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For a public sociology, Ruy Braga and Michael Burawoy

Review For a public sociology of Ruy Braga and Michael Burawoy (Alameda Press, 2009)

By Luis Martínez Andrade. Posted on, 12 July, 2011


Sociologists Michael Burawoy and Ruy Braga we offer an excellent text on the relevance –including challenges and prospects– of public sociology-organic who struggle openly for the defense of humanity (p. 65). Without disregarding the rigor of theoretical and methodological that every social scientist must assume in the production of their intellectual work, the authors claim the potentiality of the word “commitment” (engajamento). It is precisely this attitude of a involvement committed to the truth –in the sense of a leninist– that both Burawoy as Braga are shaped by the political and social of public sociology.

  1. Covered benjaminianamente in the angel of history, Burawoy presents in 11 theses their notions and arrays of sociology-professional, critical, public, and public policy (p. 20). For him, public sociology is not the negation of professional sociology but also their possible complementarity. However, on the other hand, if the knowledge instrumental and, therefore, their rationality may occasionally exert dominance in the development of professional sociology, the force of containment in this dynamic is expressed in the critical sociology. Burawoy stresses the distinction between public sociology and a sociology to public policy, since the first attempts a dialogical relation between sociologist and public, while the second is at the service of a goal defined by a client. It warns us Burawoy, it means that they are in irreconcilable positions (p. 29).

Michael Burawoy recovers the importance of the sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois as a paradigm of public sociology in both “avenue for the marginalized, the excluded from the political arena and excluded from the academy” (p. 39). However, Burawoy also recognizes the perverse effects of a system that markets (commodifying) not only the material but also the intellectual, corrupting both the moral commitments of a start, pushed some students to go to sociology (thesis V). In this aspect, the author shows in a transparent way by the tension between a habitus and sociological-the field structure of the discipline.

The following “bird’s eye” the history of sociology in the united States, the author argues that taking as a framework the social movements of the decade of the seventies, our “angel of history” seemed to have been high, but with the wave of reforms as neo-liberal in the decade of the eighties, our angel was again beaten. Fortunately that decline lasted for a short time. For Burawoy capitalism in its current stage really put in danger the dimension reflexive sociology. That count of the development of sociology in the united States leads Burawoy to recognize its historical limits and socio-political and, therefore, recognizes the state of the sociology of the u.s. public –provincializando such particularity– and its relationship to public sociology in South Africa or Brazil, to name a few examples.

  1. In O pêndulo de Marx: Sociologias public e engajamento social, Ruy Braga exposes succinctly the influence of Marx and his relation to the(s) sociology(s) public(s) and review(s), in the history of the social sciences. For this sociologist brazilian, we can extract three contributions of the philosopher of Trier: a) the critique of the reification and, therefore, to appearances, b) the historic character of the social form, that is to say, its dynamic, transient, and c) the critique of thought positivist represented in the school of Comte (philosopher of Montpellier) that justifies, in a certain sense, the capitalist domination. Taking the approach of Wallerstein, Braga endorsing Marx within the triumvirate sociological also represented in the figures of Durkheim and Weber.

For Ruy Braga, the specter of Marx can be traced in the work of Pierre Bourdieu. The figure of Bourdieu in the history of sociology is not negligible, not only for its theoretical contributions and analytical but for its social commitment with the movements of response to the neo-liberal model. In this sense, Braga argues that “the involvement bourdieusiano” generated, on the one hand, a debate on the relationship of the researcher with his political action and, on the other, upgraded the old question of the relationship between theory and practice (p. 82). The misère du monde marks the displacement of a Bourdieu critical to a Bourdieu in both sociologist and public –points to Braga.

In accordance with the position of Benjamin and Gramsci, Braga retrieves the paper and the strength of the subordinate classes as “subjects of historical knowledge” (p. 107), therefore, as a class fighter and oppressed. In that sense suggests that the task of the organic intellectual is not just the de-fetishization of social relations but, at the same time, the development of consistent problems set by the society. Hence, the difference between public sociology, traditional and organic public sociology is the central axiological knowledge of the subaltern.

  1. The Report of the Commission Gulbenkian coordinated by I. Wallerstein, has become a reference work for sociologists who argue for the necessity of an opening of the social sciences. In the said report mentioned three problems in the redefinition of the social sciences, these are: a) the false universalism of western thought that he founded to the social sciences, (b) the anachronistic division of the social sciences in relation to their objects of study and, c) a certain methodology positivist guide to the social sciences. For this reason, the Commission suggested the unification of knowledge discipline within the social sciences, resulting in a reconciliation between the humanities and the natural sciences. Not very far from the dream positivist who once posited the general theory of systems. However, for his part, Burawoy asks the following question: how Open the social sciences? What for whom, and for what?

