C. Wright Mills : Personal Troubles and Public Issues a century on


It’s a hundred years since the birth of C. Wright Mills, the radical American sociologist and activist, whose work continues to retain much of its relevance . Hence it’s an appropriate moment to link to an excellent piece by Mark Smith on the Infed site.

C. Wright Mills: power, craftsmanship, and private troubles and public issues

Mark ends on a note that resonates with today’s often uncritical acceptance of the targeted, behavioural modification agenda to be found within a great deal of work with young people.

For informal educators and those working in the social professions, his critique of the professional ideology of social pathology (wherein informal educators and social workers  focus on individual adjustment rather than structural change) remains highly pertinent [my addition in bold].  But perhaps the best way of remembering his contribution is the advice he gives in the closing paragraphs of the The Sociological Imagination:

‘Do not allow public issues as they are officially formulated, or troubles as they are privately felt, to determine the problems that you take up for study. Above all, do not give up your moral and political autonomy by accepting in somebody else’s terms the illiberal practicality of the bureaucratic ethos or the liberal practicality of the moral scatter. Know that many personal troubles cannot be solved merely as troubles, but must be understood in terms of public issues – and in terms of the problems of history making. Know that the human meaning of public issues must be revealed by relating them to personal troubles – and to the problems of the individual life. Know that the problems of social science, when adequately formulated, must include both troubles and issues, both biography and history, and the range of their intricate relations. Within that range the life of the individual and the making of societies occur; and within that range the sociological imagination has its chance to make a difference in the quality of human life in our time.’ (Mills 1959: 226)

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