Can “Public Sociology” Travel as far as Russia?

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Michael Burawoy



On being invited to talk in a foreign land, Pierre Bourdieu (1992) once reflected on the futility of making the trip. If he was just going to deliver an omnibus lecture, he might as well stay at home and send a cassette. A lecture delivered in situ, therefore, should not be simply a reading of a standardized text, but should treat the subject in a way that engages the particularity of the context. In his words, the international circulation of ideas calls for a “double historicization”—to situate one’s ideas in their field of production and then in their new field of reception. This is what I will attempt today, namely to examine how my notion of public sociology arose in the fields of US and South African sociology, and how it has been received and translated in different national fields, in order to foster a discussion about its possible place and meaning in the Russian context.

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