As previously mentioned, I enrolled in the postgraduate Sociology program at my University because I felt as if it was a necessary route to take in becoming a Counsellor. After all, I had completed some Counselling courses, so now I wanted to be informed about current sociological issues, and be armed with the resources to help address them. I remember submitting that desire in my personal statement during the application process, and when I was accepted, I immediately felt as if my expectation was about to be met, within a few months.
It wasn’t until I began my course that I noticed that my reality was far from my expectation. Though I was enrolled in the MA Sociology FT course, the course being taught had the name Public Sociology. This began the interesting journey into the often-debated world of Public Sociology, and the often-mentioned name of Michael Burawoy, a stalwart of the subject. My first task was to defend the importance of Public Sociology, and as such I will share the first of many articles that I submitted as partial fulfilment of my Masters in Public Sociology. Hopefully, you will see my growth as an individual, in the area of research writing, and as an autoethnographer. Apparently, I was studying to become a Public Sociologist, and not being equipped to become a Counsellor. Or was I? We shall see as The Sociologist’s Journey continues...
Why Public Sociology?
Public sociology continues to be a topic of interest as it ‘evokes different responses in different scholarly settings’ (Zdravomyslova 2008). Since its inception and well known defense by Burawoy in 2004, it has been considered to have ‘struck a nerve and initiated a spirited debate’ (Nichols 2017) among many who fall within the social sciences bracket. The most commonly used definition as coined by Burawoy himself, is that public sociology is a dialogue between sociologists and the public regarding sociological knowledge and understandings (Burawoy 2005). This idea of public sociology has come under severe scrutiny and has even faced criticism (Holmwood 2007) and rejection (Zdravomyslova 2008). There are even those who seem to agree with it, but not without their own specifications (Bell 2009; Kalleberg 2005).
However there are those that anticipate its positive impacts presently, and in the future to, ‘influence policy, shape public opinion, or reflect on the political problems of contemporary society’ (Hays 2007); ‘contribute to the betterment of society and the lives of its members’ (Brady 2004) and ‘establish a greater social visibility and relevance for the discipline of sociology’ (Boyns and Fletcher 2005). It seems then that its main goals serve a greater purpose of development and hope rather than of harm. As public sociology continues to evolve, ‘it might signal a new strategy for getting our foot in the door that has been closed to most sociologists’ (Turner 2005). Seeing that the discipline has now assumed center stage (Nichols 2017), it is in the best interests of those who have the authority, to influence its global reach and to defend what it stands for.
So, a simple answer to the question of why public sociology, is, ‘because it matters’ (Hays 2007). As the main contender in the fight for public sociology, Burawoy concludes that we must encourage the very best of public sociology whatever that may mean (Burawoy 2005).
Bell, W (2009) in Vincent Jeffries (ed). Public Sociology and the Future: The Possible, the Probable, and the Preferable. Handbook of Public Sociology. Rowman & Littlefield. 89-105
Boyns, D., & Fletcher, J. (2005). Reflections on Public Sociology: Public Relations, Disciplinary Identity, and the Strong Program in Professional Sociology. The American Sociologist, 36(3/4), 5-26. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/27700431
Brady, D. (2004). Why Public Sociology May Fail*. Social Forces, 82(4), 1629-1638.
Burawoy, M. (2005). For Public Sociology. American Sociological Review, 70(1), 4–28. https://doi.org/10.1177/000312240507000102
Hays, S. (2007). Stalled at the Altar?: Conflict, Hierarchy, and Compartmentalization in Burawoy’s Public Sociology. In Clawson D., Zussman R., Misra J., Gerstel N., Stokes R., Anderton D., et al. (Eds.), Public Sociology: Fifteen Eminent Sociologists Debate Politics and the Profession in the Twenty-first Century (pp. 79-90). Berkeley; Los Angeles; London: University of California Press. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnz65.7
Holmwood, J. (2007). Sociology as Public Discourse and Professional Practice: A Critique of Michael Burawoy. Sociological Theory, 25(1), 46-66. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20453066
Kalleberg, R. (2005) What is ‘public sociology’? Why and how should it be made stronger? The British Journal of Sociology, 56(3), 387-393
Nichols, L.T (2017). Public Sociology: The Contemporary Debate https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=4mVQDwAAQBAJ Taylor & Francis.
Turner, J. (2005). “Is Public Sociology such a Good Idea?”. The American Sociologist, 36(3/4), 27-45.
Zdravomyslova, E. (2008). ‘Make Way for Professional Sociology!’: Public Sociology in the Russian Context. Current Sociology, 56(3), 405-414.