7: Sociological Engagement with the Struggle for a Just Transition in South Africa

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The chapter details attempts by researchers at the Society, Work and Politics Institute (SWOP) to empower the marginalized classes through critically engaged research. Such attempts were based on two sociological initiatives; first, a trade union project in which SWOP participated, mainly in the form of ‘public sociology’ – disseminating instrumental knowledge to a non-academic audience – and, second, a SWOP project which involved working closely with popular movements in the production of new sociological knowledge. Although both projects aimed to empower ordinary workers and social movements led by the marginalized groups, the two projects differed in approach and process. The chapter unpacks this difference by highlighting how the methodology of the ‘critical engagement’ (horizontal and dialogic) created spaces for dialogue and exchange that was intrinsically empowering, while the public sociology approach (vertical and didactic) was more limited in the sense of only containing that potential.

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