Public Sociology and Critical Pedagogy
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Scandrett, E., 2022. Public Sociology and Critical Pedagogy. Critical Pedagogy and Emancipation: A Festschrift in Memory of Joyce Canaan.
Joyce Canaan was a public sociologist long before Michael Burawoy’s address to the American Sociological Association turned public sociology into an object of discussion in the academic literature. One of the methodological approaches that Joyce brought to public sociology was derived from her pedagogical interaction with her students in Birmingham City University. Joyce’s students were partners in the co-production of knowledge as well as learners of the disciplines of sociology. These disciplines were constantly interrogated against the experience of students, critically assessing both theory and experience (Jenkins et al 2011, Canaan 2013). This approach to sociological knowledge is inevitably provincial, in the sense that Burawoy understands American Sociology as provincial (Burawoy 2005 p.20, Burawoy 2008). Provincial public sociology is also generalizable, but must be tested against concrete experience and context. Students are one such context, which Joyce and her colleagues drew on through the practices of critical pedagogy, to produce sociological knowledge. In her role as director of Centre for Sociology, Anthropology and Politics, Joyce was able to ensure that such critically co-produced knowledge was subsequently shared, often through further innovation in pedagogy (eg. Farrar and Todd 2006; Jacobs 2006). At Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, (QMU) in Scotland, a small team of sociologists have been developing public sociology for and from our context, including through co-production with students. Whilst the specifically provincial, Scottish context for public sociology is a significant and developing area of interest, this paper focuses on the process of developing an understanding of public sociology through the practice of pedagogy. QMU has been delivering a named BSc in Public Sociology since 2014, and commenced an MSc in Public Sociology in 2018. In particular through my pedagogical work as the main author of this paper, with the group of MSc students of academic year 2018-19 (the contributing co-authors of this paper), this paper seeks to explore how public sociology is developing, and the importance of co-productive process to that development. The paper explores how, through the use of critical, dialogical pedagogy, primarily in the first presentation of the MSc Public Sociology, but also through the experience of teaching BSc Public Sociology and the process of putting together an edited book with colleagues (Scandrett 2020), our understanding of public sociology has developed. This dialogical process has therefore contributed to the production of knowledge – a dialogue between academics and students, and between both and publics with whom we engage. The process started with Burawoy’s classical defence of public sociology to the American Sociological Association and its critics, and subjected aspects of his argument to interrogation from both theory and practice. Theoretically, we have drawn on critical social theory from Nancy Fraser, Antonio Gramsci, Paulo Freire, Raymond Williams (none of whom have been professional sociologists). Queen Margaret University is a small, post-92 university with its origins in the nineteenth century women’s movement. The founders of its predecessor, Edinburgh School of Cookery and Domestic Economy, were Christian Guthrie Wright and Flora Stevenson, both activists in the Edinburgh Association for the University Education of Women. Through the provision of education for working class women in Edinburgh, the School broadened its curriculum and student intake, and eventually became a University in 2007. Its sociology team is located in a Division of Psychology, Sociology and Education, and draws for its public sociology practice and theory, from academics working in a range of disciplines. QMU’s public sociology grew out of critical pedagogy and popular education. I joined the sociology team at QMU in 2005 following a collaboration between the university and Friends of the Earth Scotland where I was previously employed, which deployed popular education methodologies with grassroots environmental justice campaigners to provide an educational programme recognised by both the university and the activists (Agents for Environmental Justice and Scandrett, 2003; Scandrett, 2007; 2010; Scandrett, O’Leary and Martinez 2005; Wilkinson and Scandrett, 2003). QMU provided a university context in which such collaborations with community and campaigning groups were accepted. Joyce Canaan, along with some of her students, colleagues and the Banner theatre company participated in a conference at QMU on Critical Pedagogy in 2006, which I co-organised, and we remained in contact ever since. Canaan was an advisor and external panel member to the undergraduate sociology programmes at QMU, which culminated in the MSc in Public Sociology.