Sociology as Public Discourse and Professional Practice: A Critique of Michael Burawoy

Sociological Theory 25 (1):46 - 66 (2007)
Abstract
In this article I discuss Burawoy's (2005) argument for public sociology in the context of the sociologist as both citizen and as social scientist; that is, as simultaneously a member of any 'society' being researched and as researcher claiming validity for the knowledge produced by research. I shall suggest that the relation between citizenship and social science necessarily places a limit on sociological claims to knowledge in terms both of what can be claimed and of the legitimacy of any claims, but that this need not be damaging to sociology as an expert practice producing distinctive and significant forms of knowledge about the social world. Burawoy's claims on behalf of public sociology take their force from the idea of the sociologist as citizen, but they go beyond this limit in a way that would not only undermine the legitimacy of sociology as professional practice, but also, I shall argue, that of public sociology itself. Ultimately, Burawoy argues for a partisan profession that actively promotes human values that he believes to be embodied in the sociological standpoint. In contrast, I shall argue that political neutrality is central to the corporate organization of sociology, not because social inquiry can, or should be, value-neutral, but because corporate political neutrality creates the space for dialogue and is the condition for any sociology to have a voice.
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