Michael Burawoy


Michael Burawoy has been a participant observer of industrial workplaces in four countries: Zambia, United States, Hungary and Russia. In his different projects he has tried to illuminate — from the standpoint of the working class — postcolonialism, the organization of consent to capitalism, the peculiar forms of class consciousness and work organization in state socialism, and, finally, the dilemmas of transition from socialism to capitalism. Over the course of four decades of research and teaching, he has developed the extended case method that allows broad conclusions to be drawn from ethnographic research. No longer able to work in factories, recently he turned to the study of his own workplace – the university – to consider the way sociology itself is produced and then disseminated to diverse publics. His advocacy of public sociology has generated much heat in many a cool place. Throughout his sociological career he has engaged with Marxism, seeking to reconstruct it in the light of his research and more broadly in the light of historical challenges of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.


Read Michael Burawoy’s “For Public Sociology” address, then interact on the Facebook group!

See below for full lecture and global discussion!

Burawoy & UC Berkeley

Discussion Summaries & Comments

Barcelona (February 6, 2012): 

This is our first contribution from the Barcelona Seminar. We met last Monday and after watching the video had a very animated discussion. These are some of the issues that aroused:

We identify many professional sociologists in our universities, and resistances to move from there. However, there is growing move of sociologists committed to social actors who are working to establish links between social science and society. There are scholars who have already been doing public sociology in this line, but we think that this is increasingly needed, especially after the “Spanish revolution” and the current economic crisis: we do social sciences research usually with public funds, and therefore we must be accountable to society, who is in fact paying us. That is why knowledge needs to be created from the dialogue between researchers and social agents. The former contribute the scientific knowledge and the later contribute their life experiences. The research results must be returned to the actors targeted, not just remain in the academia. The communicative methodology is renowned in Europe for doing this link.

We discussed about the extent to which we are dependent on the priorities of funding agencies, and not free to carry out studies from our own interests. Therefore there is a power interaction there from funding agencies (whether they are the state or private funding). However, some discussed that precisely today a study will not be funded, for instance, by the European Commission, if the research design does not include how the knowledge will be transferred to society and what is the potential impact. So, policy sociology is moving towards public sociology. There is a lot here to discuss, we think.

We also discussed the need to link public and professional sociology. Sociologists who work with social movements, associations, NGOs sometimes are seen as less scientific and more politicized. That is why we need to work close to civil society but with rigorous methodologies and with strong theoretical grounds, and to publish both in peer reviewed scientific journals and local community newsletters. May be traditional and organic should not be separated but merged? Some said that often distance from social actors is seen as objectivity, but it may be the opposite, because if we just analyze data from our knowledge we may skew the interpretation. Dialogue with civil society improves interpretation.

Finally, there was a lot of debate on ethics of the sociologist and whether doing public sociology, for “the public”, answering to civil society’s needs, is in fact more ethical.

Michael Burawoy (UC Berkeley): Ana, Spoken like a true CREALITE! Yes, dialogue is at the basis of the idea of public sociology, but of course as you all know only too well, dialogue based on mutuality is very difficult to accomplish and sustain — as it tends to veer in the direction of populuism or vanguardisdm. So we would like to know how you achieve that balance?! What is this comunicative methodology so renowned in Europe? We hope to hear about it on February 29th. Then there is the fascinating question, you raise, of the relation between policy and public sociology. I like to think that publioc sociology is the consciernce of policy sociology! But. indeed, pressure on policy science to be accountable to publics, turns it in the direction of public sociology. Perhaps each form of knowledge can itself be divided into four types! And you are talking of the public moment of policy sociology! Often, failed policy science becomes subject to public debate. And often the organic public sociologist is subject to pressure from their interlocutors to deliver something meaningful other than conversation, they are driven in the direction of policy science! So yes, there is a dynamic and complex relation between public and policy knowledge as there is between any types of knowledge, made all the more complex by divisions within each type of knowledge. Still, that only enriches the scheme I sketched out.

Berkeley (February 12, 2012):

Lecture 1: Michael Burawoy on Public Sociology


Public sociology is a field of sociology in which sociologists and “publics” engage in dialogue, generate information and learn from one another. According to Michael Burawoy, Public Sociology is but one of four different types of sociology that also include: Professional, Policy, and Critical Sociology. After his lecture, our class discussion focused on a range of issues such as the practice and rescue of public sociology in the United States, power relations between “publics” and sociologists and the relationship between the different forms of sociological knowledge.

