Controversial sociologist C. Wright Mills was born on August 28th, 1916 in Waco, Texas. After receiving his bachelor’s in sociology and master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Texas at Austin, he finished his PhD dissertation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1942. His thesis, “A Sociological Account of Pragmatism: An essay on the sociology of knowledge,” was not published until 1964, two years after his death. Shortly after receiving his doctorate, Mills failed his physical exam, due to high blood pressure, and could not serve in the U.S. military during World War II.
It was during his time in the world of academia that he started considering himself as an innovative intellectual and sociologist. After accepting a job as an associate professor at the University of Maryland, he began writing for the progressive magazine, the New Republic, arguing that “reformism and liberalism were no longer valid answers to American and world problems” (Philips). During his tenure at Columbia University, his empirical work focused on different social classes and their political impact. This ‘radical’ work created tension with the University, and Mills decided to travel throughout Europe in 1956. During his time abroad, Mills wrote the majority of The Sociological Imagination and lectured at the University of Copenhagen.
Throughout his academic career, Mills was known for “his strong opinions and willingness to tackle controversial topics.” His support the Communist revolution in Cuba, however, created tremendous outrage, especially since thousands of Americans were being imprisoned for being possible ‘communists.’ Mills, however, saw the Cuban revolution as “a possible ‘third way’ between Soviet communism and American capitalism” (New World Encyclopedia). This example illustrates how Mills’s sociological imagination allowed him to understand American society and its place in world affairs, a quality of mind that his colleagues and the American public lacked.
On March 20th, 1962, C. Wright Mills died from a second heart attack (the first occurred in 1960). His work provided “intellectual stimulus” for future sociologists and continues to be discussed in classrooms across the country today (infed.org).