The Three Axes of Sociological Practice: The Case of French Quebec

Jean-Philippe Warren

Abstract


Public sociology is all too often presented as the polar opposite of the detached, purely objective observation of society (Clawson et al., 2007). Such a portrayal is misleading, for it tends to give credence to the idea that academic sociology is torn between two extremes, the political and the empirical poles. In this article I will not contest this divide from within. I shall not, for instance, claim that sociology is inherently politicised, each epistemology necessarily proposing a different ontology (Blau and Smith, 2006). Considering the problem differently, and referring to a historical period spanning from the late 19th century to about 1980 (Fournier, 1986; Warren, 2003), I propose a three-faceted portrait of sociology. In my view, the discipline is structured around not two but three fundamental axes or dimensions: professional, descriptive, and political, embodying three essential aims. In turn, these constitute the respective roles it can play in academia and society depending on the specific publics it seeks to address. In his much debated ASA 2004 presidential speech, Burawoy (2005a) has claimed that public sociology should be defined by its audience, whether academic (professional, critical) or extra-academic (policy and public). Without directly challenging this view, I intend in this paper to illustrate how the scholar’s individual positioning offers a slightly different perception of public sociology than the discipline’s external dynamics.

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