Relevant Questions:

Is there a common goal for sociology?

Burawoy first commented that he can only provide his perspective on the goals of sociology. He believes the goal of sociology is to take the standpoint of civil society. He contrasts these goals to the goals of political science and economics, which take on the perspective of the state and the economy respectively.

What unites the four sociological knowledges that you described in your diagram?

Burawoy claims that these four knowledges are mutually dependent upon one another. Critical sociology calls into question the assumptions made by professional sociologists. Policy sociologists base their information on the information generated from professional sociologists. Public sociologists take professional knowledge and disseminate it to publics. Public sociology can also learn from the experiences of their publics and base their research off of their experience and therefore contribute to professional sociology

How do we rescue a space for public sociology in the United States?

This comment arose after Burawoy mentioned the public sociology was particularly weak in the United States. Burawoy suggests this space can be rescued by creating incentives for professional sociologists to support a vibrant public sociology and by raising awareness amongst professional sociologists that they have an interest in the maintenance of public sociology. He also states that in many areas in the Global South public sociology often dominates professional sociology. In some of these cases, publics even legitimize sociology in other countries.

In organic public sociology, how can we avoid dominating conversations with our publics?

While at first the class was suspicious that sociologists would dominate conversations with publics, Burawoy claimed that it is just as easy for publics to dominate discussion. He provides the public of trade unions in Europe who at times were more concerned with maintaining their own jobs than with creating an alternative society. He then went on to suggest that despite possible difficulties in maintaining even conversations, public sociologists should always have goal in mind.

Is debate enough to engage the publics? Is there a need for social action to create publics and make the invisible visible?

Sociologists can make the invisible visible by partaking in movements to provide understanding of why certain categories are important. Sociologists can also help provide the necessary frameworks to advance the goals of social movements.

Johannesburg (February 7, 2012):

Lecture 1: What is ‘public sociology’?- Prof. Michael Burawoy

Tuesday 7 February 2012, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

Discussion summary

One of the most common criticisms of ‘public sociology’ is that it undermines the conception of knowledge by portraying it as neutral, legitimate and expertise and as speaking truth to power. For this reason, positionality is crucial as it shapes people’s views and understanding of the world.

The connections between the four types of sociology may be less harmonious than has been portrayed. While all four types of sociology are important, tensions exist within each type and between all four types. Academic activists or public organic sociologists engaged with social movements also need the courage to stand back and criticise what is happening within those movements. Another tension is the extent to which policy sociology is purely sociological. In the case of the South African government, policy research is often biased and politically driven and the client, the state, can contradict the sociological goal which was defined in the seminar as ‘civil society’.

If at the centre the four types of sociology are held together by ‘civil society’ (rather than society in general), as was argued by Prof. Burawoy, then this privileges industrial sociologists more than, for example, a sociologist working on HIV/Aids. In the context of Wits, history, sociology and political economy are all sociological, so the question about ‘what makes it all sociological?’ is important.

To some extent, each type of sociology claims to be public sociology if public sociology is both traditional and organic as was illustrated on the diagram of the four types of sociology. Professional and policy sociology are often traditional, but could be considered public, unless public sociology is purely organic.

One of the interesting points which Prof. Burawoy began with was the fact that the world is a mess due to the crises and waves of movements taking place in dozens of countries. However this point was not raised again, even though it has implications for all four of the types of sociology. In this time of global crisis, the decrease in funding is an issue for all four types.

Another point of interest was around the historical phases of each type of sociology, which would be useful to look at in different countries. For example, in the South African case, public sociology became more prominent in reaction to the historical dominance of other types of sociology during the apartheid era. Now it seems that even in South Africa, public sociology may be on the decline. Indeed it may not be correct to say that South Africa is dominated by public sociology at all, particularly if one looks at some of the Afrikaans and historically black universities in which policy and professional sociology is dominant and public sociology somewhat absent. Institutions such as Wits and elsewhere revere professional sociology and there seems to be hostility towards the notion of public sociology.

Tatenda Mukwedeya (University of Witwatersran): Michael in his lecture said sociology is concerned with civil society and we debated what he meant by civil society. Could Michael please clear that out and tell us how he defines civil society?

