Public Sociology

César Rodríguez-Garavito


Cesar Rodriguez-Garavito is Associate Professor and founding Director of the Program on Global Justice and Human Rights at the University of the Andes (Colombia). He is a founding member of the Center for Law, Justice, and Society (Dejusticia) and a Hauser Global Fellow at NYU Law School. He has been a visiting professor at the University of Pretoria, the Åbo Academy of Human Rights, the University of Buenos Aires, the Andean University of Quito, and the Irish Center for Human Rights. He holds a Ph.D. and an M.S. (Sociology) from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, an M.A. from NYU’s Institute for Law and Society, an M.A. (Philosophy) from the National University of Colombia, and a J.D. from the University of the Andes. His publications include “ Global Governance, Indigenous Peoples and the Right to Prior Consultation in Social Minefields” (Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies); “Beyond the Courtroom: The Impact of Judicial Activism on Socioeconomic Rights in Latin America” (Texas Law Review); The Global Expansion of the Rule of Law; Law and Globalization from Below: Toward a Cosmopolitan Legality (coed.); and “Global Governance and Labor Rights: Codes of Conduct and Anti-Sweatshop Struggles in Global Apparel Factories in Mexico and Guatemala” (Politics & Society).


Read “ Global Governance, Indigenous Peoples, and the Right to Prior Consultation in Social Minefields,” then join the global discussion on Facebook!

Discussion Summaries and Comments:

Facebook Comments on Lecture Video:

Ramses Lopez Pimentel (Barcelona, Spain): For me was amazing instruction from Prof. Cesar, the same for Prof. Nandini, the challenge and the use of differences techniques to defend the rights of many groups. I have a brief comment for the panel, its about the Indigenous movement in Panama, the country where I come from, an important part of social minefields in this country most of them sufferig the same experience to fight for their rights. Few weeks ago indigenous community be and important struggle against the transnational interests, news about the subject can be readied on the blog: the same are writing in spanish but their pictures inside spoke by themselves,

Barcelona (March 4, 2012):

Contribution session 4: Social Minefields of Latin America, Cesar Rodriguez Garavito

About the presentation of César Rodríguez-Garavito we found interesting the selection of cases. For instance, we discussed about the involvement of sociologists in social arenas and also in scientific research and theory, which is what the university asks. Nowadays, it is necessary to have both, to work with scholars in academia and also with people in neighbourhoods. But, do we have enough time to do both? What about private life? Speaking about that aspect we discussed the possibility to do private and professional life linking both of them. If we love our job, this is not interpreted as a job, we are enjoying doing our job in the same way we do in our private life. Therefore, we are so lucky.

The meaning of our job as sociologists can also have an impact on the people we research. When we do a study, this is not only about doing interviews, publications and so one. Indeed, it is necessary to give an answer to the people’s problems… is that public sociology? A sociology made from everyone and for everyone. We discussed how the professional sociology only has the first part of a research, which is interviews, publications, but not the second one, contributing to change the reality, and for us, the most important part of our work is the return of our research to the people through changes in their lives.

We also discussed about one of the works described by Rodríguez-Garavito, related to popular consultation among indigenous people. Linked to this cultural aspect, we remembered the debate around the International Forum of Cultures, organized in Barcelona in 2004. The Forum implied the construction of an Exhibition Center and several hotels and new buildings. This was situated next to a marginal neighbourhood of Barcelona where most Roma people live. Nevertheless, the Forum organizers forgot, among all the cultures from all over the world, to include the Roma culture in the exhibition. A Platform of Roma and non-Roma citizens from that neighbourhood protested and finally they were given a space and also the municipality had to negotiate with the Platform about the urban planning of the area, including protected housing and public buildings (like a new library) for the poor people living there. In the seminar we highlighted how important it is to consult with people before taking decisions, mainly when this decision affect their families and lives. Often this people need help in presenting data, information, organize themselves, which is something done probably by “Gramcian organic intellectuals” and may be public sociologists have something to do with this. What do you think? Isn’t the work explained by Rodríguez-Garavito similar to this idea?

