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Additional info for Radical Ambition: C. Wright Mills, the Left, and American Social Thought
Moreover, in failing to go beyond the general statement that ideas reflected social reality, pragmatists were unable to provide guidelines for explaining how the thought of particular individuals arose in specific social structures. For Mills, such models needed to be culturally and historically grounded. He argued that the root of Dewey’s problem was his attempt to generalize methods of inquiry drawn from the natural sciences and apply them to the social sciences. In particular, Mills objected to Dewey’s use of biological terms such as adaptation to account for social behavior.
Applying this principle to social science, Mills contended that sociological inquiry could become more productive through consciousness of its methods of inquiry. ”23 In his Texas years, Mills aimed to improve the practice of social science through philosophical reflection on its methods. From the pragmatists, Mills also gained a deeply contextualist and historicist sense of the role of ideas. His interest in the sociology of knowledge grew out of the pragmatist quest to contextualize ideas by relating them to the broader social world.
Sociology has always been the most general and the least defined of the social sciences, but the late 1930s was a period of particular disciplinary confusion. ”47 Though the Chicago School was hardly a hegemonic group in the profession, it was clearly the most recognizable, and the University of Chicago Department of Sociology housed both the American Sociological Society (ASS) and its journal, the American Journal of Sociology, until 1936. In the 1930s, an eclectic group of sociologists challenged the prominence of Chicago sociologists in the ASS.