Visions for Public Sociology

Public Sociology at George Mason

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Why Public Sociology?

In his 2004 Presidential Address to the ASA, Michael Burawoy acknowledged a growing gap between the ethos of sociology as a discipline and the world it studies. In his words, “The aspiration for public sociology is stronger and its realization ever more difficult, as sociology has moved left and the world has moved right” (Burawoy 2005).

In reaction to this disparity, Burawoy asserted that sociology would need to find ways to engage with multiple publics, and in multiple ways. He continued that public sociology should be incorporated into the framework of sociology as a discipline, which would assist in making it a legitimate and visible enterprise. This, he declared, would “invigorate the discipline as a whole” (Burawoy 2005).

Consistent with other public sociologists, Burawoy views sociology not only as a science, but also “as a moral and political force… that reminds so many of why they became sociologists…” (Burawoy 2005).

This paper can be found at the link below:

http://burawoy.berkeley.edu/PS/ASA%20Presidential%20Address.pdf

Burawoy’s address and call for a “public” sociology has gained much attention within the academy and elsewhere. As Sharon Hays notes, naming ourselves as “public sociologists” would motivate us to become more “explicit and reflexive about what we’re already doing” as sociologists. Resulting, we would become better teachers, as well as better students, of society. In essence, Hays declares that a good public sociologist is one who espouses  “active listening and dialogue, a sense of mutual obligation and accountability, the ability to engage in critical analysis, and an inspired commitment to (relevant, accessible, socially significant) knowledge” (Hays 2007).

To C. Wright Mills, “No one is ‘outside society’; the question is where each stands within it” (1959:184).  If this is true, which most would undoubtedly agree it is, public sociologists find themselves working with and for their fellow members of society.

Burawoy, Michael. 2005. “2004 Presidential Address: For Public Sociology.” American Sociological Review 70.

Hays, Sharon. 2007. “Stalled at the Alter?: Conflict , Hierarchy, and Compartmentalization in Burawoy’s Public Sociology.” Pp. 79-90 in Public Sociology: Fifteen Eminent Sociologists Debate Politics and the Profession in the Twenty-first Century, edited by Clawson, Zussman, Misra, Gerstel, Stokes, Anderson, and Burawoy. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Mills, C. Wright. 1959. The Sociological Imagination. New York: Oxford University Press.

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Public Sociology is not without its critics, and some find doubt its merit. Just as with most areas of thought and research, some are not convinced of its usefulness and effectiveness as a valid component of traditional sociology.

Below you will find links and references to some of the dialogue surrounding public sociology today, including criticisms, as well as responses to them.

Randy Stoecker, Department of Rural Sociology, University of Wisconsin

Rethinking Public Sociology”: http://comm-org.wisc.edu/drafts/pubsoc.htm

Collins, Patricia Hill. 2007. “Going Public: Doing the Sociology That Had No Name.” Pp.101-113 in Public Sociology: Fifteen Eminent Sociologists Debate Politics and the Profession in the Twenty-first Century, edited by Clawson, Zussman, Misra, Gerstel, Stokes, Anderson, and Burawoy. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Hays, Sharon. 2007. “Stalled at the Alter?: Conflict , Hierarchy, and Compartmentalization in Burawoy’s Public Sociology.” Pp. 79-90 in Public Sociology: Fifteen Eminent Sociologists Debate Politics and the Profession in the Twenty-first Century, edited by Clawson, Zussman, Misra, Gerstel, Stokes, Anderson, and Burawoy. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Wallerstein, Immanuel. 2007. “The Sociologist and the Public Sphere.” Pp. 169-175 in Public Sociology: Fifteen Eminent Sociologists Debate Politics and the Profession in the Twenty-first Century, edited by Clawson, Zussman, Misra, Gerstel, Stokes, Anderson, and Burawoy. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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