January 25, 2017 | 4 Comments Blog I: Introduction to Public Sociology Public Sociology? Public sociology, by definition can be described as a sociology that engages diverse publics, expanding beyond universities, where dialogues with publics are ongoing with regard to fundamental values (Zussman; Misra, 2007). Further, public sociology deals with a shift from traditional sociological methods of inquiry and application to a more practical, hands on approach to understand social phenomena. Traditional sociology involves a focus on professional and critical knowledge maintained and confined to academic communities. On the contrary, public sociology demands a different approach- calling for sociologists to leave their academic communities and engage with such audiences as policy makers, lawyers, community groups, employers, media, their students, and the general public in their natural “habitats” (Badgett, 2015). Public sociologists implement a more subjective methodology to their audience(s), becoming a part of the social situation, seeking to involve all participants for hopes of effective, impactful change. Why Public Sociology? Considering the various other forms of sociology- professional, policy, and critical, some professionals in the field ask “why include public sociology as independent?”. There are some sociologists who are of the opinion that sociologists already practice public sociology and question its relevance as an independent methodology. According to Badgett (2015), when challenged to leave their “cultural exclusivity”, sociologists responded “many scholars, who pushed back, pointing out that many professors engage on public matters through their blogs, outreach to policy makers, and teaching” (p. 16). In addition there is some concern the strong focus on public sociology is influenced by politics. Specific to American sociology and its difficulties towards the end of the 20th century, some consider the question “ “Is public sociology a PR stunt to increase legitimacy?” (Kalleberg, 2005). By contrast, Michael Burawoy, former president of the American Sociological Association, supports public sociology’s ability to return sociology to its calling, according to Zussman, Misra (2007), “Burawoy issued an impassioned call for a revitalization of sociology in a turn to a “public sociology” distinguished by its use of reflexive knowledge and its appeal beyond the university” (p. 3). Burawoy’s support of public sociology is shared with professionals such as French sociologist Alain Touraine, and Patricia Hill Collins who is self-identified as unabashedly a practitioner of public sociology, while critics such as Lynn Smith-Lovin, Arthur Stinchcombe, and Douglas Massey show concern for too much political involvement (Zussman; Misra, 2007). The debate continues with concerns for sociology as a discipline as well as the effectiveness of public sociology and its place within the academic community. Value of Public Sociology-Within the Scientific Community and Beyond There is debate within the sociological community surrounding the application and effectiveness of public sociology. The application of public sociology is dynamic, with varying degrees of support and criticism from sociologists. Subsequently the level of effectiveness and necessity of public sociology varies with the same sociologists. Proponents of public sociology support public sociology’s ability to reach beyond that of policy, professional, and critical sociology, allowing for a deeper understanding of social issues by engaging with diverse public audiences. Public sociology, both traditional and organic, allow sociologists to observe and/or become involved in public debate, with organic sociology allowing professionals to work in close connection with local, oftentimes countercultures (Burawoy, 2005). Of significant value to supporters of public sociology is its ability, along with policy sociology, to have a direct application to a public audience. By contrast, both professional sociology and critical sociology take an academic focus which for public sociology supporters strengthens their stance. Supporting claims that public sociology can benefit both academia and the public, Dr. Zuleyka Zevallos (2014) states “the application of sociology outside academia therefore has a significant benefit to sociology’s scientific influence and its significance to the general public” (p. 2). Public sociology remains a topic among sociologists due to its effectiveness at reaching public audiences out of reach of other types of sociology. As long as it can legitimize itself by proving effective when implemented autonomously, public sociology will most likely continue to prove valuable. How to Implement Public Sociology According to Karen Sternheimer (2013), “Michael Burawoy encouraged sociologists to think beyond the academic tradition of sharing our ideas only with other professionals in academic journals” (p. 1). The obvious question when addressing Burawoy’s statement would then be “How does a sociologist” employ this methodology? Academics as well as public sociologists can reach public audiences through a series of steps, leading them to engaging interactions with potentially diverse, more representative populations. Instrumental in implementing public sociology is the ability to identify target audiences such as policy makers, lawmakers, teachers, activists, and the general public. These audiences will allow sociologists to engage at varying levels (using either traditional public sociology or organic public sociology), significantly increasing the likelihood of producing sustainable, impactful results. In addition to identifying audiences, sociologists must recognize the “big picture” when addressing social phenomena of interest, with focus on the details of the argument and objectively observing all audience involved in a situation before involving themselves in the debate. Tools such as brainstorming charts that list pros and cons of debates can be used as well as flow charts that show relationships between arguments. The process of public sociology is dynamic, with distinct steps to effectively initiate one’s role and work to implement change. Through continued practice and a commitment to one’s audience(s) public sociology can effectively reach populations that arguably other academic types are not capable of. References: Badgett, M. V. L. (2015). The public professor: How to use your research to change the world. New York and London: New York University Press. Burawoy, M. (2005). For public sociology. American Sociological Review, 70(1), 4-28. Kalleberg, R. (2005). What is ‘ public sociology’? why and how should it be made stronger? British Journal of Sociology, 56(3), 387-393. doi:10.1111/j.1468-4446.2005.00070.x Sternheimer, K. (2013). The promise and perils of public sociology. Retrieved from http://www.everydaysociologyblog.com/2013/07/the-promise-and-perils-of-public-sociology.html Zevallos, Z. (2014). Breaking down the otherness of applied sociology. Retrieved from http://www.sociologyatwork.org/otherness-of-applied-sociology/ Zussman, R., & Misra, J. (2007). In Clawson D., Zussman R., Misra J., Gerstel N., Stokes R., Anderton D. L. and Burawoy M. (Eds.), Public sociology: Introduction. Berkley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press.