The chapter details the complex paradoxes associated with producing socially engaged knowledge in South Africa’s rural mining frontier – a social landscape characterized by power asymmetries and intense local conflict. It adopts the concept of ‘critical engagement’ to explain the tensions and challenges that a fractured local context imposes on the process of knowledge production and the ‘autonomy’ of a researcher. It discusses how the researcher responded to and navigated these challenges. Finally, this contribution argues that quality sociological knowledge produced over a long period of extensive engagement with all existing social classes and ‘social worlds’ has great potential to lead to positive political outcomes for the marginalized classes.
This chapter problematizes the notion of public sociology by comparing two examples of research undertaken during the apartheid period. It raises questions over the role of sociologists in situations of large-scale suffering and exploitation. Should they take sides, and if they do, on what grounds can such choices be justified? It is argued that one takes sides on the basis of certain value commitments. But when sociologists go beyond the relative comfort of the classroom and engage with organizations outside the university, they dirty their hands. This is the dilemma that lies at the heart of a ‘critically engaged sociology’: how to square the circle between practical engagement with outside organizations and a commitment by the sociologist to scholarship. The chapter concludes by suggesting a response to this dilemma in the form of ‘critical engagement’.
The conclusion discusses each of the chapters in this volume in order to address the three big questions that animate this book: Does critical engagement represent a Southern sociology? Does critical engagement constitute a whole sociology, engaging in knowledge and theory production as well as questions of political mobilization and change? Does it constitute a counter-hegemonic sociology? It argues that Southern sociology is constituted in the context of permanent instability and movements for radical social change – accounting for critical engagement’s radical orientation, its alliance with forces for social change and its critique of official sociology. This chapter explores the different combinations of scholarly autonomy and political engagement adopted by each of the researchers as they navigate power-laden research sites, and it argues for the importance of reflecting on the subtleties of these diverse experiences. Ultimately, it argues for a conception of critical engagement as incipiently counter-hegemonic, both in its South–South encounters and in North–South solidarity and contestation.
This chapter provides an overview of the research trajectory of the Society, Work and Politics Institute (SWOP) and how this was shaped by its commitment to supporting the labour movement in particular and South Africa’s liberation movement and social movements in general. The chapter maps out the institute’s research traditions as they evolved from the founding of SWOP in the early 1980s up to the contemporary era. Tensions and contradictions involved in a critically engaged research tradition are highlighted. The chapter comments on how the post-apartheid fragmentation of the labour movement subsequently impacted on labour studies itself and how SWOP responded to tensions between researchers and trade unions in flux and under attack in the post-apartheid era. In response to changing relationships with its labour partners, SWOP researchers broadened their research foci to include topics well beyond the scope of labour studies. Over time, the institute became more aware of its location in the Global South and the need to re-evaluate the critical tradition of Northern theory that had shaped its research agenda.
The idea of public sociology, as introduced by Michael Burawoy, was inspired by the sociological practice in South Africa known as ‘critical engagement’. This volume explores the evolution of critical engagement before and after Burawoy’s visit to South Africa in the 1990s and offers a Southern critique of his model of public sociology.
Involving four generations of researchers from the Global South, the authors provide a multifaceted exploration of the formation of new knowledge through research practices of co-production.
Tracing the historical development of ‘critical engagement’ from a Global South perspective, the book deftly weaves a bridge between the debates on public sociology and decolonial frameworks.
This chapter on Turkey, informed by the South African experience, focuses on the conditional difference between the concepts of ‘critical engagement’ and ‘public sociology’ and argues that critical engagement and the knowledge produced through it bear a Southern character. The author uniquely adds a new dimension to Burawoy’s ‘Southern sociology’ perspective and conceptualizes a ‘sociology across the South’ in his particular attempt to explain the difference between the concepts of critical engagement and public sociology. The first part of the chapter reflects on the critical engagement and positioning of academics in a response to a permanent condition of radical social change in Turkey since the 1950s. The second part underlines the knowledge production at the intersection of the academic and political practices around the debate on Asiatic mode of production and agricultural production that began in the 1960s in Turkey.
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.
This chapter describes the work of the Land and Accountability Research Centre as an activist research centre at the University of Cape Town. It focuses on the co-creation of knowledge with rural community partners, suggesting that such co-creation transcends the concepts of ‘public sociology’ and ‘critical engagement’. It posits that current university criteria to measure research outputs fail to recognize the societal value of such forms of knowledge, focusing instead on specific individual outputs which discourage young researchers from investing in the rich but time-consuming process of building community partnerships that respond to community-identified research priorities. These entrenched criteria risk undermining innovative forms of research excellence that address pressing societal problems identified by the people directly affected.
This chapter details attempts to set up a research unit that links university-based academics to the labour movement in the south of Chile called the Work Studies Group from the South (GETSUR). The initiative was inspired by the idea of ‘public sociology’ and by interactions with Michael Burawoy in particular, as well as the model provided by the Society, Work and Politics Institute in South Africa. The chapter explains the challenges to this in the local context, including an underdeveloped trade union tradition combined with intense hostility to activist research in universities themselves. As a result, GETSUR was forced to change institutional affiliation and register as an non-profit organization to secure its independence and sustainability.
What does it mean to be an African sex worker feminist? This chapter reflects on two qualitative studies that were conducted with African sex worker groups using the feminist participatory action research (FPAR) methodology in answering this question. It illustrates how FPAR can be used to tap into sex workers’ embodied lived experiences through body maps. It also demonstrates how the methodology offers an opportunity to critically engage with debates pertaining to sociology as a discipline. I argue that the co-production of knowledge together with sex workers using FPAR, the commitment of this form of research to social justice and scholarly goals, as well as the complex and contradictory location of the scholar activist as both insider and outsider are more consistent with the conception of ‘critical engagement’ than ‘public sociology’.