An early review of the Sociological Imagination

“Imagine a burly cowpuncher on the long, slow ride from the Panhandle of Texas to Columbia University, carrying in his saddle-bag some books which he reads with absorption while his horse trots along. Imagine that among the books are some novels of Kafka, Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution, and essays of Max Weber. Imagine the style and imagery that would result from the interaction of the cowboy- student and his studies. Imagine also that en route he passes through Madison, Wisconsin, that seat of a decaying populism and that, on arriving at his destination in New York, he encounters Madison Avenue, that street full of reeking phantasies of the manipulation of the human will and of what is painful to America’s well-wishers and enjoyable to its detractors. Imagine the first Madison disclosing to the learned cowpuncher his subsequent political mode, the second an object of his hatred…The end result of such an imaginary grand tour would be a work like The Sociological Imagination”

This less than charitable early review of the Sociological Imagination was written by Edward Shils. It offers an interesting insight into the status Mills enjoys within the sociological cannon, as his now iconic status was paralleled during his life by a dissidence which had not yet been elevated into esteemed iconoclasm. But it would be too easy to read the career trajectory of Mills as a fable about the intellectual virtue of resistance within a professionalising sociology. While Mills may be blogged about (something he would have enjoyed partaking in himself perhaps) in admiring tones decades later by those who can’t help but contrast his enduring reputation to that of Shils and co, there are surely many others who have simply been forgotten.

Categories: C. Wright Mills

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1 reply »

  1. Lots of normative and positive problems with C Wright Mills’s work. For starters:

    1. Just another pessimistic elitist like Pareto.
    2. Hard to falsify his claims.
    3. Lack of empirical investigation.

    ps thanks for quoting Shils shred. I usually dig ES’s prose but that passage stinks.

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