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Professional Sociology and Public Sociology

Updated on August 28, 2014
Joey Sprague
Joey Sprague | Source

A Summary of "Sociology: The Good, the Bad, and the Public"

Michael Burawoy is a strong advocate for public sociology. In contrast to professional sociology, public sociology seeks to get out of just addressing other sociologists and addressing a wider audience. Burawoy believes that sociology began as a ‘public endeavor’ and addressed social problems of the times, and somewhere along the line, it became more of a professional sociology.

Doug McAdam tells of this conflict as far back as post World War II. There was the “mainstream sociology” that dealt with research and observation, while remaining neutral about these observations. Then there was the public or socially engaged sociology that sought to address the social problems. Most of the sociologists we study addressed social issues for the purpose of change.

The feminist movement had been in place in the sociologists’ world as far back as the beginning of the American Sociologists Association with sociologists like Jane Adams. Although the word feminist did not emerge until much later, the movement to have women as a part of this association continued on and became a major move in the 1950s and early 1970s. This social movement revolved around equality for women.

The women sociologists created their own network to teach feminism. Alice Rossi researched all types of discrimination against women and wrote feminists journals. She became the president of the Sociologists for Women in Society. This structure made significant changes and in the process created the ASA’s Committee on the Status of Women. Then its mission seemed to fade around the 1970s. The author Sprague notes that it changed “from social activism to academic discourse.” (p. 699)

Michel Foucault “analyzed how human sciences create and circulate discourses of normalization, prompting social actors to police themselves as good---that is, complaint---subjects.” (p. 700) Messer-Davidow describes this change as occurring in three ways:

  • The first being that: a discipline, such as sociology, delineates how we are to know this discipline. Even though feminists have shown by studies that gender, class, and racial biases do exist, our reality bears little resemblance to these studies. This is caused by the divisions between our feminist groups and our typical male ordered sociologists groups.
  • Secondly, the activities within a discipline are organized by the discipline. Studies inside the organization need to satisfy only the members, and any study outside the organization comes into political review.
  • Lastly, the organization teaches its sociologists, both present and future, what studies are acceptable studies. The discipline also focuses on research. Research has much more value to its members than working towards any outcome based on this research.

The Author

The author, Joey Sprague, believes that the feminists in today’s sociological world have what the sociologists of the 1970s did not have: “Legitimacy in the academy and significant organizational and financial resources.” (p. 702) Ms. Sprague describes a somewhat detailed plan to make sociology a sociology for people. It includes building bridges between scholarly sociology and communities. Her plan is to learn from right winged tactics and bring sociological studies into the public eye.

Since right winged basic positions are not in the best interests of the majority of the people, it will take strategic efforts of the feminist sociologists to get studies of discrimination, racial bias and class disparities out for the public eye to view. The feminists group of sociologists intend to challenge the “discourses that are disciplining us.” (p. 703) Sprague suggests that the Sociologists for Women in Society work to bridge the gap between the professional sociologists and the public sociologists and find a way to write journals that reach a wider audience and make a difference in our country and offer help with our existing social problems.


Public Sociology and Social Justice

Professional sociology makes little sense to me. I have often pondered my major for this reason. To some degree I understand studying things such as different cultures for the sake of knowledge and to see that these cultural values remain intact. I agree that sociology is a science. But when it comes to social issues that continually harm my own country, I think that public sociology is needed.

Public sociology is the first step to social justice. “Social justice is about equality and fairness between human beings.” The feminists’ groups throughout time have fought for fair treatment and a voice. The American Sociological Association lists their mission statement as “Promoting the Contributions and Use of Sociology to Society.” This mission statement leads me to believe that they are indeed a society of public sociology. The only use that the ASA has to society is identifying social problems and their causes, do they not? The Sociologists for Women seems to be the only entity in the ASA that contributes to this mission.

The Sociologists for Women in Society has made it their mission to teach feminism. Early feminism was about fighting for equality for women. I grew up during a peak time of activist feminism. I labeled myself as one and I remember vividly my friends’ husband yelling at his wife that the ‘bra burner’ was at the door or on the phone for her. I hated the way he treated her and I lectured her for days and months on end until she finally stood up to him. I was at her kitchen table as her support person the very first time she spoke up to him, I remember the anger and the shock on his face on that day and I believe I gave her the courage to take that first step, and the many steps that followed. He was not abusive physically but very much so verbally abusive. They are still married today and I am proud to say it became a somewhat equal partnership, as much as she wants anyway. I actually like him now. He no longer calls me the bra burner.

"When you stop putting yourself on the line, and you don't touch your own heart, how do you expect to touch other people?" Tori Amos

Tori Amos
Tori Amos | Source

Women Who Made A Difference

There are many well known feminists that have made significant contributions to our society. Tori Amos is more known for her music than her contribution as cofounder of RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, a national center that connects rape victims to their local rape crisis centers.

Margaret Sanger

Margaret Sanger
Margaret Sanger | Source

Margaret Sander

Margaret Sander was the founder of Planned Parenthood, an entity that has helped avoid unwanted pregnancies for millions of females. I myself used this agency in the early 70s when I knew no other place to turn. These two women made a change in my life and countless others I am sure.

Elise Boulding

Elise Boulding
Elise Boulding | Source

Equality for Women

I, like the author, see that feminism seems on the surface to have quieted down. Maybe we were lulled into a safe sense of security with all the laws about equality and the significant progress that women have made. Perhaps we were all controlled in some way by what was considered the right type of behavior. I have worked for a company fortunate enough to have a strong union where equal pay and equal opportunity did not seem to be an issue. I had no desire to work above the position I was in, so it didn’t come to my attention till years after being there that the promotions of women into the higher prestigious positions were not that often.

I see now that today’s feminism inside the sociological world is as much about equality for women as it is about all social justice issues. It is about all types of equality. It is about fairness and the eradication of bigotries for the many races and cultures we have opened our borders to. The feminist voice is the voice that has made changes for so many people in many areas, and sometimes I think the only voice that seems to care about social issues. Elise Boulding, noted sociologist, referred women’s work as the underlife, compared to men’s work being the overlife. Also referred to as within and without, it is evident that the publications from the Sociologists for Women in Society are not given the attention or the merit they deserve.

Other Approaches to Social Issues by Joey Sprague
Other Approaches to Social Issues by Joey Sprague

Why Public Sociology

Perhaps as we look at the detrimental turn our society has taken in ignoring discrimination and allowing media programming that encourages degrading moral values, and we see the overwhelming gap between the social classes growing, we see and understand that the only answer is to allow public sociology to become a real science too. We must find a way to make the works of these noted sociologists to be heard. Professional sociologists, public sociology leaders, and social justice leaders need to join forces in identify social issues, their causes, and solutions that may eradicate the issues. I know that I intend to be there at every turn and offer my services and my support.

Public Sociology

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Works Consulted

I am a strong advocate for public sociology and I like the way Ms. Sprague looks at the issues and details solutions. She is a phenomenal advocate for public sociology and finding answers to real social issues and problems. I found her article very informative and right on target.

Works Consulted

American Sociological Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2013.

"Social Justice Definition." Social Justice Definition. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2013.

Sprague, Joey. "Sociology: The Good, the Bad, and the Public." Gender & Society 22.6 (2008): 697-704. Print.

Joey Sprague - 2011 Kemper Award winner


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