It may be argued that sociology is of activist origins, propelled by a desire to comprehend, diagnose and ultimately administer solutions to societal ailments. However, with the advent of scientific discourse, especially the rise of so-called hard sciences, the discipline has been absorbed into the pedagogic realm of social-science which seeks to emulate its empirical cousin and take residence within the ivory tower of academia, virtuous in its efforts to seek objectivism, value-freedom and political abstinence. The purpose of this essay is to explore the proposition that sociology should reclaim its identity, expanding its imagination (Mills 1959) as a politically engaged agent tasked with improving society through a critical dialogue with various institutions and actors. This essay will consider the contention offered by some of sociology’s founding fathers, particularly Marx and Engels (1848) and Durkheim (1972), that sociology should be at the vanguard of social engagement and change â€“ a citadel of moral and intellectual purity, a ‘philosopher king’ (Plato 1993: 109). By extension, this essay will include a critique of the academic milieu in which sociology resides, addressing the dispute that it has become colonised and thus compromised by wider market and political forces and thus incapable of functioning as an independent agent of knowledge and change. The proposition of a Public Sociology is not a recent phenomenon. In fact, the founding progenitors envisaged a discipline actively engaged with the political milieu and public lifeworld. Indeed, Durkheim (1972), conceiving of a social world underpinned by tangible laws â€“ reiterating Comte’s (1988: 33) ‘science of society’ – predicted that sociologists would become aides-de-camp to the state, revered intellects who would influence policy and legislature. By contrast, Marx and Engels (1848) were interested in the dissemination of knowledge to the grass-roots or proletariat – to reawaken their collective consciousness and engender a rebellious will-to-power (Nietzsche 2014) against the prevailing capitalist system. Importantly, despite its definition, sociology was less interested in the comprehension of social life per se: rather it was obsessed with the noxious configurations that comprised society, mournful of the crippling and incarcerating effects these had on humanity’s potential and species-being (Marx and Engels 1991). This remains a dominating theme within sociology today: the field of critical theory has almost reached a level of ‘theoretical saturation’ (Bryman 2004:544) inasmuch as abuses against civilisation on grounds of (for example) gender, class, race and creed have been researched and articulated repeatedly in pedagogic discourse, simply restructured in linguistic hyperbole to pass as authentic. By contrast, Weber (1989) was concerned with maintaining abstinence from the political arena, endorsing scientific mastery and the conduct of research for its own virtue i.e. ‘as a vocation’ (78); sociology held no greater esteem over the value-laden judgements of social-political discourse and must thereforelimit public discussion to the classrooms. The debate regarding sociology’s public face was again revitalised by Mills (1959) who, acknowledging a gross depreciation in the social lifeworld, offered a critical assessment of his field, which had abandoned its public calling, instead becoming captivated by the power and prestige (including resources) offered by academia.
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