Michael Burawoy (UC Berkeley): Good question!
First, sociology takes the STANDPOINT of civil society, the set of institutions, organizations, movements that are rooted outside state and economy. So this means that sociology studies civil society or its potential existence, but also the state but from the standpoint of civil society. It means studying the state from the standpoint of its consequences for civil society, on the one hand, and studying the way civil society provides the conditions of (in)stability of the state on the other. That’s political sociology. The same applies to economic sociology, looking at the conditions of existence of markets in civil society and the consequences for civil society of markets.
Second, the boundaries between civil society and the state or market are often very blurred as we’ll see time and time again during the semester. But just because boundaries are blurred does not deny the usefulness of the concept.
Third, it would be a mistake to think that civil society is some wonderful harmonious order. Far from it. As we will see, for example, in Nandani Sundar’s presentation of india, civil society can contain many violent organizations, some bent on destroying civil society — organizations that may have a very close connection to the security apparatuses of the state.
Fourth, civil society does not formally exist in many places and my hypothesis would be that sociology would not exist either, e.g. Stalin’s USSR, Hitler’s Germany, Pinochet’s Chile. Although, even in these cases sociology might assume a diffuse underground character.
Fifth, we can think of civil society as relatively harmonious or conflictual, integrated or fragmented, strong or weak, firm or, as they say in SWOP, precarious.
The question is, of course, whether the very concept is tainted by its origins in the late 19th. century Europe, by its association with the writings of Hegel, de Tocqueville and Gramsci. My claim is that the concept of civil society – for all its problems — does have a universal character, forms the foundation stone of sociology, and also many progressive (as well as regressive) movements. But if we reject, rather than elaborate or reformulate the idea of civil society, then how should we define sociology?

Michael Burawoy (UC Berkeley): Katherine, You raise lots of interesting issues. You are absolutely right, the four knowledge are not in a harmonious relation, but one of antagonistic interdependence. Sometimes the antagonism turns into unilateral coercion by the state, as when critics of apartheid David Webster or Rick Turner or Ruth First are assassinated. At other times one knowledge turns from interdependence to independence as when policy sciernce is captured by the state. Second, it is true that a given piece of sociology can serve as both professional and public sociology. Think of Jackie Cock’s MAIDS AND MADAMS. Or public sociology can subsequently also become professional sociology — Simone de Beauvoir’s THE SECOND SEX. Just as sociologists have their trajectory through the quadrants so can a works of sociology. Third, the balance of the 4 sociologies changes over time. As you say in SA today public sociology may be in retreat, because (a) civil society has been demobilzed and/or (b) the university is being forced into a neoliberal vice that accentuates instrumental knowledge.

Kyiv (February 13, 2012):

That is our first contribution from Ukraine, National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy:

Actually the most actual topic on agenda regarding the common discourse present in Ukrainian society is the chances that Ukrainian public sociology is about to face. What are the real chances for its development?

After Listening just one question arose the answer to which it is interesting to hear, and it sounds like is it really possible to create public sociology, especially if talking about non-democratic countries like the former USSR? Moreover, if it is institutionalized where’s the guarantee that there’s no cheating while research conducting and data interpreting? In my opinion, even in the most liberal and democratic regions these processes are biased to some extent. Hereby I don’t mean the statistical errors which occur but the general tendency of making conclusions and transmitting the obtained knowledge to the mass audience. Furthermore, the research topic itself may be biased as well. Thus, in Ukraine we have plenty of polls and public opinion investigations concerning the political preferences in order to predict the next winner of the elections but at the same time the state and private sponsors refuse to donate money for the international research dedicated to the public health. That is the main question.

Perhaps, in Ukraine professional sociology dominates, but Policy is strong too. In most cases they work in two different realities. How could this situation evolve in balance of all four dimensions, which Michael Burawoy was talking about? And could these four dimensions create some new “product”–sociology that works for all?

The logical question after the lecture: is the domination of Public sociology good or do we have to create something new and overcome all debates?

The second aspect which appeared to be of our common interest is rather methodological, and it concerns the division of the science into four branches proposed by Mr. Burawoy.

It is whether the four interdependent sociological spheres named are equal in their role for the whole sociology or not? What is the form of the relations between sociological spheres, or what it should be like? From the information heard the following structure arose:

Level 1(Professional/Critical sociology). That is so-called “theoretical core” which can be compared to the theoretical physics. The level where the fundamental theories and even paradigms are developed and improved through critics.

Level 2 (Policy sociology). As it was said, the level of strict goal-achievement, of satisfying the needs of clients.

