourselves, step up, and make our voices heard. I appreciate his inten-tion to empower us.


  1. Domhoff, G. W. (2006). Mills’s The Power Elite 50 Years Later. Contemporary Sociology: A Journal of Reviews, 35(6), 547–550. doi:10.1177/009430610603500602
  2. Elwell, F. W. (2013). C. Wright Mills on the Power Elite. Retrieved from http://fac
  3. Geary, D. (2016). Radical Ambition: C. Wright Mills, the Left, and American Social Thought. Seoul: Samcheolli.
  4. Health Care Competition. (n.d.). Retrieved from sources/mergers-competition/health-care-competition
  5. Henslin, J. M. (2014). Sociology: A Down-to-Earth Approach (12th ed.). Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.
  6. Mills, C. W. (1959). The Sociological Imagination. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. Retrieved from
  7. Squires, D. (2015, October 08). U.S. Health Care from a Global Perspective: Spending, Use of Services, Prices, and Health in 13 Countries. Retrieved June 26, 2018, from
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Sociological Analysis of C. Wright Mills: Possibilities of Employing The Sociological Imagination. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 1, 2024, from
“Sociological Analysis of C. Wright Mills: Possibilities of Employing The Sociological Imagination.” Edubirdie, 12 Aug. 2022,
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