Department of Sociology and Institute for Research on World-Systems (IROWS)
University of California-Riverside
C. Wright Mills
Abstract: Burawoy’s classification of the complementary aspects of the discipline of sociology is used to describe an emergent global public social science that will assist transnational social movements in the building of a democratic and collectively rational global commonwealth.
IROWS Working Paper # 73 at http://irows.ucr.edu/papers/irows73/irows73.htm
Michael Burawoy’s 2004 ASA presidential address (Burawoy 2005) has raised anew the significant issues about what sociology is and is not, the connections between scholarship and activism, and the responsibilities that sociologists have to larger publics, and to human society. These are the big questions and have been since the emergence of modern social science. The tension between humanism and science is not external to social science. It is internal to it. And Burawoy’s most important thesis is that this is a productive and generative contradiction that should be used to produce both better science and a better society. I will employ the distinctions that Burawoy has elaborated in his presidential address between professional, critical, policy and public sociology to discuss the issues he raises and to describe the emergence of global public social science.
I mainly agree with Burawoy’s analysis and strongly support his effort to renew the dialogue within sociology about the symbiotic relationship between science and activism. The value of his approach is starkly demonstrated by those social science disciplines (especially Anthropology) that have largely failed in the effort to live under a big umbrella that includes professional, public, critical and policy social science. The internecine battles between the politically correct activists and the stalwart defenders of scientific purity have left all the parties weaker and the interests of all the contenders have been profoundly undermined by the combat. This is not a path that any sane person would choose to follow. The anger and mistrust that are often generated in conflicts of this kind live for years in the psyches of the combatants. They erupt again and again, reinjuring old warriors and harming younger generations of scholars and students. The big tent of activists, scientists, scholars and scholar-activists is a good shelter and good social science has been, and will be, crafted within it.
Public Sociology Is More Than Sociologist-As-Citizen
Most of the students that come into social science are motivated by a humanistic desire to improve upon society, often by helping the most exploited and oppressed peoples. They believe that social science will be an avenue for designing policies, programs, and activities that will change society in a progressive direction. These motivations are an important basis of the ability of our social science disciplines to recruit hard-working and smart young people. Social science is not a road to wealth or power. So humanistic motivations are an important part of our cultural capital and a substantial basis of our ability to recruit those who will become the next generation of scholars.
One very valuable aspect of Burawoy’s approach is the
”professional sociology” is the necessary center and source of strength for public, critical and policy sociology. My own scholarly work is quite interdisciplinary (combining ecology, geography, history, political science, anthropology and sociology), but I nevertheless acknowledge the importance of core disciplinary values and procedures in sociology. I agree with Burawoy that professional sociology is central to the constitution of the discipline of sociology, and that public sociology, and the other forms, derive immense cultural, political and scientific value from their connection with, and interactions with, professional sociology.
This is the main reason why Burawoy’s insistence that public sociology is something distinct from the sociologist in the citizen role is valuable and useful. The “sociologist-as-citizen” makes claims to expertise that may, or may not, be acknowledged by larger publics. But public sociology is a stance within sociology, and it is evaluated by both external publics and by other sociologists because it is a legitimate form of sociological practice that should be recognized and encouraged by all sociologists because we have a duty to serve the human societies that fund our science. This means that the sociological methods and theories employed in public sociology need to meet the standards of the discipline and that all sociologist bear some responsibility to evaluate the work that is carried on in the name of the discipline. There are no insuperable and conflictive contradictions between professional scientific sociology and engaged public sociology, though they are not the same thing. The big tent requires that we acknowledge and respect both the scientific and the humanistic roots of our discipline.
I do not agree entirely with Burawoy’s characterization
of the historical development of social science in the last few decades. His
characterization of the rise of radical sociology in the 1960s is mainly used
to make the point that mainstream sociology was rather conservative then, and
that most sociologists have become (or remained) fairly liberal while much of
the rest of American society has moved to the right. I do not disagree with
this, but Burawoy’s depiction of the
struggles and outcomes that occurred in the 1960s misses an important
development: the discovery that the
Burawoy’s narrative of sociological practice does not really even acknowledge the other path that emerged strongly in the sixties and seventies: Third Worldism and the world-systems perspective. The Third Worldists argued that strong challenges to capitalism are not likely to come from the core because the most exploited peoples are in the periphery. Some of them also discovered that the “developed and less developed” national societies are tightly linked into a global stratification structure – the core/periphery hierarchy. These issues are directly relevant for both professional and public sociology. One of the mainstays of professional sociology is the study of socially constructed inequalities. If there is really an institutionalized core/periphery hierarchy (rather than a set of disconnected “advanced” and “underdeveloped” national societies) then the most unequal contemporary socially structured inequalities are global in scope. A sociology that focuses exclusively on inequality within countries is ignoring the most important part of the phenomenon about which it claims expertise.
