SOCIOL 4EE3 Lecture Notes - Lecture 7: Public Sociology, Participatory Democracy, Macrosociology

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13 Oct 2015
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Week 7 Summary
Helmes-Hayes on John Porter
Helmes-Hayes draws parallels between Michael Burawoy’s and John Porters ideas in an
attempt to reveal how Porter saw the need for public sociology before his time, and had useful
ideas to contribute to the contemporary debate. He argues that Burawoy’s idea of public
sociology and Porters idea of New Liberal sociology are very similar in many regards. Burawoy
asserts that sociology should be used for humanity’s universal interest, or for the public good.
Similarly, Porter believed that sociology’s purpose was to develop a discipline committed to
morality, macrosociology, scientific reasoning, and practical application. In more simple terms,
Burawoy’s conception of public sociology is intended to fix the problems caused by
neoliberalism, while Porters New Liberal sociology was also intended to establish a more
democratic society which supported human rights. Much like Porter, Burawoy insisted that
sociology needed normative criteria to measure the discipline’s success, social movements to
enhance human rights, and the enforcement of a more participatory democracy by including the
public in the debate. He argued that a legitimate or good public sociology was required in order
to keep professional sociology in check and hold them accountable to ensure proper validation.
The author illustrates that both Burawoy and Porter envisioned sociology as a field with the
power and responsibility to the public to bring civil liberties in a climate with increasing pressure
from capitalist agendas, and remain maximally inclusive to promote a purer democracy.
Helmes-Hayes outlines the influence of philosophical and political thought on Porter and
how he adopted a New Liberal perspective in his vision for sociology. Porters work, The
Vertical Mosaic, reveals inequality in the economic and class structure in Canada, and how a
small group of elite, white males dominate society in various ways. As Porter thought
sociology’s purpose was to address these issues and critically judge them, he took a political
stance in his book. The New Liberal influence was apparent in Porters work as he promoted
ideas about the importance of the welfare state, the troublesome prospects for society under
increased marketization, and saw the niche for sociology in bringing universal human rights for
the good of society. Porter also saw sociology’s potential as a scientific discipline, using more
quantitative research techniques to establish objective moral criteria against which the
discipline’s progress could be evaluated. He argued that sociology had practical purpose, and
could be utilized in policy to initiate social change. Most importantly, Porter believed sociology
should not be value-neutral, but should actually be held to standards of morality as it had a
responsibility to the public to enforce human rights.
Overall, Helmes-Hayes argues that Burawoy and Porter have three main commonalities:
sociology must be based on solid science, it should be reflexive and morally committed, and it
should be practical and politically engaged. Just as Burawoy outlined the four main fields of
sociology, Porter touched upon the synthesis between professional, policy, critical, and public
sociology. They both pushed for a social democratic value system at the core of sociology with
the potential and moral responsibility to instill social change and justice.
McLaughlin- Moral Vision, Empirical Rigour
The article is prefaced with the statement that sociology faces many challenges within the
discipline and is highly divided because it adopts very diverse techniques, creating debate and
fighting among sociologists. Sociology also faces challenges in its applicability and practicality
in society because more specialized practical fields like criminology are arising. A re-
examination of John Porters ideas through The Vertical Mosaic brings back attention to the
usefulness of sociology and its place in public debate and policy-making. The article touches
upon Burawoy’s ideas that sociology should be engaged in all fields (professional, policy,
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