4: The Decline of Labour Studies and the Democratic Transition

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This chapter explores the ways in which a form of intellectual engagement has gone beyond merely studying society and sought to influence processes of change by engaging with actors outside disciplinary scholarship and the academy. In South Africa, the broad sub-discipline of labour studies provides probably the best illustration of this engagement, which Burawoy has termed ‘public sociology’. The chapter traces the emergence and growth of public sociology, initially from the position of relative privilege in the ivory tower and later to more direct forms of engagement with the new publics that emerged in the antiapartheid struggle. The discussion explains why the labour movement became the focal point of public sociology in South Africa. Finally, the chapter argues that the advent of democracy led to a growing assertiveness among the antiapartheid movements, including labour. This not only altered the terms on which public sociology was undertaken, but also resulted in a decline of public sociology inherited from the antiapartheid struggle.

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