Level 3 (Public sociology). The widest or the highest level where sociology meets the society itself. That is not “sociological outskirts”, but rather the input/output zone of sociology.

That is what is imagined after viewing the video record (and that corresponds to the imagination of sociology gained while studying); thus, it is curious whether this image is close to reality, for example, in the USA? The other thing necessary to mention is that sociology should serve mainly for the whole society, just as other sciences. Because even very theoretical scientific spheres, such as quantum mechanics, struggle to give knowledge about the way universe works to the whole humanity.

Contributors: participants in the first session of Public Sociology course of National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy: Anna Basova, Serhiy Bilosludcev, Svitlana Kisilova.

Michael Burawoy (UC Berkeley): Dear Mohylites, Lots of big, deep and difficult questions here. Difficult to answer them succinctly buyt let me say this. **First, the configuration of the four sociologies looks very different in different countries, as you can already tell from the responses on the facebook wall. So you might say that in the USSR there was hardly any public sociology, while professional and critical sociologies were weak, and policy sociology was strong. Sociology served the party state. In my view postSoviet sociology is still struggling with the Soviet legacy, and one might say, therefore, that the professional sociology needs to be strengthened, just as in the US the professional is very strong and the public needs to be strengthened. We will see in the Sundar interview how she is crying out for the space to do professionakl sociology in India. **Second, my claim is that the four sociologies are always out of balance, but that the scheme I develop implies the normative goal of all four types of knowledge forming some sort of organic solidarity (Durkheim). That’s the ideal that is never eached but provides a basis of evaluation. Now, of course, others might think the goal of sociology is precisely one or other of these four types, but I think any one type suffers to the extent that it is not connected to the others. They are all essential to a fliourishing discipline. **Third, you raise an interesting and important question, concerning the “bias” in public sociology. It is my view that puiblic sociology has to be good SOCIOLOGY, i.e. it hsas to conform to the standards of professional sociology. Indeed, I have seen sociologists censuring non-sociologists and sociologists who violate received wisdom, who adopt flawed methodologies, who make erroneous claims. That’s how it should be. This is not populist sociology, but public sociology. Well that’s enough. These issues will keep on recurring. I hope I have tackled some of the questions you raised. Michael.

Svitlana Khutka (National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy): Dear Professor, we appreciate your comment and will try to keep our questions sophisticated)))

Lisbon (February 10, 2012):


Lecture 1
What is public sociology?
UTL – Instituto superior de ciências sociais e políticas, Lisbon
Discussion / Summary
Sociology 185, spring, 2012
Michael Burawoy & Laleh Behbehanian

The Lisbon team welcomes this course and recognize its opportunity and relevance. The group met February 6th in ISCSP-Lisbon, watched the video and debated vividly for about one hour around the following topics:
• Course’s relevance
• clearness of the communication process; technical aspects
• Issues’ scientific and training relevance

In the debate we had 2 master students, 8 PhD students, 1 Post Doc student and 9 teachers/researchers.

In a context of a wide wave of social protests against the late capitalism extremes and the dark side of several political regimes, Michael Burawoy reinforces the role of sociology, especially the public sociology as a mean to clarify the nature and dynamics of this global change patterns. The use of multimedia platforms for sharing information, debating ideas and mobilizing efforts for civic action among social sciences scholars and students (such as this Public Sociology Live!) is the clear sign that a shared reflexivity in an increasingly globalized public sphere is now emerging.

Following earlier work, Burawoy emphasises the multiplicity of sociological investments in a power relations framework. The discussion around the different kind of sociologies (professional; policy; critical and public), its typical knowledges and audiences, is today quite relevant. After reaching a state of severe epistemic fragmentation, perhaps these turbulent-times-that-made-the-world-a-mess, could force this discipline to a more coherent epistemic state of the art. Burawoy’s thesis is an important step on this path leading to a more balanced relationship between the epistemic-analytical task and the civic-ethical task that, ultimately, is in the historical egg of the social sciences and should cross all of them in the present and future times.

