Public sociology

Public sociology

Public sociology is an approach to the discipline which seeks to transcend the academy and engage wider audiences. Rather than being defined by a particular method, theory, or set of political values, public sociology may be seen as a "style" of sociology, a way of writing and a form of intellectual engagement. Michael Burawoy has contrasted it with "professional sociology", a form of academic sociology that is concerned primarily with addressing other professional sociologists.

Burawoy and other promoters of public sociology have sought to encourage the discipline to engage in explicitly public and political ways with issues stimulated by debates over public policy, political activism, the purposes of social movements, and the institutions of civil society. If there has been a "movement" associated with public sociology, then, it is one that has sought to revitalize the discipline of sociology by leveraging its empirical methods and theoretical insights to engage in debates not just about what is or what has been in society, but about what society might yet be. Thus, many versions of public sociology have had an undeniably normative and political character.

The history of public sociology

Debates over public sociology have rekindled questions concerning the extra-academic "purpose" of sociology. Public sociology raises questions about what sociology is and what its goals ought to (or even could) be. Such debates - over science and political advocacy, scholarship and public commitment - have a long history in American sociology and in American social science more generally. Historian Mark C. Smith, for instance, has investigated earlier debates over the purpose of social science in his book, "Social Science in the Crucible: The American Debate over Objectivity and Purpose,1918-1941" (Duke University Press, 1994). And Stephen Park Turner and Jonathan H. Turner showed how the discipline's search for a purpose, through dependence on external publics, has limited Sociology's potential in their book, "The Impossible Science: An Institutional Analysis of American Sociology" (Sage, 1990).

The term "public sociology" was first introduced by Herbert Gans, in a 1988 address entitled "Sociology in America: The Discipline and the Public." For Gans, primary examples of public sociologists included David Riesman, author of "The Lonely Crowd", one of the best-selling books of sociology ever to be written, and Robert Bellah, the lead author of another best-selling work, "Habits of the Heart". In 2000, sociologist Ben Agger wrote a book entitled "Public Sociology: From Social Facts to Literary Acts" which called for a sociology that addressed major public issues. Since Michael Burawoy's 2004 Presidency of the American Sociological Association on a public sociology platform the phrase has received a great deal of attention and debate.

Public sociology today

While there is no one definition of "public sociology" on which all sociologists agree, the term has come to be widely associated with Burawoy's promotion of it. Burawoy's personal statement for the ASA elections provides a succinct summary of his position: "As mirror and conscience of society, sociology must define, promote and inform public debate about deepening class and racial inequalities, new gender regimes, environmental degradation, market fundamentalism, state and non-state violence. I believe that the world needs public sociology - a sociology that transcends the academy - more than ever. Our potential publics are multiple, ranging from media audiences to policy makers, from silenced minorities to social movements. They are local, global, and national. As public sociology stimulates debate in all these contexts, it inspires and revitalizes our discipline. In return, theory and research give legitimacy, direction, and substance to public sociology. Teaching is equally central to public sociology: students are our first public for they carry sociology into all walks of life. Finally, the critical imagination, exposing the gap between what is and what could be, infuses values into public sociology to remind us that the world could be different."

Elsewhere, Burawoy has articulated a vision of public sociology that is consonant with the pursuit of democratic socialism. In "Critical Sociology", Burawoy writes: "We might say that critical engagement with real utopias is today an integral part of the project of sociological socialism. It is a vision of socialism that places human society, or social humanity at its organizing center, a vision that was central to Marx but that was too often lost before it was again picked up by Gramsci and Polanyi (Burawoy, 2003b). If public sociology is to have a progressive impact it will have to hold itself continuously accountable to some such vision of democratic socialism." [] .

In a slightly different vein, Burawoy and Jonathan VanAntwerpen of the University of California, Berkeley write that their departmental focus on public sociology aims to "turn, as C. Wright Mills would say, private concerns into public issues" . The public sociology produced at Berkeley is an attempt to intervene in ongoing public debates over issues such as class and gender disparities and global inequality. Some of this work consists of attempts to refute high profile public scholarship in other fields (such as Herrnstein and Murray's "The Bell Curve") and reclaim from non-sociologists the debate and explanation of sociological problems.

Likewise, the sociology department at the University of Minnesota also advocates claiming a larger role in public life: "Although good sociological research is often difficult to reduce to a sound-bite, sociologists have an important part to play in providing useful, accurate, and scientifically rigorous information to policy makers and community leaders" Fact|date=May 2007.

Indeed, sociologists have not been alone in debating the "public role" of social science. Similar debates have occurred recently in the disciplines of economics, political science, anthropology, geography and history, and various subdisciplines including political ecology. In an effort to move these various disciplines "toward a more public social science," Craig Calhoun, the President of the Social Science Research Council, has encouraged sociologists and other social scientists to "ask better social science questions about what encourages scientific innovation, what makes knowledge useful, and how to pursue both these agendas, with attention to both immediate needs and longterm capacities [] . Calhoun has also entered the debate about public sociology, critically evaluating the project of public sociology while acknowledging its specific "promise," and arguing that "how sociology matters in the public sphere is vital to the future of the field" Fact|date=May 2007.

In the 2004 American Sociological Association Presidential Address for public sociology Burawoy stipulates that the original passions such as, social justice, economic equality, human rights, political freedom or simply a better world to live in; that drives so many of us toward the discipline of sociology, is actually channelled into the pursuit of academic credentials. Also in this work, Burawoy maps out why he feels the appeal of public sociology is so important at this time. He feels that over the last half of the century the political stance of Sociology has drifted inone critical direction whilst the world it studies has moved in the opposite direction. Burawoy proposes that the radicalism of the 1960's diffused itself through the profession and consequently in however dilute form resulted in the increased presence and participation of racial minorities and women. This marked a significant drift in the 1960's that is felt to be echoed in the content of sociology at that time. Thus through this Burawoy marks some examples of this shift in the nature of the way sociology was being approached.

