Fall 2014 Readings

Sociology 590: Practicing Sociology [Fall 2014]

Public Sociology
Clawson, Dan et al., eds. 2007. Public Sociology: Fifteen Eminent Sociologists Debate Politics and the Profession in the Twenty-First Century. University of California Press.

Annotations of various chapters can be found below.

Stacey, Judith. 2007. “If I were the Goddess of Sociological Things.” Pp. 91-100 in Public Sociology: Fifteen Eminent Sociologists Debate Politics and the Profession in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Dan Clawson, et al. University of California Press.

Building on Buraway’s ASA Presidential goals, which Stacey endorses, she proposes a more cosmopolitan sociological imagination (pg. 92). To that end she proposes the following: 1) establish formal “sister” department relationships “between sociology departments in the US and complementary departments at universities in other nations…”; 2) allot permanent faculty positions for visiting scholars; 3) expand affirmative action admissions; 4) revise doctoral degree requirements in sociology programs to demonstrate at least reading ability in another language; 5) mandate international representation on ASA program committees and editorial boards; 6) devote an annual ASA meeting to analysis of the “current and appropriate place of U.S. sociology in its global context.” Furthermore Stacey calls for a more engaged discipline (pg. 94). Some specific suggestions she gives are: 1) a rotational moratorium on academic publishing by full time faculty members; 2) abolishing the rank of associate professor (and the hierarchical practices that go with this title); 3) “develop model disciplinary guidelines for promotion to tenured rank and for post-tenure merit reviews that directly counter assembly-line standards of productivity” thereby promoting quality versus quantity of publications; 4) allocate permanent faculty full-time equivalent positions to appointments of public intellectuals; 5) institution of a regular system of cross-disciplinary exchanges; 6) campaign to revamp writing standards, to compose more accessible prose.

Added by: Sarai Lucarelli
Last updated: 4 December 2014

Hill Collins, Patricia. 2007. “Going Public: Doing the Sociology That Had No Name.” Pp. 91-100 in Public Sociology: Fifteen Eminent Sociologists Debate Politics and the Profession in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Dan Clawson, et al. University of California Press.

In this article, Hill Collins immediately argues that scholarly work, particularly in sociology needs to be done both in and outside of the academy. She urges her reader to see the “importance of connecting scholarship to broader audiences” (102). With that, she argues that there are three main challenges that public sociologists are facing. The first is naming. What should we call the sociology for the public? Will naming it public help to legitimize its place within the discipline of sociology, or will it separate itself entirely? She asks, “is public sociology a sociology of and for the others, namely, all those people who cannot make it within other ideal types of sociology?” (105). She urges her readers to rethink not only the definition of sociology, but also the inclusivity of sociology. The second challenge of public sociology is whether or not “this is a good time for the discipline of sociology to claim the term public” (106). She argues that the term public may come loaded with preconceived political notions and assumptions that could work to the disadvantage of sociologists. The final challenge of public sociology is the division happening within the discipline. She uses Burawoy’s idea that sociology is a pie, divided into four different pieces: professional, political, critical, and public sociology. The problem with this however, is that other sub disciplines are unwilling to give anything to create space for public sociology. Hill Collins argues that because of this academic/public divide, the only solution might be to start over with a brand new pie; making a place for public sociology from the start. She concludes by asking, “given these challenges, why would anyone willingly choose public sociology?” (110). She knows however, that she is not alone in choosing this path. She argues that once given an opportunity, some people, especially those with marginalized identities, will find a place in public sociology, and all else will fall into place.

” If American society were just and fair, if the American public were fed, clothed, housed, educated, employed and healthy, there would be no need for public sociology. Its very existence speaks to the need to oppose social injustices yet also to be proactive in creating a democratic and just public sphere. Naming public sociology strives to enhance the stature of these oppositional knowledges and practices by carving out spaces within the boundaries of an established discipline in ways that legitimate the pubic sociology that already exists and, perhaps, catalyze more” (Hill Collins 2007:105).

Added by: Janae Teal
Last updated: 8 December 2014

Wilson, Julius William. 2007. “Speaking to Publics.” Pp. 117-123 in Public Sociology: Fifteen Eminent Sociologists Debate Politics and the Profession in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Dan Clawson, et al. University of California Press.

