What is our role in social justice as applied sociologists? In this great debate from 1971, Michel Foucault and Noam Chomsky disagree about the fundamental qualities of “human nature” and the key task of social science in helping humanity achieve its collective potential. Chomsky believes that the social sciences should draw up a framework for an ideal society where creativity, freedom and scientific discovery will flourish. He sees it is our task to help to put this plan into action.
Foucault argues that there is no ideal concept of social justice that can be universally applied. Instead, he sees that social scientists are tasked with critiquing social institutions and relations of power in different societies.
Interestingly, Foucault’s perspective reflects academic sociology (with an emphasis on critique of social institutions), while Chomsky’s argument is closer to applied sociology! Applied sociologists work with policy and community organisations to affect justice organisations and practices.
Senegal-born sociologist Moustapha Diou began his career as a researcher for UNESCO. He then took an academic position in the USA, where he worked for 24 years, but he returned to Senegal as an applied sociologist.
“The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.” – Jane Addams, sociologist, was the second woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Read more →
The President of the International Sociological Association (ISA), Professor Margaret Abraham, has addressed the Executive Order by USA President Donald Trump. The Order suspends visas to people born in seven Muslim-majority nations: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Libya and Somalia. Professor Abraham writes in the ISA newsletter:
This ban is discriminatory, stigmatizing communities and people, and exacerbating forms of social exclusion of specific groups. Further, the ban adversely impacts knowledge production, prevents the free flow of academic exchanges and limits participation of sociologists in national and international conferences. Civil society members, individual academics, professional associations and communities nationally and internationally are responding by voicing their concern, opposing the ban, bringing legal challenges and supporting those affected.
Professor Abraham has a call to arms to sociologists to revive hope, inclusion and justice.
I have finally come to the realisation that I am a sociologist, but some times I have felt like a ship without a rudder. I have drifted off course without the benefit of others around me to steer me back, and I have had to work hard to stay headed in the right direction. I have in the last year completed an Honours degree in Sociology and left the protective bosom of University to find my place in a working world. I no longer have the privilege of being surrounded by people that share my view point on the occurrences that arise continually around me. Here is my story about the discovery of my sociological imagination, and how never having worked inside the realm of academia, my conviction that I am a sociologist has been challenged.