1: Introduction: Critical Engagement in South Africa and the Global South

This volume identifies South Africa as the birthplace of the concept of public sociology, popularized globally by Michael Burawoy, and charts the contrasting trajectories of ‘public sociology’ and ‘critically engaged sociology’ as found in South Africa. The focus is on researchers and research conducted at the Society, Work and Politics Institute (SWOP) at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, as well as work by researchers associated with the institute through collaborations of one sort or another. The introduction goes on to provide a thumbnail sketch of SWOP and its history, founded as it was in 1983 in the most turbulent decade of popular uprisings against apartheid. It locates SWOP’s commitment to ‘critical engagement’ with popular movements, the democratic trade union movement in particular, in the context of the evolution of South African sociology and the particular space it occupied in the forging of a new radical and critical social science. The chapter goes on to provide a sketch of Burawoy’s successful campaign to popularize public sociology globally, and it ends with a description of the chapters collected in this volume.

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