Public sociologists are able to incorporate sociological insights into the public arena. However, as Michael Burawoy pointed out, it is important to note that professional sociologists have effectively engaged the public, and professional sociology has provided the foundation, expertise, and legitimacy for public sociology (2007).

Referring to public sociologists, Wilson stated, “…Aside from being first-rate scholars, these sociologists have another thing in common—they know how to write and do not rely on academic jargon to communicate their ideas” (120). The false assumption that a book, accessible to the broader public audience, including the media, is that it will not be accepted in the academic world. “The real challenge, therefore, is to produce works that seriously engage both the academic and nonacademic communities” (121).

Wilson concluded the article by responding to Burawoy’s argument, that, if public sociology is the lifeblood of professional sociology, we should ensure that younger sociologists are free to take research and writing courses that clearly speaks to publics without being penalized in the academic world (2007).

Burawoy, Michael. 2007. “For Public Sociology.” Pp. 23-64 in Public Sociology: Fifteen Eminent Sociologists Debate Politics and the Profession in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Dan Clawson, et al. University of California Press.

Added by: Nicole Chappelle
Last updated: 12 November 2014

Smith-Lovin, Lynn. 2007. “Do We Need a Public Sociology? Depends on What you Mean by Sociology.” Pp. 91-100 in Public Sociology: Fifteen Eminent Sociologists Debate Politics and the Profession in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Dan Clawson, et al. University of California Press.

The author critics Burawoy calling to sociologists to be “energized by engagement with publics, suffused with moral fervor, motivated to do… sociology by a perceived social need and a hope of political impact (131).” Smith-Lovin, believes that the construction of knowledge should be for the “sake of knowledge”. The author worries that Burawoy’s encouragement to future and current sociologists to engage in “civic” activities and activists movements will preoccupy sociologists and would divert their vision from a construction of knowledge that is based “on a relatively traditional, conservative, professional goal in order to sustain the legitimacy and internal consensus that allows us [sociologists] to sustain the discipline [sociology] (132).” It appears that Smith-Lovin is worried that by sociologists engaging in “civic” activities it would become personal, therefore not objective. If that is so, then the author is calling for an objective science, in order for Sociology to remain a “respected discipline.”

Quotes to think about:

woman_lightbulb_ideaMedium-2“I [Smith] would argue that the discipline [sociology] is in real trouble if students cannot be motivated to explore sociological ideas without involvement in movements involving outside public (126).”

“He thinks that the ability to engage in public sociology should be extended downward in this hierarchy and not just reserved for a few. I, in turn, worry that a system that was devoted to generate knowledge-both through research and through dialogue with students-is too far from hermetically sealed (128).”

“I unlike Burawoy, see the connections with the outside as holding more threat than promise (132).”

Added by: Stephanie Martinez
Last updated: December 10, 2014. 

Stinchcombe, Arthur. 2007. “Speaking Truth to the Public, and Indirectly to Power.” Pp. 91-100 in Public Sociology: Fifteen Eminent Sociologists Debate Politics and the Profession in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Dan Clawson, et al. University of California Press.

Stinchcombe takes a critical look at public sociology in this chapter and assesses the ability of public sociology to ‘speak the truth.’ Stinchcombe is very cautious about ‘truth’ and believes “we should not be distracted much by contributing to public discourse, and that what we do along that line is not likely to be much use to the public.” (P.135)Stinchcome commits many of the fallacies the ivory tower is blamed for. On a very basic level, his preoccupation with finding the “truth” that is future-oriented is quite positivistic and characteristic of the ‘ivory tower’ as well as his view of the public as secondary to the ‘real’ work of sociology. “Unless we have a strong belief in idle curiosity about well-established puzzles, and an ivory tower to protect us, we will not have any truth about what causes social gaps in test scores to contribute to public discourse.” (p.140) Again, it is the ivory tower to disseminate public information and not the other way around. He is not a public sociologist.

