Sociology in 21st Century: Value-Detached Science or Morally Inspired Search for Just Society?
Michael Burawoy’s 2004 Presidential address to ASA, in which he argued for the institutionalization of public sociology, provoked major debate within the sociological community about the proper tasks of sociology. On the one side of the debate stood those who call for an activist sociology directly engaged in supporting social movements and groups opposing the existing social hierarchies and status quo. In their view, public irrelevance of sociology is the consequence of the many sociologists’ refusal to get involved with moral issues and use their professional knowledge in promoting social justice, economic equality, human rights or, simply, the better world. On the other side of the debate stood proponents of the scientific sociology who claim that the discipline can regain and preserve its public respectability only if it abides to the rigorous, value-detached inquiry of social phenomenon and abstain from making judgments about desirability of the particular social project.
This distinction between an allegedly uncritical, scientific sociology and the critical, activist sociology is untenable. Sociology should be both the impartial inquiry of human social behavior and socially engaged activity oriented towards a betterment of society. Therefore, the real issue is not whether sociologists should be interested in social justice or committed to detached scientific research but whether they can offer us the guide for understanding our present condition. The problem with the both sides engaged in the debate is that they stick to this false dilemma and neglect the great tradition of the sociological diagnosis of the times. In developing my argument I will rely on the work of two great sociologists – Peter Berger and Karl Mannheim – who thought us not only how to do sociology but also how to use it in order to achieve the better and more just society.