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Institutional Barriers to Doing Public Sociology: Experiences of Feminists in the Academy

Joey Sprague and Heather Laube
The American Sociologist
Vol. 40, No. 4 (Dec., 2009), pp. 249-271
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20638851
Page Count: 23
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Institutional Barriers to Doing Public Sociology: Experiences of Feminists in the Academy
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Abstract

In recent years, the discipline of sociology has seen an increased discussion of public sociology, but the discussion has focused on whether or not it is a good idea for sociologists to become more engaged with their various publics. A different question motivates this research: What are the institutional arrangements that make doing public sociology difficult, and thus less likely? Following Dorothy Smith, we start from the perspective of frontline actors and ask them about their experiences. We combine data from two sources: individual interviews with a sample of 50 academic feminists, a group that has theoretical motivation to be interested in public sociology and group interviews with 15 feminists engaged in some form of public sociology. These informants tell us about two related institutional barriers to doing public sociology: the culture of professional sociology and the standards we use for evaluating scholarship. The impact of these disciplinary barriers probably varies by institution type and career stage but there is reason to suspect they generate costs not just for individuals but for the discipline. Taking steps to break down these barriers would ameliorate concerns some have raised about public sociology.

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