The Chronicle of Higher Education
December 2nd, 2014
Early in 2014, President Obama announced a new initiative, My Brother’s Keeper,
aimed at alleviating the problems of black youth. Not only did a task
force appointed to draw up the policy agenda not include a single
professional sociologist, but I could find no evidence that any
sociologist was even consulted in the critical first three months of the
group’s work, summarized in a report to the president, despite the
enormous amount of work sociologists have done on poverty and the
problems of black youth.
Sadly, this situation is typical because sociologists have become
distant spectators rather than shapers of policy. In the effort to keep
ourselves academically pure, we’ve also become largely irrelevant in
molding the most important social enterprises of our era.
We need to reinvigorate public sociology. To be clear, I’m not
talking about general volunteer work—helping at a Habitat for Humanity
project or a drug-rehab facility, for instance—though those are noble
and worthwhile efforts. I’m talking about using our expertise to help
develop public policies and alleviate social problems in contexts
wherein the experience and data can, reciprocally, inform our work.