The American Sociologist

, Volume 40, Issue 4, pp 235–248 | Cite as

The Contradictions of Public Sociology: A View from a Graduate Student at Berkeley

  • Darren NoyEmail author


Reflecting on my experiences as a graduate student, I argue that the terminology of public sociology should be dropped. The public sociology rhetoric is at odds with the fundamental professional reality in the discipline. Sociology, as a “hyper-professionalized” endeavor, primarily values abstract, explanatory theories, even if those theories make the world less descriptively comprehensible to people seeking to act in the world. Moreover, I question whether sociologists, as a professional class, should or can take on the public position as the partisan representatives of civil society and marginalized peoples. Instead, I argue for a greater openness within professional sociology to descriptive work, as well as more departmental supports for graduate students to pursue careers outside of sociology. Sociologists interested in public engagement should focus primarily on cataloguing and practical evaluation of engaged research tactics and community oriented teaching strategies, rather than theoretical discussions of what sociology can or should be.


Public sociology Sociological training 



I would like to express my special appreciation to Laura Enriquez and Neil Fligstein who supported and encouraged me so selflessly and professionally throughout my graduate studies. Numerous colleagues have commented on this piece including Siri Colom, Shannon Gleeson, Basak Kus, Ruha Benjamin, reviewers and the editor. Their input has added immensely to this article, while the faults and errors are my own.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUCBerkeleyUSA

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