Michael Burawoy (Berkeley, US): Public Sociology Today – Challenges and Prospects
As an academic discipline sociology distinguishes itself by its responsiveness to the empirical world it inhabits. Sociology develops its theories to accord with that world. Thinking globally, the last decade has seen two political reactions to the deepening of capitalism and its inequalities – a progressive reaction followed by an authoritarian reaction. To understand this bipolar response, I draw on Karl Polanyi's canonical treatise: The Great Transformation. But it needs reconstruction: a theory of capitalism that recognizes successive waves of marketization; a theory of commodification that includes the commodification of knowledge alongside the commodification of nature, labor and money; a theory of the production and dissemination of knowledge that recognizes the central role of the university in advancing research and defending truth but also in expanding public engagement; finally, a theory of social media that is responsible for the transformation of the public sphere. These issues set the sociological agenda for the foreseeable future and pose new challenges for any sociologist wanting to engage closely with civil society.