With regard to public sociology, it is not enough to simply be of service to existing popular movements or groups or to address larger publics. The first job is to analyze which groups are worth serving and which ones are likely to have an important impact in the struggle to make human societies more humane and more equal. This analysis requires an understanding of the processes of modern social change and the probable directions that historical development is likely to take.
I am a proponent and producer of what has become known as the comparative world-systems perspective. The basic idea is that social change occurs in systems of societies rather than in single isolated societies, and that this has been true since the Paleolithic, though earlier world-systems were small regional affairs (Chase-Dunn and Hall 1997). From this point of view most of sociology, including all the types designated by Burawoy, is hopelessly presentist and core-centric. Social change is primarily about the historical development of human social institutions. Social change has been a singular world historical process increasingly since the sixteenth century. So telling stories of national societies as if they occurred on separate planets is a major distortion of reality for both social science and for progressive politics.
Contemporary social change can only be
comprehended in its world historical context. Focusing solely on the United
States, as most sociologists and most other people in the U.S. do, makes it
impossible not only to understand the extremely important world historical
events and developments that are occurring elsewhere, but also precludes
understanding of what is happening within the United States. Why did politics
What are the implications of the above for Burawoy’s
public sociology project? His search for the relevant publics for public
sociology is a good idea, but the relevant publics need to be understood as
parts of an emerging global civil society. World sociology needs to analyze
non-U.S. realities and the whole emergent global system of which the
The crucial slip in Burawoy’s description of what
happened in sociology and what happened in the
Understanding contemporary globalization requires that we compare the wave of globalization since World War II with earlier waves, especially the last half of the nineteenth century when international trade as a proportion of the whole world economy was nearly as high as it is now (Chase-Dunn, Kawano and Brewer 2000). It is important to distinguish between globalization as large-scale connectedness, which is a structural and empirical question about economic, political, cultural and communications network linkages, and the “globalization project,” which is the political ideology of Reaganism-Thatcherism that became hegemonic in the 1980s (McMichael 2004). One reason why many see the contemporary wave of globalization as a completely new stage of global capitalism is that nationalism and Keynesian national development policies were powerfully institutionalized and centrally propagated from World War II until the 1970s. The Keynesian national development project (the Global New Deal) was itself a world historical response to the “Age of Extremes” (Hobsbawm 1994) and the deglobalization of the early decades of the twentieth century. It never really created a world of separate national economies, but it did focus strong attention on the problem of national import substitution and the development of the national welfare state. This focus on national policy is what allows many of the contemporary analysts of global capitalism to imagine that the world was really composed of separate national societies before the most recent wave of globalization.
Figure 1: Trade Globalization 1830-1994
A profit squeeze and accumulation
crisis occurred in the 1970s when
Neoliberalism was a political ideology that took hold and became hegemonic beginning in the 1970s. It was a revival of the nineteenth century ideology of “market magic” and an attack on the welfare state and organized labor. It borrowed the anti-statist ideology of the New Left and used new communications and information technologies to globalize capitalist production, undercutting nationally organized trade unions and attacking the entitlements of the welfare state as undeserved and inefficient rents. This “global stage of capitalism” is what has brought globalization into the popular consciousness, but rather than being the first time that the world has experienced strong global processes, it was a response to the problems of capitalist accumulation as they emerged from the prior Global New Deal, which was itself a response to the earlier Age of Extremes and deglobalization. This is what I mean by saying that social change is world-historical.
