Talk:Public sociology

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Hello. I write to inform anyone that reads this that the Applied and Clinical Sociology community plans to enter this discussion and add information to the page. As you might anticipate, most of us are not too keen on being subsumed under Public Sociology. I have volunteered to lead this effort. I am a fan of all social scientists who actually do something relevant and real world with their work. Sometimes that works with Public Soc. Sometimes I find it doesn't. But, that is the case with everyone. Anyway. Wanted to give you a heads-up. jammieprice ----

Revised the slur into a critique, and put up some actual content. Sorry it's Berkeley-centric. It's just a start, needs your help.

I was working on NPOVing this when you beat me to the punch. The revisions are decent, I think, although it definitely still needs fleshing out. I would consider excising the link to Contexts magazine. I'm not familiar with the magazine, but it seems to be a "general perspectives journal" rather than one specific to public sociology. I also think it's relevant that the 2004 ASA conference had a "Public Sociologies" theme ([1]) since the creator of the article seemed to upset with attempts by Burawoy and others to "sway" the ASA. Some reference to this might reasonably be integrated. Shotput 06:11, 12 Apr 2005 (UTC)

Well, the editors of Contexts as far as I know identify with public sociology, and I think the journal represents one part of the pub soc current. Zerozombie 21:33, 15 Apr 2005 (UTC)

I am disappointed that there is so little recognition that public sociology, the best kind at least, is dedicated to Marxism and socialism, as Burawoy reminded us in his advocacy of sociological socialism.

Sigh. I know, I would love Sociology so much if it were not as a practice so heavily intertwined with such a repugnant political system. Kade 18:42, 5 October 2005 (UTC)


I have:

  1. attempted to establish sections where knowledgeable people can elaborate both on what public sociology is/does and on criticisms of it; obviously these need much elaboration
  2. rewritten most of the "'real' sociology isn't informed by politics" type statements or removed them to the criticisms section
  3. I really don't think it's some kind of conspiracy or new development that many sociologists apply Marxist thinking to social problems
  4. similarly, it doesn't look as if public sociology is "recent"; certainly, there is the notion of public engagement in the writing of Marx, Du Bois and as noted in the revisions, Mills and Bellah.

I also think that some kind of corroboration of the statement that the ASA is being torn asunder because of the public sociology debate would be useful. I left it in however because I have no idea what goes on at the ASAs. --Birdmessenger 18:19, 6 November 2005 (UTC)

editing Deflem's additions[edit]

Most typically, public sociologists are leftist, sociological radicals of a predominantly Marxist variety.

Please provide evidence for this assertion.

  "public sociology today emerges as a defensive outpost against the tyranny of the unconstrained market and the unlilateralist state -- both at home and abroad... We are sociologists who identify with the resilience of civil society... Working with the positive moment of civil society, sociology defends its own very existence, but at the same time defends the interests of humanity. Sociologists of the world unite for a renascent civil society – a vibrant, participatory, global counter-hegemony!"...

I do not believe that this adds to our understanding of the scope of public sociology.

But, also of course, the reactionary United States of America defends the idea of sociology as science. (source: Public Sociology Alive!).

This is unclear.

Critiquing certain actions taken under the banner of public sociology in the American Sociological Association, Deflem has also unmasked the political trickery that went into the Association passing political resolutions. "Based on a misguided call for sociologists to engage in a debate on ethical values," Deflem argues, "sociologists have more than ever before opened the door to be chastised for doing things they simply are not meant to do. When it comes to values, sociologists can claim no expertise, for in ethical debates all members of society can freely and equally participate... Among the participants of democracy there are no experts... But instead of searching for the truth in matters of society, public sociologists are engaged in an ethical discourse as a foundation for their work. Sociologists are now encouraged to inject their ethics in their work and to draw conclusions not on the basis of evidence and research, but on the basis of the rightness of certain ethical ideas. (Deflem, The War in Iraq and the Peace of San Francisco, Peace, War and Social Conflict newsletter, 2004).

I think a lot of this repeats what is said in the paragraph above. Perhaps someone could summarize it and make it a conclusion to the criticism section.

Also--aren't there other critics of public sociology out there? If so, wouldn't it strengthen the criticism section to include them alongside Deflem?

response to: editing Deflem's additions[edit]

[sorry, I initially did not see how to make additions to the discussion, and I started editing in the page -- I will make my comments below] --Deflem


about "Most typically, public sociologists are leftist, sociological radicals of a predominantly Marxist variety.