In one example, he effectively ‘others’ “poor single mothers in housing projects” (p.140) by questioning how problematic incorporating an abstract discourse in their “mother tongue” would be to “build culture.” First, he clearly has little faith in the ‘organic intellectual’. Second, he is giving agency to outside rather than painting a picture of working with these women. This goes directly against the beliefs of public sociology that the individual has their own agency. And finally, the phrase “mother tongue” is itself a dividing descriptor that exoticizes these women and their culture that must be “built.” (Sounds more like colonial discourse that public sociology discourse!)

And, some more quotes that caught my attention as a public sociologist reader:

“only theory, not facts, can deal with the future”  – can’t we learn from history? What about the PRESENT? Why are theory and fact necessarily separate entities?

“We have no serious ways to investigate the future” – define “serious”

“…public sociology has nothing to say about our biggest public policy, strategically killing people on a very large scale some long time in the future.”  – What public sociology is he following?!

Stinchcombe concludes by saying “my bet (and fear) is that public sociology will fit David Reisman’s description of the ‘indignant’ political participant: high in affect, low in competence.” (p.142)

Added by: Hanna Menefee
Last updated: 9 December 2014

Massey, Douglas. 2007. “The Strength of Weak Politics.” Pp. 91-100 in Public Sociology: Fifteen Eminent Sociologists Debate Politics and the Profession in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Dan Clawson, et al. University of California Press.

In a chapter for Public Sociology, edited by Dan Clawson and colleagues titled “The Strength of Weak Politics” Douglas Massey argues that the American Sociological Association (ASA) has a duty to remain neutral on all political issues.  Massey argues that the ASA has a place when presenting scientifically sound information, however, on political issues the ASA should allow individual sociologists to obtain their own views.  Massey advocates for an ASA based in non-partisanism and dedicated to the highest standards of professional social science. According to Massey a commitment to non-partisanism will serve the ASA well as it indicates a level of integrity and impartiality that will only enhance the organizations reputation.  Massey makes the claim that this will lead to a higher level of prestige and professional respect.  Massey provides examples of situations in his professional life where he has remained neutral, grounded in sound data, and how this has enhanced his professional reputation and ultimately his career.

Added by: Michael Griffey
Last updated: 12 December 2014

Wallerstein, Immanuel. 2007. “The Sociologist in the Public Sphere.” Pp. 91-100 in Public Sociology: Fifteen Eminent Sociologists Debate Politics and the Profession in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Dan Clawson, et al. University of California Press.

Paragraph about the Reading

Added by: Paul Yzaguirre
Last updated: Date

Burawoy, Michael. 2007. “The Field of Sociology: It’s Power and Promise.” Pp. 91-100 in Public Sociology: Fifteen Eminent Sociologists Debate Politics and the Profession in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Dan Clawson, et al. University of California Press.

“Reading into Burawoy the state and future of sociology and sociologists”

Professor Burawoy explains four interlocking, interdependent, evolving, and sometimes conflicting fields of power within the world of sociology: the professional, public, critical, and policy. The promise of sociology depends on standpoint. If you are a professional sociologist, as a researcher/instructor at a university, you appreciate the value of sociology centered at and in academia; you are concerned with the methods of the discipline, the institutional legitimacy of sociology, and serve as guardians and arbiters of what is considered respectable in the profession. As a policy sociologist you may be still affiliated with the work of professional sociologists, but at an independent research facility, funded in part by grants, or at a government agency. The policy sociologist steps out beyond the strict bounds of the profession and considers social impacts and the role of the state. Critical sociologists fit the mold of the more independent-minded; and may address different publics, including academia. Ideally, the critical sociologist should be free of institutional or professional constraints, driven more by a mission to think outside of the box, explore and validate new perspectives, whatever the prevailing mode of expression in the profession. Public sociologists may share with their critical brethren the sense of vision and being in the vanguard, but public sociologists operate closer to the streets and neighborhoods, and may promote and facilitate community renewal and progress. Public sociologists can collaborate with policy sociologists and share larger societal concerns. Public sociologists could come from academia and trace the pathways of professional careerists. All four realms overlap, are permeable and porous; and may develop new allegiances, different orientations and preferences.

Added by: Burke Zen
Last updated: 10 December 2014

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