The pace of
global social change accelerated dramatically with the late eighteenth century
industrial revolution, culminating in the first wave (1840-1900) of what can
properly be called globalization in the sense of Earth-wide integration and
connectedness. The United Kingdom of Great Britain was the world leader in
industrialization, an exporter of the key technologies (railroads, steamships
and telegraph communications) and the advocate of free trade policies and the
gold standard (O’Rourke and Williamson 2000). As
of British hegemony was accompanied by a downturn of trade globalization from
1880 to 1900 and then by a period of interimperial rivalry – two world wars
World Wars I and II were long and massively destructive battles in a single struggle over who would perform the role of hegemon. Between the wars was a short wave of economic globalization in the 1920s followed by the stock market crash of 1929 and a global retreat to economic nationalism and protectionism during the depression of the 1930s. Fascism was a virulent form of zealous nationalism that spread widely in the second tier core and the semiperiphery during the Age of Extremes. This was deglobalization.
The point here is that globalization is not just a long-term trend. It is also a cycle. Waves of globalization have been followed by waves of deglobalization in the past, and this is also an entirely a plausible scenario for the future.
Mass education created a large throng of not-yet politically incorporated students in all the countries of the world, and this group led the world revolution of 1968, a protest against the capitalist welfare state, the shams of parliamentary democracy and the fakeries of state communism. In the wake of this political and cultural challenge and the emergence of a spate of “new social movements,” core capital experienced a profit squeeze because Germany and Japan caught up with the U.S. in the production of the most profitable lead technologies, and so prices could no longer be raised to keep profits high (Brenner 2002).
This spurred a change of strategy by the now-global capitalist class in which the Keynesian national development project that had justified the capitalist welfare state and the developmental programs in the periphery and semiperiphery was scuttled in favor of Reaganism-Thatcherism. Free markets were to replace government intervention. Downsizing, streamlining, attacks on politically guaranteed entitlements, all this was justified by the eighteenth century idea that the market is the most efficient and fairest arbiter of human interactions.
new technologies of communications, transportation and infomatics businesses
were able to relocate to take advantage of cheaper labor costs, lower tax
rates, and less environmental protection.
This was the globalization project and the new international division of
labor (McMichael 2004). Industry moved from the core to the semiperiphery and
the periphery. New lead technologies
(the Internet, biotechnology) were touted as the potential basis for a new
To make a long story short, with a few important
differences, the world-system is repeating what happened during the decline of
British hegemony at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning decades
of the twentieth century. To be sure, the
the basic logic of capitalist uneven development and the mismatch between the
economic and political structures are quite similar. The hegemon is desperately trying to stay on
top. Financial centralization only works for a while. It is the first card that
is played, but when the potential for instability and collapse becomes obvious,
the powers-that-be pull out their other remaining card: military capability.
This produces what has been called the “new imperialism “ (Harvey 2003) and the
neo-conservative “Global Gamble” (Gowan 1999).
Oil is running out. If “we” can control global oil the potential challengers
Some see this as pouring gasoline on the smoldering coals
of resistance. It appears to blatantly contradict the very ideologies of
equality and democracy that the
The continuing decline of
The contemporary wave of global industrialization based on fossil
fuel may have already led to a substantial overshoot in the ability of human
society to sustain a livable biosphere. If this is the case we may encounter
environmental disasters that require global cooperation in order to restore the
balance between human society and the natural systems upon which it depends.
Another round of conflict over global hegemony may be forthcoming despite the
current monopolization of serious military power by the
If this sounds gloomy, I want to also point out that the coming period of contestation is an opportunity to create global democratic cooperative institutions that set up a more sustainable relationship between human society and the natural environment and more humane and just relationships among the peoples of the world. A global democratic and collectively rational commonwealth will probably emerge eventually, unless we manage to completely extinguish ourselves (Wagar 1999). With intelligent political action based on a world historical understanding of global social change, it is possible that this will emerge sooner rather than later.
A new call is rising from global civil society and from those countries in the semiperiphery that have both the motivation and the means to resist global corporate capitalism. The World Social Forum (Fisher and Ponniah 2003) is a movement of movements and a forum for organizing a global party (or parties) that will challenge the transnational capitalist class. Another world revolution is in the making. Global public social science needs to explain world historical processes to people and to actively engage with global civil society so that the worst excesses of deglobalization can be (hopefully) avoided and we can move toward a democratic and collectively rational global commonwealth (Wagar 1999; Boswell and Chase-Dunn 2000).