Response by Deflem: The leftist nature of public sociology refers to the Burawoy school of public sociology. Burawoy has written about this in at least two of his papers, the one appearing in from the Left and the one in Critical Sociology, where he refers to 'democratic socialism' and 'sociological marxism' as public sociology. True, not all public sociologists are necessarily marxist (also, not all marxists are not public sociologists), but clearly it is the Burawoy school that has led to the popularity of public sociology today. Incidentally, the term was orginally coined by Herbert Gans in a different meaning. I will put that in the entry.


about "Sociologists of the world unite for a renascent civil society – a vibrant, participatory, global counter-hegemony!"... I do not believe that this adds to our understanding of the scope of public sociology.

Response by Deflem: This is a quote from Burawoy that clearly shows his marxism (the last line of the quote).


Also--aren't there other critics of public sociology out there? If so, wouldn't it strengthen the criticism section to include them alongside Deflem?

Response by Deflem: Yes, there are quite a number of critics of public sociology, judging from the support I get. But few are as vocal as me, I suppose, and many agree with much or most of what I have written. Among the other critics, one might add James Moody, who has a relevant powerpoint online. I will add that to the entry if you wish.

The rest is OK. All in all, the entry is reasonably well balanced, not entirely what I wished for, but probably all I can expect.

That last is probably a good sign. As far as I can tell from hanging around here, we should all end up somewhat unsatisfied but willing to accept the results. If I'm understanding you correctly, you want to distinguish betwenn Burawoy's "public sociology" and other uses of the term that you feel have no connection. Is that right? Personally, I think that's an excellent idea.--Birdmessenger 18:56, 9 December 2005 (UTC)

Revising the revisions...[edit]

Yes, there are at least two other usages of the terms that have no real connection to Public Sociology today: 1) public sociology as the term was originally coined by Herbert Gans, and 2) public sociology as it was used in the title of the book by Ben Agger. I will add both to the entry.

I also suppose, given the contentious nature of the debate surrounding the nature and objectives of public sociology, that some discointent from all sides on the entry may be the best indication that it is a good entry. :)


I added the references to Herbert Gans and Ben Agger. Somebody had shifted part of the text, for reasons I cannot imagine, which I put back in its original spot. Perhaps this entry itself proves what a battle ground Public Sociology has become. --Deflem

R.B. Smith[edit]

I've removed the reference to "R.B. Smith" and the "public sociology alive" website, since it seems irrelevant to this page. Who is R.B. Smith? What has R.B. Smith written about public sociology beyond what is available on that website? What are the indicators, if any, that R.B. Smith has anything other than a virtual existence?

Whoever it is, the page seemed to be tongue-in-cheek. Lenin's sociological shoulders aren't giant. I couldn't tell if "RB" was praising Marxism as a resolution to the wayward scienticity of the twentieth century, or mocking the ideological idiocy that public sociology might well be. ;) Airumel 22:38, 11 December 2005 (UTC)

History and more[edit]

Added section on history of the term, to provide historical perspective. Added more on the variety of criticisms that have circulated. Changed the opening lines of this article to more accurately reflect one of the most common meanings of public sociology (see the "Theme Statement" of the 2004 ASA meetings).

public sociology today[edit]

Added a section on public sociology today, and changed scope to 'elaboration and diffusion' (a section which could itself be elaborated to include other visions of what public sociology is and how it should be pursued).

Given the fact that it was his ASA presidency that generated debate over public sociology, there is good reason to think that Burawoy's basic definition of public sociology constitutes the working definition of public sociology for a great many American sociologists (whether or not they agree with him that 'public sociology' should in fact be be promoted).

Furthermore, the definition currently included in the "public sociology today" section, and ascribed to Burawoy, was the personal statement Burawoy wrote prior to his election.


Regarding this sentence: "It is less a body of empirically based methods and theories aimed at discovering how the world works, and more a movement that entails the idea that sociologists should tell us not just what is but what ought to be."