The ad extra and ad intra audiences combined with the instrumental and reflexive, nature of sociological knowledge should become a kind of mapping device (or more in line with the air du temps, a GPS) quite useful for the sociological metier, at three levels at least:
– epistemic enrichment of common sense. People around the world need to have complex cognitive competences to decode the correspondent complexity of the social phenomena, in particular the hidden forces of power and domination that create injustice, oppression and inequality in their daily lives (saying it ironically, Portugal, due to our financial and economic crises is currently one of the European Union countries most in need of sociological vision and imagination…).
– social relevance and applicability of sociological research and knowledge. Sociology should be concerned with its social relevancy and eventually with its social applicability, without losing the scientific accuracy and rigor;

– internal meta-analytical reflexivity and research. Sociologists should use Burawoy’s model to build a kind of sociology of sociology that give light to the social and historical conditions underlying the division of labour in sociology. For instance, one issue of debate could also be the effects of the strong pressure for sociologists to publish in international index journals leading them to become more and more ‘professionalized’ and ‘academicist’ and forgetting the social relevancy their work may have.

Michael Burawoy (UC Berkeley): Helena, Some big issues here! Especially interesting is the relationship between sociology, public sociology if you will, and the current “crisis” in countries such as Portugal, Greece, Ireland. What role can sociology play? And how will sociology survive the crisis? Analia Torres spoke of this in her Presidential address to the European Sociological Association. What should we mean by crisis? Remember the distinction between social and systemic crisis? Is this a crisis of capitalism, which after all seems to be doing quite well!! What ARE sociologists saying in Portugal about the current situation the country faces? And second, to take a reflexive look at what we are doing. What does the very existence of this emergent global community of sociologists say about sociology and the world? I don’t have any simple answers, but perhaps Manuel Castells will help us think about these questions with his theory of communication power and the nertwork society. We’ll see next week!

São Paulo (February 11, 2012):

Public Sociology, Live! First Lecture. Here we go: first comment from São Paulo…
Sorry because we’re using Portuguese. But our plan is to begin to translate our comments soon.

Nós – Ruy, Gustavo e Juliana – debatemos a primeira aula do curso no dia 09 de fevereiro e gostaríamos de apresentar uma primeira questão que foi suscitada pela apresentação de Michael. Antes de mais nada, parece-nos muito importante tentarmos articulardois problemas cada dia mais candentes para o campo científico – e para a sociologia – no Brasil. Em primeiro lugar, a desde a reestruturação do marco legal da ciência brasileira pela nova lei de inovação promulgada por Lula – e complementada pelas leis conhecidas como lei “Haddad” e lei “do Bem” -, a universidade no país vem sendo submetida a uma constante pressão por resultados – projetos, mas também patentes, etc. – capazes de solucionar problemas levantados por empresas brasileiras e estrangeiras associadas ao atual modelo de desenvolvimento vigente no país. A mercatilização da ciência tem avançado de uma maneira acelerada nos últimos anos no Brasil e todas as instituições de fomento à ciência existentes orientam-se atualmente pelas necessidades empresariais. Evidentemente, neste meio ambiente institucional quase não há espaços para uma reflexão séria a respeito dos fins impostos pelo atual modelo de desenvolvimento, nem tampouco para os efeitos degradentes deste modelo em termos de meio ambiente e condições de trabalho. Esta situação vivida pela universidade encontra uma sociologia cuja trajetória recente avançou no sentido da clara profissionalização de seus programas e do ajuste de suas prioridades de investimento rumo às políticas públicas – basta ver quantas cursos chamados de “Graduação em Políticas Públicas” foram abertos nos últimos 9 anos no país. Além disso, durante todo o governo Lula da Silva os mais importantes movimentos sociais foram se aproximando das políticas do governo federal transformando-se em linhas auxiliares de implementação destas mesmas políticas. Em resumo, no Brasil, é neste ambiente institucional que o debate sobre a sociologia pública está tentando se desenvolver. Mesmo levando-se em conta o caráter performático da teoria, além de sua capacidade de engajar os jovens estudantes em projetos e iniciativas políticas balizadas pela reflexão sociológica, percebemos que a sociologia pública no país corre o risco de se transformar na “consciência crítica” da sociologia aplicada – isto é, da sociologia para as políticas públicas -, da mesma maneira que a sociologia crítica, em grande medida, transformou-se na “consciência crítica” da sociologia profissional. Neste sentido, nosso grupo propõe começar com a seguinte questão: o que fazer para superar este risco e contribuir para a constituição de um campo de reflexão crítica organizado em torno dos grandes temas públicos? Evidentemente, não temos respostas prontas, mas intuimos que uma possível alternativa passe necessariamente pela revitalização do nexo entre sociologia pública e sociedade civil. Ou, mais amplamente, pela própria revitalização da sociedade civil no Brasil.

