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For much more on public sociology at GMU, please visit the website of our partner organization, the Public Sociology Association.


Public Sociology at George Mason

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Welcome to Public Sociology!

Sociology “is now entering upon its applied stage, which is the great practical object for which it exists.” –Lester Ward (1906), first president of the American Sociological Society

What is Public Sociology? (Good question!)

ASA President Michael Burawoy puts it, Public Sociology is “a sociology that seeks to bring sociology to publics beyond the academy, promoting dialogue about issues that affect the fate of society…” (2004: 104).

Burawoy compares public sociology to what he refers to as “professional” sociology. The latter, he explains, is a form of academic sociology that is concerned primarily with addressing other professional sociologists.

He provides a comprehensive view of public sociology that includes both “traditional” and “organic” public sociologies.  As framed by Burawoy, “traditional” public sociologists do not necessarily interact with their “publics.”  Writing op-ed pieces, making research reports available to broader groups of users, and documenting, questioning, and analyzing the social world are forms of this type of public sociology.   “Organic” public sociology includes the larger portion of public sociology where sociologists “work in close connection with a visible, thick, active, local and often counter-public” (Burawoy 2005: 7).  “Organic” public sociology typically involves more “hands-on” work with the public or publics.

Although Burawoy provides a useful description of public sociology, there are countless other conceptions and views of what public sociology is, what it should achieve, and how it should proceed. Because public sociology is relatively underdeveloped as a discipline (or sub-discipline), activists, scholars, public intellectuals, and other sociological thinkers have offered varying and sometimes competing notions of what public sociology is, should be, should accomplish, and how it should proceed.  Many of these are detailed in the Visions of Public Sociologies section.

This material is adapted from the ASA’s Task Force on Institutionalizing Public Sociologies’s report to the ASA Council (July 2005). For more information, please follow the link : http://pubsoc.wisc.edu/

Burawoy, Michael et al.  2004.  “Public Sociologies: A Symposium from Boston College.”  Vol. 51, no. 1. Social Problems, 103-130.

Burawoy, Michael.  2005.  “2004 Presidential Address: For Public Sociology.”  American Sociological Review. Vol. 70 (February), 4-28.

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