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Michael Burawoy

Public Sociology











Books | Papers | Symposia| Critiques|Videos



My idea of public sociology was inspired by the research and engagement of colleagues at Berkeley, and then beyond Berkeley by sociologists ranging from outlaws such as Robert Lynd, C. Wright Mills and Alvin Gouldner to Presidents of the American Sociological Association such as Herb Gans, William Wilson, and Patricia Hill Collins.  Other national sociologies -- from South Africa to Hungary to Russia – expanded my horizons of what is possible, but also of what is dangerous.  I’m no less indebted to a long and venerable lineage in the theory and practice of public engagement, ranging from Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Dewey, Du Bois, and Gramsci to more contemporary thinkers such as Bourdieu, Touraine, Habermas, Beauvoir, Freire, Hooks and Fanon. There is nothing new about public sociology, what is new is the threatening context in which we now live.        


Public Sociology endeavors to bring sociology into dialogue with audiences beyond the academy, an open dialogue in which both sides deepen their understanding of public issues. But what is its relation to the rest of sociology? It is the opposite of Professional Sociology – a scientific sociology created by and for sociologists – inspired by public sociology but, equally, without which public sociology would not exist. The relation between professional and public sociology is, thus, one of antagonistic interdependence.

Public sociology, as a conversation between sociology and publics, should be distinguished from Policy Sociology -- the application of professional sociology to the interests and problems of clients (organizations, agencies, corporations). Public sociology is the conscience of policy sociology, exposing the means-end rationality upon which it rests, just as Critical Sociology interrogates the assumptions – methodological, philosophical, and theoretical -- of the research programs of professional sociology. Critical sociology, as the guardian of the diverse values underpinning the sociological enterprise, imbues professional, policy and public sociologies with moral purpose.

This four-fold division of sociological knowledge is but an analytical scheme. Its concrete expressions vary sharply by country, and by location in the hierarchical system of global knowledge production. Its purpose is to underline the necessary coexistence and mutual stimulation of all four types of knowledge. This notion of a division of sociological labor, together with its ramifications, has generated controversy wherever it has traveled, within and across national frontiers, within and beyond sociology, mapping the contending interests of a dynamic field. 


At this website you can find videos of the plenary sessions and public addresses at the 2004 meetings of the American Sociological Association, devoted to public sociologies. They include the speech, "For Public Sociology," [video|print] which is available in multiple languages. 

The website also makes accessible some 20 symposia where you can find intellectual and political assaults of my critics from every quarter of the sociological field, and from different corners of the planet. You can also find my published papers elaborating and defending my view of public sociology as well as the critical application of public sociology by others. Finally, there are now several books devoted to the debate in different languages.

These "public sociology wars" paint a picture of a vibrant hierarchical field of struggle varying by country and historical period, giving rise to a complex set of transnational transactions that are developing their own global coherence. In foregrounding its public engagement, sociology, thereby, rediscovers its originating and often repressed inspiration -- whether this be found in individual biography, in national history, or in classical figures -- all the better to meet the challenges of new and old patterns of inequality and domination.