American Sociological Association

Michael Burawoy on “Sociology as a Vocation”

July 6, 2016

“What does it mean to live for sociology, today?” Michael Burawoy asks in his timely essay, “Sociology as a Vocation.”  Drawing on insights from Max Weber’s classic lectures on science and politics, Burawoy argues that sociology is uniquely positioned to reinvigorate civil society and the university in the face of the relentless growth of marketization across the globe.

—Michael Sauder, editor, Contemporary Sociology


Sociology as a Vocation

Michael Burawoy

What does it mean to live for sociology, today? In attempting to answer this question I return to Max Weber’s famous lectures delivered toward the end of his life—one on science as a vocation and the other on politics as a vocation. He presented “Science as a Vocation” in November 1917 toward the end of World War I and the more pessimistic “Politics as a Vocation” in January 1919 afterGermany’s defeat.2 The essays themselves exemplify Weber’s methodology—interpreting social action within the external conditions that shape it. Weber not only explicates the meaning of “vocation”—what it means to “live for” as well to “live off” science and politics—but situates their pursuit within historical and national contexts. He explores the possibilities of an “inner devotion” to science or politics in Germany as compared to the United States and Britain. Yet neither here nor elsewhere does Weber turn his sociology of vocation back on to sociology itself. He does not advance from sociology of vocation to sociology as a vocation, which is the endeavor of this essay, an endeavor that draws on but leads us beyond Weber.

From the July 2016 issue of Contemporary Sociology: A Journal of Reviews (Volume 45, Number 4; pp. 379-393)

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