Ruy Braga translated with the help of Google.. The attenuation of public and critical sociology in Brazil and what to do about it.

We – Ruy, Gustavo and Juliana – discussed the first class of the course on 09 February and would like to introduce the first issue raised by Michael’s presentation, the challenges faced by public sociology in the present era. It seems very important to try to articulate the problems faced by the dynamic scientific fields – and not just sociology – in Brazil. Firstly, since the restructuring of the framework of innovation in Brazilian science in the new law enacted by Lula – and complemented by other laws — the Brazilian university has been subjected to constant pressure for results – projects, but also patents, etc. The university is expected to solve problems raised by Brazilian and foreign companies associated with the current development model prevailing in the country. The mercantalization of science has accelerated in recent years in Brazil and all the institutions that promote science are guided by business needs. Of course, in this institutional environment there is almost no room for serious thought about the purposes of taxation or the degradation of working conditions in the university. The result is that sociology moves towards professionalization and investment priorities shift in the direction of public policy – just see how many courses called “Graduate Public Policy” were opened in the last 9 years. Furthermore, throughout the reign of Lula da Silva the most important social movements demanded that the federal government implement such policy oriented reforms. This is the environment within which the Brazilian debate about public sociology has emerged. Even taking into account the performative character of the theory, and its ability to engage young students in projects and policy initiatives buoyed by sociological reflection, we realize that public sociology is in danger of becoming the “critical consciousness” of applied sociology – reflecting the shift from sociology to public policy – just as critical sociology has largely become the “critical consciousness” of professional sociology. In other words, critical and public sociology lose their autonomy as they absorbed into professional and policy sociology — reflexive knowledge is instrumentalized. Therefore, our group proposes to start with the question: what to do to overcome these tendencies and to contribute to the establishment of a field of critical reflection organized around major public issues? Of course, we have no ready answers, but we intuit that a possible avenue is the revitalization of the link between public sociology and civil society. Or, more broadly, the revival of civil society in Brazil!

Tehran (February 10, 2012):

The first session of public sociology course

First Comment: the possibility of developing public sociology in Iran

There were two opposite views regarding this question among participants:
1. Iranian sociologists do not have the tendency to be a public sociologist these days, because they have experienced its consequences. In countries like Iran where state is strong, powerful and vast, public sociology has a difficult time to form and reinforce civil society, since any kind of effort to do so means direct interference with the state affairs. Between the two types of public sociology, the organic public sociology, because of its great potentials due to face to face communication, will be more threatened by the government. Therefore Iranian sociologists who understand that the production of knowledge in their society is very weak and poor and the only way to survive apart from the political activities is the positivist approach towards the knowledge, are forced to be conservative and this means to avoid public sociology approach.
2. No doubt public sociology is for (in favor of) political act in the sense that it wants to interfere with the current situation but that doesn’t necessarily mean confronting the government, so it’s possible to be a public sociologist and be politically active without the state being the subject matter of your actions. In their actions to form and reinforce civil society in Iran,Public sociologists can choose various tactics to avoid confrontation of the government, especially organic public sociologists who have a diverse choice of tactic according to the social and political conditions of the society. An Example of such activities is the active membership of citizens in neighborhood management programs and their direct relationship with the sociologists.

Second comment: A critique of the four type classification

There seems to be a challenge regarding Prof. Burawoy’s notion of the four type classification; “do we really have a separate kind of sociology as public sociology or being a public sociologist must be a feature of each face of other sociologies (professional, policy and critical sociology)”. In other words this division has questioned the public aspect of other types of sociology. In fact the other three types can be divided into two faces: public and unpublicized sociology.

Third comment: Which face is the dominant face in sociology of Iran?

Here there is a challenging point to the Prof. Burawoy’s discussion. If critical sociology criticizes the foundations of the professional sociology and is formed as a reaction to professional sociology, then how can it appear in the countries where the government is a totalitarian one and sociology is not flourished?
Our academic sociology has not developed a paradigm and does not follow a particular research agenda and therefore is not a professional sociology. Critical sociology needs the backbone of professional sociology too and therefore faces similar challenges and if today critical discussions prevail in our academia, they are more of quotations of other sociologists. It seems that in this particular classification, sociology of Iran is policy sociology and outside the academy its existence is more active. (It may be possible to say that policy sociology in totalitarian societies has more opportunity to grow) and so if we want to make our own public sociology, we have to try to make public policy sociology.

