Front Matter

The idea of public sociology in its global form was inspired by sociological practice in South Africa, conceptualised as ‘critical engagement’, when the US sociologist Michael Burawoy visited South Africa in the 1990s. This volume explores the trajectory of ‘critical engagement’ before and after Burawoy’s visit, comparing this to the trajectory of ‘public sociology’, which was forged in the very different context of US sociology. Contributors to the edited volume reflect on four decades of dialogue and concept formation between the dominant sociology of the North and the emergent sociology of the South over a 40 year period. They use this to interrogate deeply the contradictions, challenges and profound contribution of social science research to popular struggle - and the equally profound contribution of popular struggles to the formation of new sociological knowledge. Authors located in South Africa wrote the majority of the chapters, but the book also includes contributions from Chile and Turkey as points of comparison across the global South. The book engages historically and conceptually with critical engagement as an evolving practice, as well as more recent research practices in and around the Society, Work and Politics Institute (SWOP) in Johannesburg over the past decade in order to deepen our understanding of the methodologies and processes of knowledge formation that characterise critically engaged research.

Public Sociology series

Series Editors: John Brewer, Queen’s University, Belfast, North Ireland and Neil McLaughlin, McMaster University, Canada

The Public Sociology series addresses not only what sociologists do, but what sociology is for, and focuses on the commitment to materially improving people’s lives through understanding of the social condition. It showcases the wide diversity of sociological research that addresses the many global challenges that threaten the future of humankind.

Out now in the series:

The Public Sociology of Waste

Myra J. Hird

The Public and Their Platforms

Public Sociology in an Era of Social Media

Mark Carrigan and Fatsis Lambros

Public Sociology As Educational Practice

Challenges, Dialogues and Counter-Publics

Edited by Eurig Scandrett

International editorial advisory board

Michael Burawoy, University of California, Berkeley, US

John Brown Childs, University of California Santa Cruz, US

Craig Calhoun, London School of Economics, UK

Frances Fox Pivan, City University of New York, US

John H. Hall, McGill University, Canada

Katie Hughes, Victoria University, Australia

Linda McKie, Durham University, UK

Ann Nilsen, University of Bergen, Norway

Elisa P. Reis, International Panel on Social Progress, Brazil

John Scott, Exeter University, UK

Ari Sitas, University of Cape Town, South Africa

Linda Woodhead, Lancaster University, UK

Find out more at


A Perspective from the Global South

Edited by

Andries Bezuidenhout, Sonwabile Mnwana and Karl von Holdt

First published in Great Britain in 2022 by

Bristol University Press

University of Bristol

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t: +44 (0)117 374 6645


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© Bristol University Press 2022

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

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ISBN 978-1-5292-2114-5 hardcover

ISBN 978-1-5292-2116-9 ePub

ISBN 978-1-5292-2117-6 ePdf

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  • List of Figures and Table vii

  • Notes on Contributors viii

  • Acknowledgements x

  • Series Editors’ Preface xi

  • Typographical Note xvi

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

    Andries Bezuidenhout, Sonwabile Mnwana and Karl von Holdt 1

  2. 2Critical Engagement and SWOP’s Changing Research Tradition

    Andries Bezuidenhout and Karl von Holdt 19

  3. 3Choosing Sides: The Promise and Pitfalls of a Critically Engaged Sociology in Apartheid South Africa

    Edward Webster 44

  4. 4The Decline of Labour Studies and the Democratic Transition

    Sakhela Buhlungu 61

  5. 5From ‘Critical Engagement’ to ‘Public Sociology’ and Back: A Critique from the South

    Karl von Holdt 78

  6. 6The Antinomies and Opportunities of Critical Engagement in South Africa’s Rural Mining Frontier

    Sonwabile Mnwana 106

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

    Jacklyn Cock 123

  8. 8Feminist Participatory Action Research in African Sex Work Studies

    Ntokozo Yingwana 144

  9. 9Participatory Action Research for Food Justice in Johannesburg: Seeking a More Immediate Impact for Engaged Research