--i'll reword and source. removing that important element, and refocusing PS as some vagugely stylistic choice, is a dodge of what PS is really trying to do, whatever your opinion of it. PS is more than a style; it's about the content and purpose of sociology. will fix. Airumel 22:59, 11 December 2005 (UTC)

added the indication that public sociology is normative, to indicate that it is frequently not simply a stylistic choice, but a set of assumptions about what sociology ought to do -- namely, not simply produce knowledge that is limited to the academy, but seek to move beyond the academy to engage broader publics. that is the basic assumption common to nearly every understanding of public sociology.

reality check[edit]

This entry is becoming more and more absurd at times... In any case, public sociology is not normative because it entertains a conception of what sociology ought to be (which sociology would not do that?), but because it is explicitly engaged in promoting political-normative ideas and insert those ideas into the practice of sociology (hence, it is an activist sociology, not a form of sociological activism). --Deflem

-- "Reality" check? This entry started out absurd. Just a day or two ago, in fact, it was citing from a website whose supposed "author" does not appear to exist in anything other than a virtual fashion.

I deleted all references to the ridiculous assumption that most members of the ASA are proponents of public sociology and that such would be indicated because Burawoy got elected. There will be many reasons why he got elected. Also, most ASA members do not even vote. The turn-out in elections is usually just around 30%. --Deflem

-- Great, this is an excellent deletion. Let's make sure the entire entry is closely "checked" and submitted to the test of reality by making sure that each empirical claim is properly sourced.

check reality[edit]

The lines below were deleted from the criticism section, since they were without citation. If there are citations, great.

"Some critics of public sociology have charged that the promotion of public sociology undermines the academic aspirations of the discipline of sociology, claiming that public sociology represents little more than a very political version of "Marxism" in disguise, and suggesting that the debates over public sociology have resulted in a condition of "intellectual anarchy."

"Debates over public sociology have also led some to voice concern over the rise of an ostensibly "politicized" sociology within the American Sociological Association, worrying that the promotion of public sociologies has encouraged some professional sociologists to consider a departure from the ASA."

-- Asking for empirical verification in an entry on public sociology... I do think it's called irony. --Deflem

Citing reliable sources[edit]

The "irony" to which you refer is apparently connected to an unsubstantiated assumption that public sociologists are neither concerned with, nor constrained by, sociological norms that emphasize the importance of "empirical" research or the "empirical" substantiation of arguments. Yet the question as to whether those who promote or practice something called "public sociology" are (or are not) concerned with the "empirical" substantiation of their arguments is itself an *empirical* question. If you would like to make the case that they are not, and can provide reliable sources which clearly indicate this, then by all means go ahead. But that will require empirical substantiation, rather than one line slurs and misleading insinuations (which both violate the Wikipedia NPOV policy and impede the building of consensus as to how to best define a term that is undoubtedly already the subject of substantial contention).

Furthermore, let's suppose that the apparent assumption behind your statement about "irony" is correct (something that we can remain open on until you've made a better case for it). Even if it is correct, why would that somehow warrant any less concern with citation, or as you say, "empirical verification." The citation of reliable sources is a standard expectation for *any* Wikipedia article, no matter what the topic. Practice

-- Empirical validation for public sociology's lack of concern for empirical matters is amply provided by Burawoy. e.g., in his paper "For Public Sociology" he defines the knowledge of professional sociology as theoretical/empirical, not the knowledge of public sociology. In his letter in the Chronicle, he ridiculed the argument that academicians should search for the truth. -- A citation of sources is not necessarily a guarantee that anything useful is cited, especially not in this age when anything can be said in so many places. Even referreed writings are not without their flaws. Citation can also be misused as an authority argument. And who is to say what is relaible and what not, what are the criteria of reliability? Does public sociology have an answer to that? -- The point of view policy will be hard to maintain, in my mind, unless the entry would be written by somebody outside the debate on the pro's and cons of public sociology. Besides, Wikipedia is not an effort in public sociology, nor is this entry, at least not by all who have contributed. --Deflem 18:23, 12 December 2005 (UTC) -- P.S. I only now discovered how to sign my remarks. I will do so from now on for the sake of clarity, plain understanding, and a lack of anonymity. --Deflem 18:27, 12 December 2005 (UTC)

response to Deflem[edit]

