Mills Question Sets and Key Statements

Question Set (1) Working models

Working models should contain statements of:

(1) The elements to which attention must be paid if we are to understand some particular feature of society or a society as a whole, and

(2) The range of possible relations among these elements. The elements are not left merely to interact in some vague way. Rightly or wrongly, they are constructed in close and specific interconnection with one another, and causal weights are assigned to each. These imputed connections and weights of course are specific theories.

The answers given by classic sociologists provide:

(1) Conceptions about society, about history and about biography, and in their work these three are usually linked closely together.

(2) The structure of society and the mechanics of history are seen within the same perspective, and within this perspective changes in human nature are also defined.

(3) Intellectual problems are relevant to the public issues of their times, and to the private troubles of individual men and women.

Question Set (2) Extent revelation and statements on power

(1) The extent of manipulation as a form of exercising power.

(2) The extent of a semi-organized irresponsibility.

(3) The extent to which both these trends readily find individuals to service them.

(4) The question of who in turn, by their services, are further corrupted? And its causes.

(5) The supremacy of cash and kudos as the all-American values.

(6) The revealing image of contemporary American society a network of rackets. And the injunction that we should try to embrace in such a view the big rackets as well as the little ones.

Following Weber, Mills held that:

(1) Rationalization: the use of knowledge to achieve desired ends, with its goal of efficiency, developed with the rise of capitalism and modernity the means of coordination and control over social processes.  Rationalization was the guiding principle of bureaucracy and the division of labour. [1]

(2) Humanity cannot be understood out with the formative social and historical structures in which they interact.   They are motivated by the norms, values, and belief systems that prevail in their society: and become their ‘vocabularies of motivation,’ that are part of a wider ideology encompassing concepts that relate to both roles and persons.[2] Structural change can confuse and change these, particularly since institutions have become larger and the amount and variety of structural changes within society have increased and become interconnected.[3]

For Mills, there are three forms of power:

(a) Coercion or physical force

(b) Authority i.e. power that is attached to positions within bureaucratic structures and justified by the beliefs of the obedient

(c) Manipulation wielded without the conscious knowledge of the powerless.

Although these three forms of power conform to the three interlocking elements of the Power Elite, Mills saw authority shifting towards manipulation as modern managerial ethos became dominant; the power of manipulation is founded upon methods of control provided by social science and technology: similarly the organization of rationalization was increasingly based on techniques of manipulation.[4]

Mills also believed that the shift towards the centralization of political power meant that authority needs, and has recourse to manipulation in its desire for legitimization to secure loyalty and obedience: that manipulation develops when centralized authority is not publicly justified, and when those in power do not believe it can honestly be justified.  Here power shifts from the overt to the covert, from the obvious to a more subtle exploitation of psychological processes to manipulate consent.  Because such manipulation is hidden it deprives the oppressed from identifying the oppressor and effectively removes the check of reason and conscience of the ruled on the ruler.

According to Mills, there is a ‘Power Elite’ in modern societies who:

(a) command the resources of vast bureaucratic organisations that have come to dominate industrial societies.[5] As bureaucracies have enlarged they have centralized the circle of those who run the organizations, this narrowing makes the consequences of their decisions enormous.

(b) occupy the key leadership positions within the bureaucracies in which the effective means of power is located.  Thus their power is rooted in the attributes of the social organization’s authority, not of the individuals themselves.

(c) aspects of coordination stem from the interchange of personnel between the three elite hierarchies: Economy, Government and Military.  Mills asserts that the closeness of business and government officials can be seen by the ease and frequency with which individuals pass from one hierarchy to another.  Between the masses and the elite Mills saw a middle level of power composed of local opinion leaders, special interest groups and so forth who neither represent the masses nor have any real effect on the elite.  Mills saw the US’ Congress and its political parties as a reflection of this middle-level of power: the power elite ensures that no serious challenge to its authority and control is tolerated in the political arena.

Question Set (3) verificatory models & determinants of knowledge

(1) What is the generic character, derivation, and function of epistemologic forms, criteria of truth, or verificatory models?

(2) Exactly wherein, at what junctures, and in what types of inquiry may social factors enter as determinants of knowledge.[6]

Question Set (4) history biography structure trichotomy

(1) What is the structure of this particular society as a whole? What are its essential components, and how are they related to one another? How does it differ from other varieties of social order? Within it, what is the meaning of any particular feature for its continuance and for its change?

(2) Where does this society stand in human history? What are the mechanics by which it is changing? What is its place within and its meaning for the development of humanity as a whole? How does any particular feature we are examining affect, and how is it affected by, the historical period in which it moves? And this period—what are its essential features? How does it differ from other periods? What are its characteristic ways of history making?