    Brittany Kesselman 171

  10. 10Dilemmas and Issues Confronting Socially Engaged Research within Universities

    Aninka Claassens and Nokwanda Sihlali 192

  11. 11Experiences of Meetings and Cooperation between Academics and Unions: The Work Studies Group from the South (GETSUR)

    Dasten Julián Vejar 215

  12. 12Critically Engaged Sociology in Turkey and ‘Sociology across the South’

    Ercüment Çelik 235

  13. 13Reflections on Critical Engagement

    Michael Burawoy 256

  14. 14Conclusion: Towards a Southern Sociology

    Karl von Holdt 265

List of Figures and Table


  1. 8.1Daniel’s body map 158
  2. 8.2Anika’s body map 159
  3. 8.3Sanyu’s body map 162
  4. 10.1LARC’s theory of change 195
  5. 11.1Map of the Araucanía region 219


  1. 7.1Summary of the differences between the two approaches 139

Notes on Contributors

  • Andries Bezuidenhout is Professor of Development Studies at the University of Fort Hare, South Africa.

  • Sakhela Buhlungu is Vice Chancellor of the University of Fort Hare, South Africa.

  • Michael Burawoy is Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, US.

  • Ercüment Çelik is with the Institut für Soziologie, Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg (Institute for Sociology, Albert Ludwigs University, Freiburg), Germany.

  • Aninka Claassens founded the Land and Accountability Research Centre, University of Cape Town in South Africa and is now retired.

  • Jacklyn Cock is Professor Emerita in the Department of Sociology at the University of the Witwatersrand and an associate of the Society, Work and Politics Institute, South Africa.

  • Brittany Kesselman is Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Society, Work and Politics Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.

  • Sonwabile Mnwana is Professor of Development Studies in the Department of Sociology at Rhodes University, South Africa.

  • Nokwanda Sihlali is Researcher at the Land and Accountability Research Centre, University of Cape Town, South Africa.

  • Dasten Julián Vejar is with the Instituto de Historia y Ciencias Sociales, Universidad Austral de Chile (Institute of History and Social Sciences, Austral University of Chile). He is also an associate of the Society, Work and Politics Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.

  • Karl von Holdt is Professor and former Director of the Society, Work and Politics Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.

  • Edward Webster is Professor Emeritus and the founder of the Society, Work and Politics Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.

  • Ntokozo Yingwana is Researcher and PhD candidate with the African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS) at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.


We would like to thank the Ford Foundation for funding a programme on Research and Social Justice, matched by the University of the Witwatersrand Research Office, that allowed a number of postdoctoral fellows to join the Society, Work and Politics Institute (SWOP). One of them was Alberto Arribas Lozano, who shook up our thinking on ‘public sociology’ and ‘critical engagement’ with his article ‘Reframing the public sociology debate: Towards collaborative and decolonial praxis’, quoted in many of the chapters of this book. Alberto started out with us on the project of producing this volume before his travels took him elsewhere. We would like to thank him for his critical engagement, his belief in the importance of producing this volume and his friendship. We would also like to thank the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, South Africa, for funding the initial workshop in 2018, which led to the production of this book. Sonwabile Mnwana wants to thank the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS) for dedicated time to concentrate on writing. We would like to thank the editors of this series, John Brewer and Neil McLaughlin, as well as Shannon Kneis at Bristol University Press, who guided us through the review and revision process. We also thank the two anonymous reviewers for their recommendations. Then, we give our appreciation to Sakhela Buhlungu for agreeing to reproduce his article on South African labour studies in this volume. The book would have been incomplete without his voice. We would like to thank Eddie Webster for his contribution not just to this book but to shaping and theorizing the South African tradition of critically engaged research. We would like to acknowledge Michael Burawoy, a long-standing inspiration and partner in sociology as combat sport, and thank him for his contribution to this volume. Finally, we would like to thank Prishani Naidoo, the current director of SWOP, for her support for this project.

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