1. You still have not provided any direct citations of (a) Burawoy's supposed definition of public sociology as non- or anti-empirical; or (b) his so-called "ridicule" of the search for truth. Rather, you've merely mentioned a couple of articles. On closer inspection I think you'll see that public sociology, from Burawoy's POV, is seriously dependent on professional sociology for its very existence. Professional sociology, on Burawoy's account, is at the very heart of things. See the article in Social Forces. If you want to criticize public sociology, that's fine. There's a lot of interesting and important issues to argue about. But you cannot just make stuff up. 2. Your point regarding citation of sources is fine, as for as it goes. Citation of sources places a minimal limit on the circulation of nonsense, but it does not, of course, guarantee truth, here or elsewhere. This is true of the scientific process itself. Yet citation is still fundamental to that process, as it is to the usefulness and accuracy of Wikipedia. For example, until just a few days ago, there seems to have been reference here to a website called "Public Sociology Alive." But that website is fairly clearly a farce. It's someones idea of a joke. To cite it here as if it were more than a web-based fiction seriously diminishes the usefulness of this article. Demand for 'citation of reliable sources' is meant to weed out such fictions. 3. It is true that the accuracy of the NPOV policy may be difficult to maintain. Nonetheless, the article should capture the range and substance of disagreement and controversy as best as it can. Wikipedia is indeed not an effort in public sociology. But the article is and should be an effort to accurately represent what public sociology is -- how it has been defined and understood by both critics and supporters alike. Practice 19:13, 12 December 2005 (UTC)

response by Deflem[edit]

I did not make stuff up. By Burawoy's own admission, professional sociology is about theoretical and empirical questions, public sociology is not. Even if public sociology is depedent on professional sociology, it would still imply that public sociology simply is not about such professional standards. (By the way, I do not accept the very demarcation Burawoy has introduced between these various kinds of sociology, but I had to here use these terms in order to make my argument).

You want the truth? This the truth: a quote from Burawoy when he says that according to Stanley Fish "We should just stick to the "search for truth and the dissemination of it through teaching."" And Burawoy articulates his position as follows: "Academics are living in a fool's paradise if they think they can hold on to their ivory tower, fashioned for another era, another world. For too long too many of us have been hiding behind academic freedom and university autonomy -- all in the name of truth. But the chickens are coming home to roost as the public is no longer interested in our truth, no longer prepared to subsidize our academic pursuits." In my opinion this is ridiculing the truth, possibly denying that it exists ("our truth").

-- Response: That is a contentious interpretation at best, and one that employs an intense hermeneutic of suspicion rather than attempting to see what might be behind the statement. I would read it not as a denial of truth, but rather as a criticism of the idea that knowledge should be pursued solely for its own sake. That idea, and not the denial of truth, seems to me closer to the heart of public sociology as Burawoy represents it. Practice 20:41, 12 December 2005 (UTC)

I am glad to hear that standards of truth are still considered useful by Practice. I am however not responsible for comments and citations to or on other websites. There are now so many versions of public sociology that it will be hard to find agreement even among its proponents. The website mentioned was useful because it was at least clear in its political ambitions, more so than Burawoy, at least in most of his public appearances...

-- Response: By citing those other web sites you and others who participate in collectively writing this Wikipedia article take responsibility for assessing their content and authenticity. The website being referred to here ("Public Sociology Alive") does not seem to meet the basic standard which insists that a source be credible. That source was incredible in an incredibly obvious way. Making use of it damaged the credibility of this article. Practice 20:41, 12 December 2005 (UTC)

Because how can one deny the marxist leanings of Burawoy's public sociology when he has articulated the project as socialism. In Critical Sociology, Burawoy writes: "We might say that critical engagement with real utopias is today an integral part of the project of sociological socialism. It is a vision of socialism that places human society, or social humanity at its organizing center, a vision that was central to Marx but that was too often lost before it was again picked up by Gramsci and Polanyi (Burawoy, 2003b). If public sociology is to have a progressive impact it will have to hold itself continuously accountable to some such vision of democratic socialism."

In From the Left, he writes: "Sociologists of the world unite for a renascent civil society – a vibrant, participatory, global counter-hegemony!"

In his teachings of "Sociology 101A: History of Sociological Theory", Burawoy discussed the works of "Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Fred Engels, Vladimir Lenin, Anotnio Gramsci, Frantz Fanon." This is not a marxist public sociology??? By the way,I think Burawoy has every right, of course, to be a marxist, but could he at least be honest about it!

I agree the wikipedia article should be as accurate as possible of course. Can we therefore please cite Burawoy accurately?

