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Journal Article

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

Jean-Philippe Warren
The Canadian Journal of Sociology / Cahiers canadiens de sociologie
Vol. 34, No. 3 (2009), pp. 803-829
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Page Count: 28
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The Three Axes of Sociological Practice: The Case of French Quebec
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Abstract. In the debate surrounding Michael Burawoy's plea for public sociology, it is all too often presented as the opposite of the detached, purely objective observation of society. But sociology is not torn between these two poles: the political and the scientific/empirical. Rather, the discipline is structured around three fundamental axes or dimensions: professional, descriptive, and political, embodying three essential aims which, in turn, constitute the respective roles sociology can play in academia and society depending on the specific publics the discipline seeks to address. Acting as professionals, sociologists try to attain prestige by accumulating social or symbolic capital among their colleagues. If they serve science for science's sake, they find their reward in the advancement of knowledge. If they adopt an activist political stance, they measure the value of their work on a different scale. This paper focuses specifically on Frenchlanguage sociology in Quebec from the late 19th century to 1970 and argues that the dilemma of juggling these three axes, aims, and roles is one which has deeply influenced not only the discipline as a whole but the generations of Quebec sociologists who have attempted to balance these dimensions in their scholarship. There were three basic schools or approaches during this period, each embedded in the social conditions of its time. Sociologists' public engagement depended on specific historical conditions much more than it did on personal preferences.

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