Our education list focuses on education policy and politics and the inequalities that are both built into education systems and perpetuated by them. It speaks to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 4: Quality Education.
Our titles, including Stephen Ball’s The Education Debate, now in its fourth edition, address the challenges in education, including those around technology and the digital divide. The list offers students and researchers internationally sourced evidence-based solutions that challenge traditional neoliberal approaches to learning.
This chapter identifies who are the 'publics' of public sociology education by referring to Nancy Fraser's formulation of the subaltern counterpublic. It explores who constitutes a 'subaltern counterpublic' and produces curricula in public sociology education. It also mentions who is included and excluded by the practice of public sociology education. The chapter analyses the provocation that makes the case that public sociology primarily engages with subaltern counterpublics, such as those engaged in resistance, resilience, or building alternatives to some form of oppression, exploitation, or injustice. It explains what constitutes a 'counter public' that emerges, for the public sociologist, from dialogue with the praxis of those engaged in struggle against structures and representations that oppress, exploit, and exclude.
We are writing as teachers and academics with substantial experience over many years (50 years combined) on undergraduate and postgraduate programmes of professional community education. This chapter is derived from that experience and developed from Community Engagement: A Critical Guide for Practitioners (Shaw and Crowther, 2017), a practical resource intended to guide workers as they confront the contemporary challenges of community engagement.
The formation of professional community education services in Scotland was an outcome of the 1975 Alexander Report on Adult Education: The Challenge of Change (Scottish Education Department, 1975), which was adopted by most local authorities. It was not until early 2000 that the term went largely out of favour in the context of local government reform. Whilst the term ‘community education’ has been largely abandoned in policy in Scotland, and other parts of the UK, it still carries historical resonance as a form of educational work rooted in the lives of real people, whatever the contingencies of context. It therefore continues to raise expectations of a curriculum that draws creatively on people’s experiences in order to enlarge the space for cultivating and sustaining critical community engagement.
These aspirations, however, are increasingly subject to competing rationalities. First, they are at odds with the realities of contemporary higher education in the UK. We are based in a research-intensive university, operating within a wider system of marketised higher education. In this context, the professional locus of our work, and the ideological commitments that inform it, tend to be marginal at best; at worst, surplus to institutional requirements.
This collection makes an argument for understanding public sociology more dialectically. The focus of our practice is on dialogue, and the dynamics of knowledge production involves dialectical relations: between teachers and students; researchers and publics; practice and theory; between different practices of sociology reflected in Burawoy’s ‘quadrants’; between the parochial and the universal; the local and global; and between the neoliberal university and the spaces that public sociologists find to engage in dialogue with subaltern counterpublics.
Through a process resonant with Burawoy’s extended case method aiming to stimulate a dialectical process through provocation, case studies and dialogue, this book has foregrounded questions about the publics with which public sociologists engage. Nancy Fraser’s concept of the subaltern counterpublic is used as a heuristic device for understanding the counterpublic spheres that public sociology as educational practice helps to create. It has also encouraged interrogation of the subalternity of the publics with which we engage. Through a series of dialogues, it has attempted to explore the extent to which public sociology as educational practice contributes to social processes in which mechanisms of exploitation and oppression can be challenged. This has helped to clarify that the ‘subaltern counterpublic’ device has heuristic, rather than definitional value for the practice of public sociology. It has helped to shape how we interpret the tasks of public sociologists as well as how publics interact with the social world and its negotiations over power, meaning and practices. This is a dynamic process. The subaltern counterpublic is not a fixed category of the social world, but rather always contingent, relational and subject to realignment.
The concept of ‘public knowledge’, how it is created, its role and influence has become central to understandings of forms of democratic community engagement, which are designed to address economic, social and economic inequalities at local level (Fraser, 1990; Williams, 2008; Bivens et al, 2015; Hall et al, 2015). Whilst there is substantive theoretical and empirical evidence elevating the role of public knowledge in building social capital, and equipping people with citizenship skills that are central to community building, the role and potential of transformative forms of public knowledge co-generated by people experiencing inequalities as ‘cognitive praxis’ is less understood (Eyerman and Jamison, 1991). As a recent World Science Report argues:
There are key opportunities for a transformative knowledge agenda that is co-constructed with those who are experiencing inequalities and are in a position to influence change through policies, practices and politics … In a world in which knowledge shapes power and voice, and vice versa, the fundamental inequality in the production of knowledge about inequality itself must be addressed. (International Social Science Council, 2016: 275)
The co-generation of knowledge between ‘publics’ at community level, academics, and policy makers has been central to recent place-based approaches to joint planning, resourcing and delivery across Scotland’s local authority areas. The notion of ‘community empowerment’ legally constituted with the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act (Scottish Government 2015) is pivotal to these approaches. Underlining this, the social rationale for place-based approaches is rooted in ideals of ‘democratic engagement’, ‘accountability’ and ‘greater responsiveness in decision making’ (Scottish Government, 2016).
This chapter explores the relationship between policy research and public sociology. Sociology, as Burawoy (2007a) famously argued, has a responsibility to turn the reflexive knowledge that it produces over to the service of social and political ‘progress’ and has a long tradition of producing ‘really useful knowledge’ to address ‘social problems’. Useful knowledge is subject to dialectical and dialogical processes between diverse publics and sociologists, producing open-ended, morally and politically freighted possibilities that cannot be predetermined. In terms of extra-academic knowledge Burawoy (2007a: 31) distinguishes public sociology from ‘policy sociology’. The latter is characterised as the production of expert knowledge to provide recommendations or legitimate solutions defined by a non-academic client. Policy sociology aims to contribute to the public policy process by attracting research funding either directly from policy-making bodies or from third parties such as charitable foundations or other public agencies. The boundary between public sociology and policy sociology is sometimes more fluid than static ideal-types suppose. For example, policy sociology may assume the form of public sociology in cases where sociologists seek the support of non-policy publics when clients refuse to support policy proposals. Typically, policy sociology seeks to foster constructive relationships with government and policy insiders. Policy sociology is sometimes accused of reducing sociology to a form of technical expertise shaped more by the conditions of funding than the logic of scientific enquiry (Bryson, 1999). Such instrumentalism risks reducing policy sociology to a subordinate relationship to funders in the form of ‘sponsor capture’.