Burawoy identifies the Commission’s proposal as a utopian all-encompassing and abstract (p. 122) in the sense of ignoring the real relations of material production of knowledge and, above all, their socio-temporal and historical. Let Me explain. While for Wallerstein the creation of the social science into compartments defined is intimately related to the configuration of the world system in the NINETEENTH century –and that such bias had been not only an atavism theoretical and epistemic but also, had favored western interests– overcoming, orchestrated by a science, social-historical, would be the reconciliation between the natural sciences and the humanities, for Burawoy this overcoming should not be the reconciliation of these fields, but the correlation between knowledge and instrumental knowledge reflexive, that is, accentuate the contradictions that are hidden under the attempt of a “positivism methodological”. Burawoy stresses that the dissolution of the boundaries between disciplines and their unification might be feasible in a world totalitarian (p. 125) but in the context of contemporary capitalism unification would be even more coercive because in the process of commodification (the third wave) social sciences would be subjugated to the interests of the economy. If Burawoy invited to an opening of the social sciences, it must be to the knowledge of reflective and toward the audience extra-academic, particularly, the groups that threatened both by the tyranny of the market and the repression of the State, therefore, the defense of the society remains the goal of organic public sociology.

  1. Disputing with Wallerstein, Burawoy part of the sociologies actually existing which are based on its divisions of study and their connections with the civil society to point out that sociology can only challenge the hegemonic way of thinking to cling to its autonomy. Hence, Burawoy reproach a certain naivety in Wallerstein –and their followers– to assume that the forms of domination and exploitation are located with equal density in all the political and social contexts without even thinking that such a proposal may be left to the sociology defenseless against the onslaughts of the State and the interests of the market. In that sense, us –argues Burawoy– we do our own sociology under conditions that do not necessarily choose (p. 148). Analyzing the production regimes in post-colonial (India) and post-authoritarian (Latin America), Burawoy shows the importance of the dialogue between sociologies critiques and professionals that have resulted in innovative proposals in the field of social theory as public policy: the theory of dependence in Latin america, to mention one example.
  2. The relationship between public sociology and the sociology of education is addressed by Braga from a position of partisan, this is, in distrust of the market and governments. For Braga, by means of public sociology may promote the contact between students of sociology to students of education because, finally, they are the students of sociology (as research in the making, and as social actors in turn) the audience more important. Although Braga doesn’t dismiss the importance of professional sociology in the programming of the curriculum, emphasising its exercise in the development of a reflexive field common, therefore, the challenge will be the construction of such a field as “laboratory of experiences” (p. 170).
  3. Burawoy identifies four options on the agenda is sociological within the third wave of commodification. For the third wave, the author understands the process in which the guarantees of the conquered in the past (social rights, labour, etc) are eliminated and, at the same time, the reduction of nature to the scope of commercial law is total. Within the narrow range of possibilities that are presented to the sociologist, Burawoy identifies: a) the inclination of the sociologist by the State against the market, b) the isolation of the sociologist in its ivory tower, appealing to the autonomy of their role, c) the production of speeches and/or speeches that invoke low-moral precepts, the transformation of the world but with restriction to the debate among specialists and initiates and, finally, d) “a fourth way that refuses to collaborate with the market and with the State, since, the whole of science without politics is blind, and criticism without intervention is empty” (p. 176), therefore, the practice remains a sine qua non condition in the critical theory.

Analyzing the phases of commodification in South Africa, Russia and the united States, the american sociologist exposes the mechanisms of spoliation that the capitalism in its neo-liberal operates. According to Polanyi, Burawoy argues that if the first wave of marketisation was conceived as a reaction against the transformation of labor in goods, and in the second wave led to the reaction against the transformation of money into merchandise; beyond Polanyi, Burawoy notes that in this phase there is a reaction against the transformation of the earth (ergo the nature) goods. This is why Burawoy alludes to the ecological issue as a central point of contemporary conflicts and, unlike Wallerstein identifies a stabilizing function to the “semi-peripheries”, Burawoy acknowledges its explosive nature and precise that it is in the semi-peripheries where they cook the struggles for the defence of the land, the nature… of humanity tout court.