(3) What varieties of men and women now prevail in this society and in this period? And what varieties are coming to prevail? In what ways are they selected and formed, liberated and repressed, made sensitive and blunted? What kinds of ‘human nature’ are revealed in the conduct and character we observe in this society in this period? And what is the meaning for ‘human nature’ of each and every feature of the society we are examining.”

Simplification (1):

(1) Structural definition through the identification of the inter-relation of essential components; differentiation of social order by comparative analysis to identify meaning in terms of continuance and change.

(2) Historical definition and orientation in terms of the characteristics of the mechanics of change; the location of an intellectual perspective in terms of the affects on (and affects of) human development of the essential features, to differentiate the ways of history making.

(3) Prevalent varieties in terms of selection and formation, future tendencies, liberation and repression, sensitization and desensitization.  To find the meaning for ‘human nature’ in terms of conduct and character.

Simplification (2)

(1) What is the meaning of this — whatever we are examining — for our society as a whole, and what is this social world like?

(2) What is the meaning of this for the types of men and women that prevail in this society?

(3) How does this fit into the historical trend of our times, and in what direction does this main drift seem to be carrying us?

Question Set (5) Conceptions that define the elite in terms of:

(1) The sociology of institutional position and the social structure these institutions form.

(2) The statistics of selected values.

(3) In terms of membership in a clique-like set of people.

(4) In terms of the morality of certain personality types.[8]

Simplification (1) what they head up, what they have, what they do and who they really are.

(1) what is it that changes?

(2) how does it change?

(3) what is the direction of change?

(4) what is the rate of change ?

(5) why did change occur or why was it possible?

(6) what are the principal factors in social change?[9]

Question Set (6) Mass Communication

(a) identification:

(1) Far fewer people express opinions than receive them.

(2) The communications are so organised that it is difficult or impossible for the individual to answer back immediately or with any effect.

(3) The realization of opinion in action is controlled by authorities.

(4) The mass has no autonomy from the official institutions of society, but is permeated by agents of these institutions.[10]

(b) identification:

(1) What is the ontology, the descriptive model of the world?

(2) What is the explanation of the world?

(3) What is the futurology, answering the question “where is society heading?”

(4) What are the values and answers to ethical questions: “What should we do?”

(5) What is the methodology and theory of action.: “How should goals be attained?”

(6) What is the epistemology, or ethics. “What is true and false?”

(7) What is their account of their own origins and how they are constructed.

(c) identification:

(1) Its professed goals and policies, whether they are reformative or revolutionary and what their specific contents are.

(2) The recruitment and composition of its members and leaders.

(3) Its objective functions; that is, one must ask cui bono?— to whose benefit does its existence and operation redound?[11]

Question Set (7) Orders, Structures & Traits

(a) Orders:

(1) The political order: those institutions within which men acquire, wield, or influence the distribution of power and authority.

(2) The economic order: those establishments by which men organize labour, resources, and technical implements in order to produce and distribute goods and services.

(3) The military order: those institutions in which men organise legitimate violence and supervise its use.

(4) The kinship order:  institutions that regulate and facilitate legitimate sexual intercourse, procreation, and the early bearing of children.

(5) The religious order: those institutions in which men organise and supervise the collective worship of God or deities, usually at regular occasions and at fixed places.[12]

(b) Structures:

(1) Symbols which sustain the order: including signs, emblems, ceremonies, language, music.

(2) Technology the physical devices of the order: including tools, apparatus, machines, instruments.

(3) Status: consisting of agencies for the means of distributing prestige, deference, or honour.

(4) Education: including activities concerned with the transmission of skills and values to persons who have not yet acquired them.[13]

(c) Traits:

(1) A general trait that is generally premiumed has a high chance to be presented by the person and to be firmly organized into his character.

(2) A specific trait that is generally premiumed will tend to spread, to become a general trait.

(3) A general trait that is specifically premiumed will tend to become a specific trait, or, if kept general, to be modified or camouflaged in all contexts except the one in which it is specifically premiumed.

(4) A specific trait that is specifically premiumed will tend to be stabilized; a person predominantly composed of such traits will be a compartmentalized specialist.[14]

Question Set (7) vocabulary & motives

(1) The vocabulary is a major element in the style of life that sets off different status groups.

(2) In the economic order, the jobs that people do together give rise to specialised trade jargons.

(3) Families may develop special terms understood only by its members.

(4) The symbols of the political order may be visual or auditory, like the flag or the national anthem, or they may be sentimentalized places like the Capitol or written documents as in the constitutional states of modern democracies.

(5) The symbol spheres of the military order and of the political order are blended in the modern national state.

(6) In the religious order the symbol sphere is very important, since the contents with which religion deals and the sanctions it employs are “psychic.”[15]

There are four ideal type models of integration whereby the institutions composing a social structure are unified by:

(1) Correspondence (the several institutional orders develop in accordance with a common principle).