I have declared the value of disciplinary sociology above in my discussion of the centrality of professional sociology. But many of the institutional boundaries between contemporary social science disciplines are annoying obstacles to both the scientific and the political understanding of social reality. I do not recommend abolishing the disciplines, but rather that a sizeable number of professional and public sociologists should learn the basics of theories and methods in geography, history, political science, economics, ecology and anthropology. This will allow the disciplinary blinders to be thrown off without wrecking the good parts of the disciplines.
Global Public Social Science
So what is global public social science? And, following Burawoy’s typology, what are global professional, critical and policy social science? The short answer is that these all take the emergent Earth-wide human system as an important unit of analysis in its own right, although other entities are also important. Global professional social science studies social realities (culture and institutions, politics, inequalities, transnational relations, globalization processes, etc.) on a global scale using the methodological tools and theoretical perspectives of the social sciences. Examples in economics, geography, political science, history, anthropology and sociology are too numerous to enumerate here. Michael Burawoy’s (2000) work on global ethnography is certainly a valuable exemplar.
Global critical social science critiques, deconstructs and reformulates important global social science concepts (such as globalization) as well as global institutions. It also proposes critical ways of categorizing social forces, contradictions and antagonisms in ways that are intended to be of use for transnational social movements. This is also a voluminous literature. Important recent examples are Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s (2004) Multitude, a valiant effort to rethink political theory for the purposes of building global democracy, and Amory Starr’s (2000) Naming the Enemy, an analysis of the main dimensions of the antiglobalization movements and a structural conceptualization of global corporate capitalism as the enemy that must be confronted.
Global policy social science would seem to be an unlikely activity, since there is (currently) no true world state that could implement global policies. There are, however, important global institutions that do formulate and try to implement global policies (e.g. the United Nations, the World Bank, etc.). But all people now need to formulate global policies because everyone lives in a global polity, a global economy, and an increasingly globalized set of cultures. Global policies are planful ways of coping with global economic, political and social forces. Global Policy Institutes (by that name or some close variant) now exist in New York, Geneva, Berlin, Honolulu, and at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, and many public policy institutes and centers all over the world are establishing globally oriented policy research programs.
public social science refers to social scientists who use their research skills
and analytic abilities to address global civil society and in the service of
transnational social movements. Burawoy reminds us that one of our important
publics is our undergraduate students. Teaching and writing textbooks for
undergraduates is an important part of public sociology. A growing number of
universities have established interdisciplinary undergraduate majors in global
studies (e.g. University of
The Global Studies Association (http://www.net4dem.org/mayglobal/index.htm) has had several exciting conferences and it has been attacked by right-wing ideologues as famous as Michael Horowitz. This red badge of courage may be the highest credential in public social science. Some very useful textbooks and readers for global studies courses are those by McMichael (2004), Hall (2000) and Chase-Dunn and Babones (2006).
Research at the behest of global civil society is another important activity of global public social science. A large corpus of the research and published monographs and journal articles comprising global professional social science serves global civil society and transnational social movements. My recent favorites are Rich Appelbaum and Edna Bonacich’s (2000) Behind the Label, Stephen Bunker and Paul Ciccantell’s (2005) Globalization and the Race for Resources, big historian David Christian’s (2004) inspiring Maps of Time, Jared Diamond’s (2004) Collapse, Michael Mann’s (2003) Incoherent Empire, Valentine Moghadam’s Globalizing Women (2005), J.R. and William McNeill’s (2003) The Human Web, William I. Robinson’s (2004) A Theory of Global Capitalism, Beverly Silver’s (2004) Forces of Labor and Immanuel Wallerstein’s (2003) The Decline of American Power. These are works of professional sociology that serve global civil society and local groups trying to deal with the forces of globalization by providing research and theories that help people understand what is going on.
