Traditional public sociology vs organic public sociology

Another interesting passage from the Open Letter to C. Wright Mills by Michael Burawoy:

But how should we talk to publics? Your modus operandi, I have to tell you this, is to talk down to publics. You place yourself above publics. In fact you don’t believe there really are any publics except the New York intellectuals that surround you. For the rest you have mass society, atomized, deceived, and manipulated individuals. It’s as if making direct contact with people would contaminate you or your thoughts. There is a deep elitism in your detachment. You represent what I would call traditional public sociology —books written for but not with publics.
There is another type of public sociology, what I call organic public sociology, in which the sociologist steps out of the protected environment of the academy and reaches into the pockets of civil society. The organic public sociologist enters into an unmediated dialogue with neighborhood associations, with communities of faith, with labor movements, with prisoners. If, for traditional public sociology, publics, say the readership of The New York Times, are national, thin (people hardly aware of one another), passive, and mainstream, the organic publics are likely to be local, thick, active and often counter-public.

Categories: Committing Sociology

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2 replies »

  1. As much as I approve of Burawoy’s call for unmediated dialogue with counter-publics, I’m a bit uneasy with the idea of criticising academics for ‘talking down’ to laypeople. When medical researchers tell people to quit smoking, is that ‘talking down’?

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