(2) Coincidence (various institutional developments lead to a similar resultant end).

(3) Coordination (one institutional order becomes dominant over the others and manages them).

(4) Convergence (in their development, one or more institutional orders blend).[16]

Motive drives:

(1) Demarcate the general conditions under which such motive imputation and avowal seem to occur

(2) Give a characterization of motive in denotable terms and an explanatory paradigm of why certain motives are verbalized rather than others

(3) Indicate mechanisms of the linkage of vocabularies of motive to systems of action.  The point of this is to produce an analysis of the integrating, controlling, and specifying function a certain type of speech fulfils in socially situated actions.


[1]Weber viewed rationality as having four main types: Practical rationality, a pragmatic consideration of ends; Theoretical rationality, whereby theoretical models and abstract concepts are used; Substantive rationality concerning consistent values or actions and Formal rationality, that characterises bureaucratic organisations and leads to rules, laws and regulations.

[2] Mills, C. Wright (1940) ‘Situated Actions and Vocabularies of Motive, American Sociological Review, December, p. 904-9: “What is needed is to take all these terminologies of motive and locate them as vocabularies of motive in historic epochs and specified situations. Motives are of no value apart from the delimited societal situations for which they are the appropriate vocabularies. They must be situated. At best, socially unlocated terminologies of motives represent unfinished attempts to block out social areas of motive imputation and avowal. Motives vary in content and character with historical epochs and societal structures.”

[3] Mills, C. Wright (2009)[1958] ‘Psychology and Social Science,’ Monthly Review, December, This article was first published in the October 1958 issue of Monthly Review and subsequently elaborated in Mills’ (1959) ‘The Sociological Imagination,’ p. 124-134, Oxford University Press.  Here he states: “As the history-making unit, the nation-state is also the unit within which types of men and women are formed: it is the man-making unit. That is one reason why struggle between nations and between blocs of nations is also struggle over the types of human beings that will eventually prevail; that is why culture and politics are now so intimately related.”

[4] Mills, C. Wright (1956) ‘The Power Elite’, Oxford University Press, see the chapter ‘The Mass Society’.

[5] Mills, C. Wright (1956) ‘The Power Elite’, Oxford University Press, see the chapter ‘The Power Elite’.

[6] Mills, C. Wright (1940) ‘Methodological Consequences of the Sociology of Knowledge,’ The American Journal of Sociology, p. 316. Vol. 46, No. 3, November.

[7] Simmel, Georg (1964) ‘Conflict And The Web Of Group Affiliations,’ Free Press.

[8] Mills, C. Wright (2000) [1956] ‘The Power Elite’, p. 385-386, Oxford University Press.

[9] Mills, C. Wright & Gerth, Hans (1964) ‘Character & Social Structure: The Psychology of Social Institutions,’ p. 377-378, New York: Harcourt Brace.

[10] Mills, C. Wright (2000) [1956] ‘The Power Elite’, p. 304, Oxford University Press.

[11] Mills, C. Wright & Gerth, Hans (1964) ‘Character & Social Structure: The Psychology of Social Institutions,’ p. 440, New York: Harcourt Brace. On p.428, Mills and Gerth note that in these smaller circles there occurs a social selection and training of leaders for larger tasks. Yet such leaders tend to be self-appointed and their performance of their roles as decision-making leaders somewhat imaginary: they are preparing themselves, by pre-enactment, for the day when appropriate contexts may be available. Mills and Gerth also draw on Max Weber to argue that the prototype of modern voluntary associations is the Protestant sect, which is “a union of specifically qualified people” rather than an established and/or compulsory institution. They add that such associations, when secularized and diffused in various strata, form a pluralist field of units within and between which the individual, for his own self-esteem, must “put himself over.” In the process of doing so, he is naturally stamped by the values and models carried by the associations.  In such free associations the individual can obtain his anchorage and make his stand against “majority domination.”

[12] Mills, C. Wright & Gerth, Hans (1964) ‘Character & Social Structure: The Psychology of Social Institutions,’ p. 26, New York: Harcourt Brace.

[13] Mills, C. Wright & Gerth, Hans (1964) ‘Character & Social Structure: The Psychology of Social Institutions,’ p. 30, New York: Harcourt Brace.

[14] Mills, C. Wright & Gerth, Hans (1964) ‘Character & Social Structure: The Psychology of Social Institutions,’ p. 79-80, New York: Harcourt Brace.

[15] Mills, C. Wright & Gerth, Hans (1964) ‘Character & Social Structure: The Psychology of Social Institutions,’ p. 279-280, New York: Harcourt Brace.

[16] Mills, C. Wright & Gerth, Hans (1964) ‘Character & Social Structure: The Psychology of Social Institutions,’ p. 370, New York: Harcourt Brace.

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