The Power Elite by C. Wright Mills: Summary & Concept

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  • 0:00 Charles Wright Mills
  • 1:04 Overview of 'The Power Elite'
  • 2:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Manuela Heberle

Manuela has master's degree in counseling and has taught psychology, social psychology, and a tests and measurements course.

Learn about C. Wright Mills, the focus of his work, and about his controversial book that critiques the organization of power in the United States. The lesson also offers a short quiz to help you gauge your understanding.

Charles Wright Mills

photo C. Wright Mills

Charles Wright Mills, an American sociologist, was born in Waco, Texas, in 1916. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin with a Ph.D., he became a professor of sociology at Columbia University. He died in 1962 of heart disease.

Throughout his life, Mills believed that sociologists should use their research to bring about social change. He was critical of intellectuals who, he believed, were merely observers. In line with his belief that sociology should be used as a force for the good of the people, he examined, critiqued, and wrote extensively about capitalism, bureaucracies, and class structure.

He is best known for his work on the subjects of social inequality, the declining middle class, and the power structure in the United States. His major works include The New Men of Power, White Collar, The Sociological Imagination, and the subject of this lesson, The Power Elite published in 1956.

An Overview Of The Power Elite

In this work, Mills describes the relationships and class alliances among the United States political, military, and economic institutions. According to Mills, the power elite are those who occupy the dominant positions in the dominant institutions.

Mills asserts that the power elite is driven by the U.S. military, and that the military essentially defines reality. He refers to this as a permanent war economy. Mills points out that the decisions of the power elite, or their lack of decision-making, have enormous consequences for citizens of the U.S. and for populations in other parts of the world.

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