There are many examples of this shift for Burawoy, the study of the sociology of work had turned from processes of adaptation to the study of domination and labour movements. Also in a more general sense the concepts of stratification theory had shifted from the study of mobility within a hierarchy of occupational prestige to the examination of changing structures of social and economic inequality-class, race and gender. Race theory moved from theories of assimilation to the political economy to the study of racial formations. Social theory had allowed, and introduced more radical interpretations of main figurehead writers such as Weber and Durkheim, and also the incorporation of Marx's theory had become a feature; from this standpoint it was also felt that feminism had a both substantial and dramatic impact in certain fields of the subject.

This interpretation of the changes in ideology where sociology is concerned is said to be pulling in the opposite direction in terms of the world changing according to Burawoy. Whilst sociologists reiterate their jargon concerning the ever deepening crisis of inequality and domination; we as the public are flooded with the influx of rhetoric promoting equality and freedom. Burawoy highlights the concerns of a significant drift between the agenda of sociology and the progression of society itself when he acknowledges that over the last 25 years there may well have been gains in economic security and civil rights. However these gains have been heavily counter-acted and reversed by huge market expansion. From this perspective it is felt that the combination of market and state has served to be wielded as a mechanism working against humanity in the shape of what we should term neoliberalism.

There is the criticism that sociologists have become much more sensitive in their approach and focused negatively sometimes, although however, much of the evidence collected does suggest a certain amount of regression in several arenas. Much of these ideas are to be held together by the fabric and fundamental ethos that is hostile towards the idea of 'society'. This idea has antisociological implications in its self. A picture of public sociology versus privatisation begins to emerge through this discourse. Is the market the only solution? Burawoy's fundamental drive is fuelled by his desire to see the concept of public reignited in some way, and not allowed to be another casualty in the storm that has become progression. So for Burawoy the political era of the 1960's saw a shift in direction for the subject of sociology that was to conflict that of the changing nature of the world. Globalization and Privatisation seemed to play a key role in sociology losing its public voice. Burawoy wanted young academics taking on sociology as an interest, or in the shape of academia to use it in their everyday lives; thus fulfilling a certain criteria of pushing sociology's boundaries into the public realm. Burawoy has resonance of talking about public sociology that could be used a revolutionary force for understanding social change.

References.Burawoy, M. 2004 American Sociological Association Presidential address: For public sociology. 2005 Volume 56, Issue 2.


Not all those who practice sociology either as public intellectuals or as academic professionals subscribe to the specific version of "public sociology" defended by Michael Burawoy or to any version of "public sociology" at all. And in the wake of Burawoy's 2004 Presidency of the American Sociological Association, which put the theme of public sociology in the limelight, the project of public sociology has been vigorously debated on the web, in conversations among sociologists, and in a variety of academic journals.

Specifically, Burawoy's vision of public sociology has been critiqued both by "critical" sociologists and by representatives of mainstream sociology. These various discussions of public sociology have been included in forums devoted to the subject in academic journals such as "Social Problems", "Social Forces", "Critical Sociology", and the "British Journal of Sociology" [] . These debates have produced both more interest in public sociology and more disagreement over what public sociology is and what its goals ought to be.

One of the most outspoken critics of public sociology was sociologist Mathieu Deflem of the University of South Carolina. Deflem argued that public sociology “is neither public nor sociology. Public sociology is not a plea to make sociology more relevant to the many publics in society nor to connect sociology democratically to political activity. Of course sociologists should be public intellectuals. But they should be and can only be public intellectuals as practitioners of the science they practice, not as activists left or right. Yet public sociology instead is a quest to subsume sociology under politics, a politics of a specific kind, not in order to foster sociological activism but to narrow down the sociological discipline to activist sociology.” (Deflem, [ Letter to the Editor, The Chronicle Review, 2004] ). In opposition to the advent of public sociology, Deflem also privately maintained [] .

The future of public sociology

Following the 2004 annual meeting of the American Sociological Association at which public sociology was introduced and subsequently discussed, there has continued to be interest in the topic. In the last couple of years, three books have appeared in public sociology: The Public Sociologies Reader, edited by Judith Blau and Keri Iyall Smith; , edited by Larry Nichols; and , edited by Dan Clawson, et al. The ASA meeting in New York City in 2007 likewise contained many facets of public sociology.

Academic departments

* [ Website of the ASA Task Force on Institutionalizing Public Sociologies]
* [ Public Sociology at Berkeley]

ee also


*cite book |last=Agger |first=Ben |title=Public Sociology: From Social Facts to Literary Acts |year=2007 |edition= 2nd edition |publisher= Rowman & Littlefield Publishers |location=Lanham, MD |isbn= 9780742541054 |oclc=76940021
*Robert Bellah, Richard Madsen, William Sullivan, Ann Swidler and Steven Tipton. 1985. "Habits of the Heart". Berkeley: University of California Presscite book|title=|isbn=0520053885|oclc=11030006
* C. Wright Mills. 1959 (2000). "The Sociological Imagination". Oxford University Press.cite book|title=|isbn=0195133730|oclc=41476714
*Sociologists Without Borders, international organization

External links

* [ American Sociological Association's Task Force on Institutionalizing Public Sociologies]
* [ - Website to promote sociology as an academic discipline] .
* [ Public sociology papers by Michael Burawoy]
* [ Related papers by Mathieu Deflem]
* [ *Using* Sociological Theories of Social Movements]
* []

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