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Many clinical sociologists are full-time or part-time university professors, and these clinical sociologists may undertake intervention work in addition to their teaching and research or they may focus on providing some combination of research and advice to those who do take actions (e.g., policymakers, the public, administrators, corporate boards, unions). If the focus of clinical sociologists is on advice/analysis for the public sector, this emphasis, in the last few years, has been referred to as public sociology ....

Fritz, Jan Marie. “Clinical Sociology.” 21st Century Sociology. Ed. . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2006. 353-60. SAGE Reference Online. Web. 25 Jan. 2012.

Public sociology is less a vision of than it is an orientation toward the practice of sociology. It is a sociology that is oriented toward major problems of the day, one that attempts to address them with the tools of social science, and in a manner often informed by historical and comparative perspectives. It is a sociology that seeks as its audience not just other sociologists, but wider communities of discourse, from policy makers to subaltern counter-publics. In its robustly reflexive mode, sociology manifests itself as a public sociology designed to promote public reflection on significant social issues. But it has a more instrumental mode too, a “policy sociology” with specifically defined goals, responsive to the needs and interests of specific clients.

Burawoy, Michael and VanAntwerpen, Jonathan, "Berkeley Sociology: Past, Present and Future." PDF. November, 2001. Retrieved on July 3, 2009.

We can trace public sociology back to C. Wright Mills, who famously defined the sociological imagination as linking personal troubles to public issues, the foundation of a sociology for publics. Mills cast the sociological imagination in opposition to the professionalization of the time – grand theory (structural functionalism of Talcott Parsons) and abstracted empiricism (market and opinion research of Paul Lazarsfeld). Harking back to the classics Mills propounded the craftworker as the ideal sociologist – an isolated monad bringing together theory and empirical research, and tying social milieu to social structure, micro to macro.

Burawoy, Michael, "Introduction to the Italian Translation of 'For Public Sociology.'" Sociologica. January, 2007. PDF. Retrieved on July 3, 2009.

Gans defines a public sociologist as “a public intellectual who applies sociological ideas and findings to social (defined broadly) issues about which sociology (also defined broadly) has something to say.” Public sociologists are different from the garden variety of public intellectuals in that the latter “comment on whatever matters show up on the public agenda; public sociologists do so only on issues to which they apply their sociological insights and findings.” For example, we are knowledgeable about social problems and we can be “particularly useful in debunking the conventional wisdom and popular myths (e.g., that teenage pregnancy is a popular cause of poverty).” All in all, it is a modest but useful proposal that essentially is an extension of our role as teachers.

By contrast, Burawoy’s model is quite grandiose. “As mirror and conscience of society,” Burawoy maintains, “sociology must define, promote and inform public debate about deepening class and racial inequalities, new gender regimes, environmental degradation, market fundamentalism, state and non-state violence.” An immediately noticeable difference between Gans and Burawoy is that the latter’s public sociologist is less teacher than “activist;” sociology “must define, promote, and inform public debate” about the issues he lists and, in addition, “stimulate debate” in “local, global, and national contexts.”

This, however, is not the crucial difference, for Burawoy has added another dimension to the meaning of sociology itself—it is no longer merely a scientific or scholarly body of knowledge but “the mirror and conscience of society.” Conscience implies a continuous moral evaluation of action, and Burawoy’s assertion apparently means that it is a defining characteristic of our discipline. Leaving alone the question of who elected sociology to this office, Burawoy also seems to be declaring that our contributions to public debate “must” consist of moral judgments; that is, those who choose not to make such judgments and, for example, merely contribute factual knowledge or recommend one policy rather than another, cannot practice Burawoy’s public sociology.

“Finally,” Burawoy concludes, “the critical imagination, exposing the gap between what is and what could be, infuses values into public sociology to remind us that the world could be different.” This strongly suggests that public sociology should not only be in the business of distinguishing right from wrong but also pointing society in the direction of some ideal reality. Indeed, it is clear, if we remember the issues that Burawoy believes should be of most concern to public sociology, the mirror his public sociology holds up to society would reflect only the portrait in the closet.

Hausknecht, Murray, "Models of Public Sociology." PDF. Retrieved on July 3, 2009.

Herbert Gans
Herbert Gans

Gans, Herbert. Sociology in America: The Discipline and the Public. PDF. Herbert Gans' 1988 American Sociological Association Address. Retrieved on July 3, 2009.