Sunday, April 18, 2004

Reflections on Burawoy’s visit

Inciting discussions about knowledge for whom and knowledge for what brought Michael Burawoy to the university this weekend. These discussions are beginning points needed to reflexively address what role we as sociologists are interested and willing to play, including and in addition to our scholarly writing and teaching with civil society. Also, this is needed for academics to reassess the role of the university and the knowledges it produces with/in civil society. Next issue then is how do we understand civil society, which I’m not ready to undertake in this reflection…next time, perhaps (more important is that it’s on the table for discussion I think).

Burawoy’s talk on Friday, was really, as he said, “a unity speech” to help the “anarcho-syndicalist” discipline of sociology realize the innovation that comes from interdependence, and constructive conflict. I agree that this does give the discipline dynamism and creativity, but only to the extent that constructive conflict is allowed to exist with respect and conducted respectfully. Many sociologists either simultaneously or at varying periods of their career occupy multiple if not all boxes on Burawoy’s 2x2 table of sociologists (professional/critical/policy/public). As Professor Zerai stated on the panel on Saturday, sociologists have to be reflexive enough not to police careers that must solely conform to the professional box until they gain tenure. Otherwise, the dynamism of the discipline will be impeded and less able to respond to societal issues, academic and civic, with cutting edge sociological tools.

The panel on Saturday explicitly addressed acts of public intellectualism as well as discussions of the usefulness and indeed vitality of the university on public intellectualism in these times of increasing privatization and stratification between/within universities, between/within colleges, and between/within departments. Public intellectualism in these discussions ranged from approaches to teaching, scholar/activism, sources of university funding, and analysis of the university’s relationship, or lack thereof, to a critical public.

So, reflecting on the discussions fostered by Burawoy and his agenda, these are the issues I personally would like to address in our working group. If we feel compelled to grassroots activism, this is something we likely already do as individuals. This is something I think we can each bring to the table to make others aware of issues we are working on whether or not we feel the group can contribute in any meaningful way, and of course post for discussion as well (e.g. my issues likely will concern the occupation of Iraq and the GEO). Two immediate concerns of mine that may be shared by others are 1) teaching techniques including and beyond service learning projects 2) ways of communicating sociological knowledge that is accessible outside of the university, and not limiting focus to activist organizations likely already informed about their issues of concern. I do believe these should be approached reflexively, avoiding any elitist tendencies, but I also think that making sociology accessible to those outside of the university community is part of avoiding elitism.

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