Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Public Sociology

Public Sociology: Fifteen Eminent Sociologists Debate Politics and the Profession in the Twenty-first Century

Dan Clawson
Robert Zussman
Joya Misra
Naomi Gerstel
Randall Stokes
Douglas L. Anderton
Michael Burawoy
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 286
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Public Sociology
    Book Description:

    In 2004, Michael Burawoy, speaking as president of the American Sociological Association, generated far-reaching controversy when he issued an ambitious and impassioned call for a "public sociology." Burawoy argued that sociology should speak beyond the university, engaging with social movements and deepening an understanding of the historical and social context in which they exist. In this volume, renowned sociologists come together to debate the perils and the potentials of Burawoy's challenge. Contributors: Andrew Abbott, Michael Burawoy, Patricia Hill Collins, Barbara Ehrenreich, Evelyn Nakano Glenn, Sharon Hays, Douglas Massey, Joya Misra, Orlando Patterson, Frances Fox Piven, Lynn Smith-Lovin, Judith Stacey, Arthur Stinchcombe, Alain Touraine, Immanuel Wallerstein, William Julius Wilson, Robert Zussman

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94075-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)

    • Introduction
      (pp. 3-22)

      The 2004 meeting of the American Sociological Association was among the most successful in the organization’s hundred-year history. Overflow crowds packed the ballrooms of the San Francisco Hilton to hear a glittering array of speakers, including economist Paul Krugman, Indian novelist Arundhati Roy, and former president of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso (himself a sociologist). The centerpiece of the meetings, however, was Michael Burawoy’s presidential address. In that address, published in theAmerican Sociological Reviewand reprinted in this volume, Burawoy issued an impassioned call for a revitalization of sociology in a turn to a “public sociology,” distinguished by its use...

    • For Public Sociology
      (pp. 23-64)

      Walter Benjamin wrote his famous ninth thesis on the philosophy of history as the Nazi army approached his beloved Paris, hallowed sanctuary of civilization’s promise. He portrayed this promise in the tragic figure of the angel of history, battling in vain against civilization’s long march through destruction. To Benjamin, in 1940, the future had never looked bleaker with capitalism-become-fascism in a joint pact with socialism-become-Stalinism to overrun the world. Today, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, although communism has dissolved and fascism is a haunting memory, the debris continues to grow skyward. Unfettered capitalism fuels market tyrannies and untold...


    • Public Sociology and the End of Society
      (pp. 67-78)

      Burawoy’s discourse starts with the sudden feeling of our double failure: the time has come to overcome the meaningless contradiction between professional sociology and critical sociology, both of which are equally irrelevant to fulfilling our expectations. The first, which reached its most elaborate form in Talcott Parsons’s system building, declined rapidly during the 1970s, when the Vietnam War and the campaigns for the civil rights of black Americans (renamed African Americans) led to a sharp rejection of the idea of social system, an idea that appeared to conceal processes of domination, conquest, or repression that were penetrating more and more...

    • Stalled at the Altar? Conflict, Hierarchy, and Compartmentalization in Burawoy’s Public Sociology
      (pp. 79-90)

      Like the idealistic graduate students in Burawoy’s rendering, I remember well my disappointment upon learning that sociology was not what I had dreamed of while filling out all those graduate school applications—it was not a vibrant and inclusive community of public intellectuals dedicated to social change. I mark that memory with my first American Sociological Association meeting in 1991 in Cincinnati. The U.S. Department of Agriculture was holding a convention in the same hotel, and it broke my heart to discover that I couldn’t tell the difference between the two. Through my eyes, the sociologists and the government bureaucrats...

    • If I Were the Goddess of Sociological Things
      (pp. 91-100)

      Whether measured in attendance or published commentary, no annual meeting theme in the memory of the American Sociological Association (ASA) has struck a chord as resonant and popular with practitioners of the discipline as has “public sociologies” in 2004. A sociologist these days who is not, like Burawoy, “for public sociology” could qualify for endangered species status. Such a creature actually represents an unimaginable species, of course, because sociology is inescapably public. Private sociology, its implied antonym, is an oxymoron. All sociology, whether written or spoken, necessarily addresses a public. The meaningful questions at issue concern which publics sociologists should...

    • Going Public: Doing the Sociology That Had No Name
      (pp. 101-114)

      For years, I have been doing a kind of sociology that had no name. With hindsight, the path that I have been on seems clear and consistent. In the early 1970s, as a teacher and community organizer within the community schools movement, I did some of my best sociology, all without publishing one word. For six years, I honed the craft of translating the powerful ideas of my college education so that I might share them with my elementary school students, their families, my fellow teachers, and community members. My sociological career also illustrates how the tensions of moving through...


    • Speaking to Publics
      (pp. 117-123)

      In his thought-provoking essay, Michael Burawoy stated: “Public sociology brings sociology into a conversation with publics, understood as people who are themselves involved in conversation” (this volume, 28). Public sociology’s input into this conversation is based not only on empirical research findings but also on insights gained from the development of conceptual frameworks and the elaboration of theoretical perspectives. As Carol Weiss (1993) of Harvard University points out, although high-quality data are useful and establish credibility, of equal importance is the sociological perspective on processes, entities, and events. Participants in the public and policy arenas can benefit from an understanding...

