Journal Article

Public Sociology? Between Heroic Immersion and Critical Distance: Personal Reflections on Academic Engagement with Political Life

Published 1 January 2008 / By Michael Keith

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Introduction

This article attempts to disrupt some of the ways in which engaged social science at times is forced to choose between the technocratic workings of the state and the political world of civil society. In disrupting the common sense distinction between ‘critical distance’ and ‘heroic immersion’ in the everyday life of the city, the piece tries to reframe an understanding of what the ‘public sociology’ powerfully advocated by Michael Burawoy, when chair of the American Sociological Association, might achieve. Rather than conceptualize the ways in which particular know ledges enter into the public realm, we might alternatively think through the manner in which these forms of knowledge themselves constitute publics, congregate audiences around particular forms of expertise that need to be drawn on pragmatically and instrumentally in attempts both to achieve the good society and to link the academy to the civil realm. To do so we might also need to refigure the relation between the sentimental and the rational in the operating of state bureaucracy and the powerful economization of everyday life that sets precedent for the more influential forms of public engagement.

Keith, M. (2008) 'Public Sociology? Between Heroic Immersion and Critical Distance: Personal Reflections on Academic Engagement with Political Life', Critical Social Policy, 28(3): 320-334