Decades of feminist research and advocacy have given voice to a recognition of domestic abuse as a social problem, driven by structural factors in society, underpinned by and perpetuating gender inequality. Yet, at an individual level, women experiencing domestic abuse may be left feeling they have lost their voice both literally and metaphorically. The hidden nature of coercion and control means their lived reality has no public audience (Stark, 2007). In a society where victim blaming and sexism is pervasive, women anticipate how they will be judged, and this fear of disclosure generates a form of gendered shame that continues to operate to silence women (Enander, 2010). The ‘Same Hell, Different Devils’ study used a feminist participatory action research (FPAR) approach and deployed the visual method of photovoice, with women survivors of domestic abuse in Scotland, to enable them to make sense of their experiences of domestic abuse and their own alcohol use, in a group setting (Young, 2016). The research offered an opportunity for participants to have their voices heard and to explore the wider societal power structures that impact on their experiences.
In this case study, exploring the concept of ‘voice’, I consider the benefits, challenges and risks faced by the women survivors of domestic abuse who participated in this research, that I consider an example of organic public sociology: a form of sociology where the researcher works with an engaged public to generate knowledge for the purpose of social change (Burawoy, 2005).
None of the authors of this chapter are sociologists. All of them have featured in a major international, sociological keynote and public lecture. Each has been, and may still claim to be, an indigenous person (one, somewhat tenuously). Each is a migrant. Each is a multilingual. Each is an artist.
There is something strange, consequently, for each to be invited to contribute to a volume on public sociology education without actually having any of the qualifications. For Alison, this was made particularly stark at the Australian Sociological Association’s 2017 conference in Perth, Western Australia. She had been invited to give the public keynote lecture, perhaps the highest guest honour. In the opening sessions all delegates were given the task of asking themselves the question, ‘When did you give your first sociology paper at a sociology conference.’ Everyone had an example, except for those just starting out, and they were given a warm welcome as they made their rite of passage into the scholarly communities of sociologists.
Alison was the imposter, and the materials in her bag for her public lecture were those of equal imposters, the co-authors of this chapter. She wore a suit made by the sociology imposter Naa Densua Tordzro for the occasion. It was hand woven, and tailored, and it was a research output. This was not a normal piece of ‘data’ or ‘result’ or ‘finding’ for the sociologists gathered together. Nor was it a normal for a middle-aged public lecture to be given by a white, educated women wearing kente cloth.
This chapter offers a reflexive account of a co-produced, multisectoral, community-based project between Glasgow Open Museum (OM), Glasgow Association for Mental Health (GAMH) and Queen Margaret University (QMU). The project is framed around an accredited Public Sociology module, Identity Community & Society, in which participants explore sociological explanations of identity, community and society whilst engaging with and interpreting art and artefacts from the OM collections. We share our experiences of reaching over the chasms between the worlds of museums, mental health advocacy and higher education. Crucially, we hear from student participants, as co-authors, about the increased self-confidence and reflexive knowledge resulting from participation in the project. In interpreting different art works, participants consider a range of sociological concepts, debates and theories, that frame their interpretation of art, but also facilitate the development of a critical consciousness about social issues that they have direct experience of themselves or that impact participants’ communities.
Widening participation is at the heart of this project; the adult learners, most of whom have limited recent experience of formal learning, became associate students of QMU, with full access to institutional resources whilst learning in a safe community space. In the presentation of our narrative here, we draw upon a combination of personal reflexive accounts, participant feedback and theoretical inspirations. More specifically, later in the chapter, we unpack the underpinning ethos of the project as theoretically framed by Freire’s (1970) dialogical ‘pedagogy of the oppressed’, and we conceptualise the practice of our participants as Gramscian organic intellectuals (Gottlieb, 1989).
This chapter focuses on public sociology that demonstrates affinities with radical education practice and debates in the dialogue between public sociology and radical education at the edges of academia. It refers to a methodology developed and popularised by public sociologist Michael Burawoy, which facilitates the critical dialogue between practitioners of public sociology and education. It also discusses the constitution of 'publics', production of sociological knowledge, and different contexts of pedagogical practice. The chapter explains how the dialogue is central to the practices of public sociology education and the dialogical pedagogy of Paulo Freire, whose influence is fundamental to diverse forms of radical education. It describes the value of the knowledge that the poor bring to the educational context and challenges the oppression that kept them in poverty.
Through pedagogical case studies and dialogues, this book sheds new light on concepts and boundaries in public sociology education. With sections on publics, special knowledges and practices in the field, the book offers bold thinking on important questions including the purposes and targets of sociological knowledge. The book begins with a focus on public sociology that demonstrates affinities with radical education practice and debates in the dialogue between public sociology and radical education at the edges of academia. It refers to a methodology which facilitates the critical dialogue between practitioners of public sociology and education. It then discusses the constitution of 'publics', production of sociological knowledge, and different contexts of pedagogical practice. Dialogue is central to the practices of public sociology education, and it is through this means that the book reflects on concepts and aspects of public sociology education linked by critical dialogue.