But Burawoy’s most important precept of public sociology endorses direct interaction with, and participation in, civil society groups, and research that is directed toward helping these groups achieve their goals. Since, as I have pointed out above, everyone now needs to deal with the issues and forces of globalization, practically any project could qualify. But I will focus on the research of those who have studied and participated in transnational social movements. Arguably social movements have been importantly transnational at least since the nineteenth century in the sense that the conceptual frames, collective action repertoires, and communications networks already involved intercontinental interaction, migration, and flows of other important resources (Keck and Sikkink 1998). But here I will discuss social science research on, and involvement with, the emerging movements that have focused on contemporary globalization. I already mentioned Amory Starr’s (2000) excellent contribution to global critical sociology above. Starr’s new book (2005), Global Revolt, is an inspiring and informative “how-to-do-it” manual for antiglobalization activists based mainly on Starr’s intensive participant observation in anti-globalization protest demonstrations.
Jackie Smith’s (Smith and Johnston 2002, Smith 2004) studies of transnational social movements are based on both careful formal analyses of systematic data and Smith’s involvement with, and participation in, the movements she is studying. Bruce Podobnik’s (2004) studies of the changing location and frequency of anti-globalization protest events is another important contribution, and the new book that he co-edited with Tom Reifer (Podobnik and Reifer 2005) contains several works that must be included in a survey of global public sociology. I have already mentioned the important work by Thomas Ponniah and William Fisher (2003) on the World Social Forum.
At the University of California-Riverside (UCR) the Research Working Group on Transnational Social Movements has undertaken a study of the participants in the World Social Forum that is intended to help the participating groups better understand the contradictions and overlapping issues and agendas among the movements so that they might be better able to cooperate and collaborate with each other in forming a credible and effective political force in world politics. Professor Ellen Reese and I organized the research working group, which is composed of graduate and undergraduate students at UCR, most of whom are majoring in sociology. This participant observation and survey research is sponsored by the UCR Institute for Research on World-Systems (irows.ucr.edu). Ellen and five of our students attended the 2005 World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil where they obtained over 600 written responses to a survey questionnaire (in Portuguese, Spanish and English) (irows.ucr.edu/research/tsmstudy/wsfsruvey.htm) that gathers information on the backgrounds of participants and their involvements in different kinds of issues and social movements. We also asked respondents to help us identify possible contradictions among the participating transnational social movements, and to suggest ways in which two well-known contradictions might be overcome
Figure 2: UCR Transnational Research Working Group
surveyors at the World Social Forum in
the time of this writing we are still in the midst of processing and analyzing
the survey results. We will present papers based on our research at the annual
meetings of the Society for the Study of Social Problems, the American
Sociological Association, the International Studies Association and the World Congress
of Sociology in
The issue of representation and legitimacy is a huge one for the participants at the World Social Forum and our study will be able to add to the available knowledge about who attends and what participants believe about representation. Earlier research (Schonleitner 2003) found that a majority of the attendees are majoring in, or have undergraduate or graduate degrees in, social sciences and our survey confirms this. The activists in the emerging global civil society, who are very concerned about the extent to which poor and disadvantaged groups are able to participate in global politics, are themselves mainly people who have training in the social science disciplines. This simple fact speaks volumes about the complementary relationship between global professional and public social science and also about the real makeup of global civil society.
Gramsci, Gouldner and many other observers of social change have long noted the important role of intellectuals in both sustaining and challenging the structures of power. That most of the activists in global civil society are trained in the social sciences would come as no surprise. The reaction of popular forces against global corporate capitalism and the ideology of neoliberalism is generating new constellations of ideas and new forms of organization. Elites have long participated in the global polity as statesmen, diplomats, publicists, scientists, religious leaders and etc. What is happening now is the emergence of large transnationalized segments of the popular classes who are using new information technologies to organize globally. The World Social Forum is the most important arena for the organization of global networks and parties that claim to represent the peoples of the Earth (Gill 2000). The processes of party-network formation are what we are studying, and also what we intend to facilitate. This is both professional and public global social science.
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 For a clear and thorough definition of public sociology see Jeffries (2005). Thanks to Michael Burawoy, Vincent Jeffries and Christine Petit for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this essay.
 At the
2002 World Congress of Sociology in
 The potential and possible contradictions and complementarities between anti-globalization and “globalization from below” movements are discussed in Chase-Dunn (2005)
 Five University of California-Riverside (UCR)
students attended the World Social Forum in
 Question 404 is “ How might actual or potential contradictions between the environmental movements and the labor movements be resolved? And Question 405 is “How might actual or potential contradictions between the labor movements in the developed countries and the labor movements of the less developed countries be resolved?”