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Session Overview
RS17_01a_H: 100 Years Charles Wright Mills: Sociological Imagination Today - Theoretical Questions / Commitment
Wednesday, 30/Aug/2017:
2:00pm - 3:30pm

Session Chair: Konstantin Mihajlo Minoski, St.Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje, Faculty of Philosophy - Skopje
Location: HA.4.11
HAROKOPIO University 70 El. Venizelou Street 17671 Athens, Greece Building: A, Level: 4.

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Mills : a sociologist with commitment and capacities of indignation

Roland Pfefferkorn

Strasbourg University, France

Mills's book The Power Elite has triggered many comments from liberals or conservatives mainly to discredit the author - “this solitary horseman, who is in part a prophet, in part a teacher, in part a rough-tongued brawler” – but also the research – “original research with sour grapes”. The work has been described as journalistic and ideological. The author was considered as a moralist at a time when leading American sociology was celebrating axiological neutrality in social sciences. The work was also criticized by Marxists because it did not start with a class-struggle perspective.

In my contribution I want first give a short overview of the academic reception, mostly very negative, of Mills’s book who became sixty years later a classic in sociology. I will also go back over his comment on Criticism and insist on his interest in sociology of knowledge. Mills maintained a capacity for indignation, tried to build concepts and skills to expose and respond to social injustice and finally did not forget that the sociologist also is “a creature of value in a word of evaluations”.

Key words : elite of power ; power institutions ; sociological knowledge ; values ; social injustice

People’s courses of action, a truly Millsian concept if used in its plural form

Daniel Bertaux

Université de Strasbourg et CNRS, France

Wright Mills’ recommendation to sociologists - to focus on the very point where history, social structure and biography meet and mix together - sounds as relevant to-day as when he formulated it. As for the inclusion of “biography” in the trilogy, we believe it stands for what philosophers used to refer to as “Man”, a shorthand reminder that social research cannot be equated to natural sciences.

A thorough examination of the idea of course of action – the time-ordered series of actions of some individual (or resp. collective) actor trying to reach a given goal - has convinced us not only of the Millsian nature of this idea, but also of the urgent necessity for sociology to transform this idea into a fully developed sociological concept. The expression course of action is part of English language (“the actions to be taken”, Webster), but is apparently seldom used; and equivalent expressions do not even exist in French or German. By referring to action through time (“action dans la durée”), thus to action pursued and pushed through the maze of social-structural constraints and opportunities to realize a given project, it combines the three components of Mills’s core recommendation. But it also opens a door to discovering a whole universe of unsuspected properties of courses of action, including some that actually reshape and transform social “structures”, thus contributing to make human history. Three of such major properties will be mentioned. The whole view lead to a remarkable conclusion: constructivism should not be located, as one would believe, somewhere between structuralism and actionnalism, but beyond actionnalism, and pointing to a yet unexplored fourth perspective.

Social movement strategy and the politics of the possible

Luke Yates

University of Manchester, United Kingdom

This paper aims to map out a research agenda on the politics of the possible: the processes by which contentious action shapes, is shaped by, and concerns, visions of the future. It reviews relevant extant research on the ideational and imaginative work of social movements. It argues that the politics of the possible depends on a broader context of competing visions of the future. This means the cognitive dimension of social movements is located in broader societal modes of futurology – professionalised, highly technical, and orientated mainly around risk; and the particular conditions of (thinking about future in) societies of very high personal debt, precarious work and housing, and near-unanimity about impending environmental apocalypse and economic stagnation. The paper hypothesises some ways in which these conditions and processes relate to movement activity, thinking about movements of different sorts and their relationships with other entities (businesses, governments, cultural producers) that depict alternative societies. The paper finally raises some questions around the future-oriented question of strategy, considering how to consciously plan and struggle in an era of foreclosed future, how to negotiate the lack of consensus over political goals on the Left, and how to act together or coordinate in movements lacking formal organisation.

The Critical Theory of the (Power) Elite? Mills’ Conception of Power and Theory of Recognition.

Ondřej Lánský

The Institute of Philosophy of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Czech Republic

In my contribution, I would like to elaborate on critical theory of power based on the critical comparison of Charles Wright Mills’ concept of power and Axel Honneth’s theory of recognition. I will emphasize Mills’ book The Power Elite as a part of a broader project: an attempt to understand the modern (American) society or the advanced-industrial society in its totality. It is important to read The Power Elite in the context of two preceding works by Mills: The Puerto Rican Journey (1950) and The White Collar (1951). Mills proceeds systematically. The first book is an analysis of the situation of the poor as well as of the most disadvantaged: immigrants and their families. In the second book Mills studies the middle class. Finally, he analyzes what he calls the power elite. Consequently, we may regard the question of power as the significant topic. In this context, I would like to reconstruct the concept of power (political, social and economic) and power relations. That will allow me to interpret Mills’ works as a part of, or as a form of, Critical Theory. In that framework, I will consider Axel Honneth’s theory of recognition, one of the main contemporary concepts within the frame of Critical Theory. The main goal of my contribution is therefore to analyze Mills’ concept of power and its implications for Honneth’s theory of recognition, which I would thereby like to show as deficient regarding the issue of power. That is why, I believe, it needs to be informed by theory of social relations based on a profound conception of power. Mills’ theory and empirical work would prove beneficial for contemporary critical-theoretical thought.

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