  1. Michael Burawoy mentions that if we look at the “sociology of radical” of the decade of the seventies, you’ll notice your excessive academic nature and in complete dissonance with the actual reality. Undoubtedly the movements are anti-systemic in the late sixties, through the struggles against the racial discrimination, sexual and many, many more; endowed the sociology of new perspectives and new theoretical approaches. The importance of the feminist perspective could be an example of this (p. 245). However, the decade of the nineties is characterized by a more reactionary, a historical moment that stands out for “the tyranny of markets and the despotism of States that have increased the inequality and suppressed freedoms, both between nations as well as within them” (p. 207) and, therefore, the role of sociology would be linked to the defense of civil society. But what means our author by civil society? For him, civil society is expressing the contradictions of the historical formation and economic, hence, alluding to Janus, Burawoy mentions that the civil society on the one hand, it is a tool of domination and, on the other, a showcase to promote forms of self-determination (p. 217).
  2. For his part, Ruy Braga and Marco Aurélio Santana develop an analysis on the relationship between the sociology of work and trade unionism in Brazil. The authors identify three phases: the first linked to the professionalization of the discipline in the decades of the fifties and sixties, the second expressed in the strong commitment to political and social of the decades of the seventies and eighties, and a third articulated to the public policies of the late TWENTIETH century. To Braga, Santana, the political and historical context of Brazil influenced the configuration of the “old” and “new” unionism, in that aspect, the decade of the eighties marks a part-water on the development of trade unionism in brazil.

The emergence of public sociology as “organic” of the work became apparent in the decades seventies and eighties according to these authors, since it was conceived an “organic link” between researchers and trade unionists. This link will be axial in the process of democratization in Brazil. However, the victory of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was a change of perspective resulting in an interest in public policy.

  1. In the american context, Burawoy notes that Harry Braverman marked a change in the studies within the sociology of work as interpreted from a marxist perspective, the process of the work capitalist. Obviously, the text of Braverman –published in 1974– it was in the context not only of the structural crisis but, also, in the framework of the “demise of structural-functionalism” (p. 244) and, therefore, the work of Breverman did not go unnoticed. Another factor, noted by Burawoy, is the increasingly strong among the “new” trade unionism in america and the academic world, the Institute of Labour and Employment, founded in 2000 in California show such a link.
  2. To understand the path of public sociology, from Brazil, Ruy Braga, Sylvia Gemignani Garcia and Leonardo Mello e Silva examines two paradigmatic illustrations of brazilian schools: Florestan Fernandes and Francisco de Oliveira. The first fruit of the first-generation intellectual, formed by French teachers, she created the foundation of a “School of sao Paulo of Sociology”. Although Fernandes served as “intellectual participant” not downplayed the rigorous basic training of the social scientist. Defending a “general theory of science,” Fernandes argued that, “the emergence of sociology was linked to the needs of the socio-cultural society of classes” (p. 259). However, the social function of the scientist is the creation of knowledge in their specific field and to defend publicly the material conditions, the moral and the production of such knowledge. For its part, the career of Francisco de Oliveira also shows the relationship between a sociology-professional, critical, public, and for public policy. Member of the Sudene (Superintendência de Desenvolvimento do Nordeste) and one of the founders of the Labour Party in 1980 and subsequently to participate actively in the campaign of the Lula of 1989, Francisco de Oliveira also represents the relationship between the committed intellectual and scientific rigor. Therefore, the authors conclude that both Fernandes as Oliveira express the convergence of the four types of sociology that proposes to Burawoy.
  3. The text of Ruy Braga and Michael Burawoy is a set of published papers and other unpublished pushing for a project discipline that has as goal the interdependence and interconnectedness of the four sociologies (professional, critical, public, and for public policy) and as a “common thread” the defense of humanity, therefore, we cannot but recognise not only their valuable contribution to the social scientists committed to the truth and to greet gladly his work have also an emancipatory character.




Luis Martinez Andrade is a sociologist by the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, where he received the distinction Cum Laude and pro bono. He is currently studying for a Doctorate in Sociology at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. In 2009, she received the First Prize of the International Competition of Essay “Thinking against the current”.

This text was originally published in Portuguese in the Journal Estudos de Sociologia linked to the Department of Sociology and Graduate programs in Sociology, UNESP, Campus Araraquara, 2010/Vol. 15. No. 29, Brazil, p. 587-592



Attached below is the article For public sociology Michael Burawoy in the American Sociological Review volume 70 (February 2005), translated into English. It was also published in Scientific Journals of the universidad Complutense: Politics and Society, 2005, Vol. 42 Num. 1: 197-225, and you can download the full text here: PDF.