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.