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  • Author or Editor: Sonwabile Mnwana x
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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.

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A Perspective from the Global South

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.

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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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