Forth comment: Genealogy of public sociology in Iran

There are two streams here:
1. Public sociology in relation to intellectuals which is closer to traditional public sociology.
2. Organic public sociology which can be traced in some policy researches.
The last effort worth mentioning here is formation of the task force of public sociology in Iranian Sociological Association which tries to institutionalize public sociology in Iran.
Final comment: Advantages of public sociology for our sociology:
It can be outlined that this approach not only interrelates sociologists, leads publics and finds public support in society, but also makes sociology hopeful and moral and gives us epistemological advantage to create our own social knowledge based on our problems.

Contributers: Participants in the first session of public sociology course of Tehran University and Iranian Sociological Association: Dr.Behrang Sedighi, Fatemeh Gholamreza kashi, Mohammadreza Alipour, Yashar Daroshafa, Mohhamd zaki, Mehran Mohammadian, Saber Khosravi, Tara Asgarian and Fateme Moghaddasi.

Michael Burawoy (UC Berkeley): Fateme, This is a moving rendition of the dilemmas of public sociology, and sociology more generally, in Iran. Every country faces its own sperific type of constraints that can come from the market on the one side and the state on the other, and in different combinations in different countries. The weakness of civil society can also be a constraint. When faced with such external pressures, often the best line of defense is “scientificiity,’ and the allied notion “objectivity.” Second, you rasie an interesting question: to what extent professional sociology can survive when the others are weak? And vice versa, as you say, can there be a critical sociology whern the professional is weak? You rightly point to a contradiction in what I said: critical sociology might be strong (underground) in a society (like the Soviet Union) where professional sociology is weak. So is critical sociology more than simply a critique of professional sociology?? Third, you ask whether all types of sociology have a public side. Of course, one can say that, but that would indeed be a very different scheme than the one I offered. I think the whole point about professional sociology, for example, is that it is for peers, for fellow sociologists and NOT for publics — though that might indeed be an unintended consequence as does often happen, but that is not its raison d’etre. In my scheme each type of sociology has two Zones — an inner and an outer zone. So we have traditional and organic public sociology; advocacy and sponsored policy sociology, formal and substantive professional sociology, and disciplinary and inter-disciplinary critical sociology. Finally, I am always impressed by the vitality of a sort of private-public realm in Iran that spreads a sponraneous sociological imagination through society. In that sense public sociology is more vital in Iran than it is in the US and many other countries.

Fateme M O Ghaddasi (Tehran University): Hi Dear Michael, your answers cheered up me and my friends. We will talk about them in class and I would share the participant’s ideas again but now there was another point about the mentioned contradiction: if critical sociology is not based necessarily on proffessional one so why its audiences are just academic? (According to your chart) and why did you distinguish between critical and public sociology? Undoubtedly public sociology is critical too but distinctions in your chart show something else at first sight. (Maybe one can say public siociology is not critical anymore) In fact it leads me to another question: does this division of labour between sociologies help public sociology? Is’nt it dysfunctional when you want defend of critical aspects of public sociology or maybe other aspects of it?

Michael Burawoy (UC Berkeley): Dear Fateme, Hmmmmm. I’ve been thinking about this.. I’m not sure i can answer your question satisfactorily, but let me try. First, both critical and public sociology enage in a discussion of values, goals, and ends of society (and not just with means). Second, critical and public sociology differ in that the discussion in the former is among sociologists and in the latter between sociologists and broader publics. Third, just as public sociology has an inner zone (traditional PS) and an outer zone (Organic PS), closely connected to each other, SO critical sociology has two zones. The inner zone is the critique of professional sociology. The outer zone is the critique of the wider society. So that a critical sociology in the USSR was largely a critique of totalitarianism rather than a critique of a more or less non-existent professional sociology, whereas in the US critical sociology was just as heavily weighted in a critique of professional sociology (Mills, Gouldner, Sorokin, Dorothy Smith, etc.). Fourth, in both cases — critical and puiblic sociology — the inner and outer zones should be closely connected. FINALLY, as to the question of the autonomy of critical and public sociology I can only direct you to the post of Brazil (I’ve transalated it roughly into English), where Ruy Braga writes about the danger of public and critical sociologies losing their autonomy. This is not to say there is not a critical and public MOMENT of professional and opoliy sociology. There have to be such moments but they are different from the autonomous public and critical sociologies. Without them, sociology shrivels.


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