    • Do We Need a Public Sociology? It Depends on What You Mean by Sociology
      (pp. 124-134)

      Social psychology is an interdisciplinary, theoretically driven field. As it has developed within sociology, it probably comes closer to following a neopositivist, hypothetical-deductive “natural science” model than most other substantive domains within our discipline. It has both deductive and inductive methodological traditions, but it is very much basic science. Therefore, as a social psychologist, I might be expected to take a fairly traditional, conservative position on the fourfold division of sociological labor that Burawoy (this volume, 34) proposes—professional, critical, policy, and public sociology. I have a clear taste for instrumental rather than reflexive knowledge; that’s the type of knowledge...

    • Speaking Truth to the Public, and Indirectly to Power
      (pp. 135-144)

      In hisSpeaking Truth to Power(1979), Aaron Wildavsky mainly emphasizes speaking so that one might be heard in policy circles. But the subtitle (The Art and Craft of Policy Analysis) suggests that the truth of a policy (or other public) analysis is central to its function. Thus a true answer to “How can we get out of Iraq and Afghanistan?” is still the one Amitai Etzioni once gave on Vietnam: “Get on boats.” But speaking that way does not get heard in the circles of power, nor is it acceptable public discourse. My politics are closer to Michael Burawoy’s...

    • The Strength of Weak Politics
      (pp. 145-157)

      As a member of the Council of the American Sociological Association, I argued a few years ago that the American Sociological Association (ASA) shouldnottake official positions on political issues. I lost that battle, but I continue to believe that sociologists are more likely to advance the political causes they care about if they separate their collective dedication to social science from their individual commitments to political action. Sociologists should—indeed must—speak forcefully on important issues whenever they have something to say, but they should do so as individuals and not collectively as a profession. The only issue...

    • From Public Sociology to Politicized Sociologist
      (pp. 158-166)

      I define the termpublic sociologybroadly, as the uses of sociological knowledge to address public and, therefore, political problems. This simple and sweeping definition means, I think, that public sociologists treat public problems as the important part of our research agenda, and it also means that we communicate our findings to the political constituencies who are affected by those problems and can act on them in politics. I am in favor of these uses of sociology. However, I think some self-scrutiny is called for about the social and political influences to which we ourselves are subject when we act...


    • The Sociologist and the Public Sphere
      (pp. 169-175)

      The debate about the proper role of the sociologist or any other variety of scientist/scholar/intellectual in the public sphere is perpetual, repeatedly insistent, and totally unresolved. Political authorities are never happy if intellectuals offer them reasoned resistance and are seldom happy if intellectuals decline to support them in what they consider fundamental issues of value and policy. Intellectuals are never happy if they are pressed by public authorities or anyone else to espouse positions that are not theirs and are seldom happy if public authorities do not take cognizance of what intellectuals consider to be important findings or evaluations that...

    • About Public Sociology
      (pp. 176-194)

      Michael Burawoy’s account of public sociology exhibits some of the virtues, and many of the worst intellectual vices, of contemporary sociology. The piece is well informed, intellectually lively, and dashed with a few useful insights, such as the distinction between sociology and the career trajectories of sociologists (Thesis V) and the different styles of sociology around the world and the questionable international role of American sociology (Thesis IX). Contrary to his repeated misrepresentation of me as an “elitist” in his frequent talks around the country and the world on this subject—a fabrication that verges on the slanderous in light...

    • For Humanist Sociology
      (pp. 195-210)

      Michael Burawoy’s presidential address to the American Sociological Association takes us beyond the fulminations of the past, bringing open-mindedness and magnanimity to conversations long shrill and angry. One could quarrel about details. But Burawoy’s breadth and statesmanship call us away from minor things, directing us to his major conceptual argument: the crossing of a means/ends distinction with an inside/outside distinction to produce the fourfold classification of professional, policy, public, and critical sociology. This fourfold classification—extended by a dynamic interpretation of the four as mutually reconcilable and even mutually reinforcing enterprises—seems to me to be Burawoy’s major intellectual contribution....


    • Whose Public Sociology? The Subaltern Speaks, but Who Is Listening?
      (pp. 213-230)

      In his essay “For Public Sociology,” Michael Burawoy has created a vision of “big-tent” sociology—a sociology that has room for everyone and in which everyone’s contribution is indispensable to the success of the collective enterprise. He makes a detailed and convincing case for inclusivity and diversity as essential to the vitality of sociology. While he sees professional sociology as the bedrock, he argues that policy, critical, and public sociology inject vitality through their connection to “real life” and to alternative viewpoints and communities. The essay calls forth feelings of pride about our chosen field. It encourages us to see...

    • A Journalist’s Plea
      (pp. 231-238)

      I take it as a great honor to be included in this volume as a “public sociologist” and as a sign of the progress of public sociology that Icanbe included. Was it only five or ten years ago that the wordjournalistwas a term of invective among social scientists—used to rein in academics who strayed beyond their academic audiences? So the inclusion of an intellectual misfit like myself—someone whose formal education was entirely in the natural sciences, who works as both a journalist and an amateur social scientist—signals a new openness and generosity of...


    • The Field of Sociology: Its Power and Its Promise
      (pp. 241-258)

      Sociology in the United States has spanned three waves over the past 150 years. It was born as a utopian project during the nineteenth century; it was disciplined into a science during the course of the twentieth century; and now, in its third wave, it harnesses that science to its earlier moral concerns in order to give vitality to public sociology. This is the thesis of my rejoinder, which situates my critics in the field of sociology, navigating its successive waves.

      The three waves of sociology reflect and refract broad societal responses to three waves of market expansion. The first...

  10. Editors and Contributors
    (pp. 259-262)
  11. Index
    (pp. 263-276)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 277-277)