-- Response: There is a lot that might be criticized in the largely implicit argument you make here. For starters, to have one's students read Marx and Marxist thinkers is not, necessarily, to be a Marxist. There is a long and well-established tradition of engagement with Marx in American sociology, and not all sociologists that have engaged with Marx have been marxists. In other words, one's theoretical or political stance cannot so easily be read from a syllabus. That said, no one denies Burawoy's defense of a version of marxism. That is well-known and public. If you want to critique Burawoy's marxism, go right ahead! However, to suggest that because Burawoy defends a version of Marxism and also defends public sociology, public sociology must therefore be inherently Marxist -- that is a straightforwardly fallacious form of argument. Some "marxist" sociologists may be public sociologists, sure (although Burawoy is not one of them--not because he is not marxist, but because he is not a public sociologist!). But that does make all public sociologists marxists. Indeed, the most prominent public sociologists, and the names most closely associated with the actual work of public sociology, are clearly not marxist. So the simple equation of "public sociology" with "sociological scientism" is specious. That dog won't hunt. Practice 20:41, 12 December 2005 (UTC)

Well, at least I am public on this board, by name and by my stance towards public sociology. --Deflem 20:09, 12 December 2005 (UTC)


I read only what is written.

" suggest that because Burawoy defends a version of Marxism and also defends public sociology, public sociology must therefore be inherently Marxist -- that is a straightforwardly fallacious form of argument."

I talk about Burawoy's public sociology, which is marxist. Again, here is the quote from Burawoy: "If public sociology is to have a progressive impact it will have to hold itself continuously accountable to some such vision of democratic socialism." I read only what is written. Other public sociologies I do not know, except for the earlier variations, which we are not discussing (much) today. Also, there are marxists who oppose public sociology.

"... to have one's students read Marx and Marxist thinkers is not, necessarily, to be a Marxist."

No, of course, not, but to have a course on "History of Sociological Theory" (not history of critical theory or history of marxism) include the likes of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Gramsci does betray a marxist orientation.

"Some "marxist" sociologists may be public sociologists, sure (although Burawoy is not one of them--not because he is not marxist, but because he is not a public sociologist!)"

WHAAAT????? This is beyond funny. Far beyond.

--Deflem 21:19, 12 December 2005 (UTC) (publicly again!)

-->> This last point about Burawoy is actually a good one (as are a number of the others). Why not ask: What is a "public sociologist"? Answer: someone whose sociological work transcends or seeks to transcend the academy, and thereby seeks to engage wider public audiences. The vast majority of Burawoy's work does not fit that definition. To use his own terms, he is a "professional" and a "critical" sociologist, and not primarily a "public sociologist". Theoryhead 22:45, 12 December 2005 (UTC)

Agger & Gans[edit]

My sense is that both Agger and Gans were advocates of what Burawoy calls "traditional public sociology" (writing sociological literature for an audience outside of academia), but weren't necessarily into the hands-on "organic public sociology" (community engagement and activism) that Burawoy seems more excited about. Have either Gans or Agger commented publicly on Burawoy's conception of public sociology?

Also, to Deflem and others who oppose Burawoy's brand of public sociology: what's your position on "traditional public sociology"?M. Frederick 12:13, 27 January 2007 (UTC)

Wow, I am really surprised. Over a month and no change to this page. Is public sociology dead?M. Frederick 07:07, 3 March 2007 (UTC)

Applied sociology[edit]

This article currently treats applied sociology and public sociology as more or less the same thing. This is inaccurate, in my view. I would suggest splitting off Applied sociology into a separate article. Fine to cross-reference as appropriate. Thanks, DA Sonnenfeld (talk) 05:44, 22 June 2012 (UTC)

I agree that these are not an identity. I would also venture to say that Clinical and Applied sociology are also different from one another, though the terms are frequently linked and conflated as they are here. All could be subsumed under the term "Sociological practice", which currently redirects to this Applied sociology subsection. Currentlty, the Applied sociology subsection contains little information so, if split, would be a stub article. I'm not opposed to that action, but wonder if it might be an interim solution to move this page to "Sociological practice" with all three as subsections of that main article? Meclee (talk) 16:15, 22 June 2012 (UTC)
Agreed with split, this is something I mentioned in the peer review of this article. Will somebody split it now or do we need to tag it with the {{split}}? Regarding creating the "sociological practice" article, it could be a parent article, perhaps, but I don't think "public sociology" should be simply moved there. --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| reply here 14:11, 25 June 2012 (UTC)

2018 time to update[edit]

Lots has happened since this article was created. New Wikipedia tools, for example, new Wikipedia community codes, new ideas about public sociology, new Wikipedians with sociological expertise. Who else is interested in updating this article?AnaSoc (talk) 21:59, 25 May 2018 (UTC)