We also discussed that public sociology needs to include the emancipatory potential. From the scepticism or cynicism it is impossible to describe a case, as it was said in the conversation with Rodríguez-Garavito. The distance cannot permit real social transformations. For instance, people who think that 15M is not useful, they are doing sociology from the distance, they are not involved in the movement. The public sociologist’s style, language and so one should include collectives, the academic and the social. This is difficult to achieve without losing the scientific rigour, but it is possible. It is the challenge for the public sociologist. In order to achieve that Don Quijote does not give up in front of the windmill, it is necessary to find the meaning of what we do. Without meaning it is difficult to achieve something important. The meaning means to be clear about what you do and also about what is your contribution; this is the sociologist standpoint.

Dominika Partyga (UC Berkeley):

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! You touch on what is from my perspective most remarkable in Rodriguez-Garavito’s work: his research indeed merges with his personal life, exemplifying how public sociology that arises from moral commitments “keeps sociological passion alive”– to follow Prof. Burawoy’s words. Finding personal meaning in research oriented towards social change is what attracts many of us, students, to public sociology: this is what makes Rodriguez-Garavito’s case so inspirational for me. Similarly, Hari Sanafi talked about existential feeling that arises from close connection to research participants – I think that such ‘meaning-cues’ can be found in all conversations we had :)I was very interested in your example of consultation (negotiation) process that took place in the context of the forum. It might indeed correspond with the evolution of legal approaches towards indigenous people outlined by Rodriguez-Garavito in his paper on global governance. As the mode of participation of the Roma shifted from ‘exclusion’ to ‘inclusion’, they became more than just objects of policies through the process of negotiation. Yet I am not sure whether consultation is the approach that Rodriguez-Garavito would advocate for: after all, it is a concept used in the neoliberal discourse that excludes the possibility of self-determination. The very idea of consultation might imply a power imbalance (policy makers versus Roma citizens): this brings us to the 3rd approach in which consultation becomes replaced by consent. Having said that, it is of course necessary to recognize that we talk about very different rights being at stake in case of Rodriguez-Garavito’s publics and Roma community in Barcelona. Rodriguez-Garavito seems to suggest that the consultation approach is a halfway: it does ensure participation, but the agents are not yet entirely subjects of rights, they are still objects of policies. Do you think that the framework of consultation in the discussed case could be in some sense a ‘halfway’?
Last but not least, your comment that groups such as the Roma community might need help from sociologists in understanding and presenting data/arguments is very interesting, we actually discussed such conception of public sociology with Michel Wieviorka this week. So I am looking forward to reading your thoughts on his ideas ????

All the best from Berkeley!

Berkeley (March 12, 2012):

Lecture 4: Rodriguez-Garavito, Social Minefields of Latin America.  Report on Berkeley Discussion by Mica Stumpf and Elizabeth Vergara

Rodriguez defines as a process of juridification of ethnic claims, or the regulation of ethnicity within globalization. He analyzes the rise of socio-environmental conflicts through legal lenses such as FPIC (Free Prior Informed Consultation/Consent). Rodriguez argues that FPIC has the legal and procedural logic of neoliberal globalization. FPIC prioritizes economic development over human rights. FPIC does not address the structural exclusion of indigenous peoples, with power asymmetries making consultation a form of participation with limited negotiation and decision-making power. There are ongoing tensions between notions of consultation vs. consent, and participation vs. self-determination. However, despite the many shortcomings of FPIC, sometimes it is the only effective mechanism to slow the progression of harmful extraction and infrastructure projects on indigenous land.

UC Berkeley class focused on:

Our questions were centered around issues of practicing public sociology in extremely violent environments- or as Rodriguez calls them, “social minefields”. We also examined power relations and how they are reinforced by FPIC, the co-existence of violence and democracy in the global south, and the role of a legal framework in securing indigenous rights.

Several of the students in our class had questions about the limitations of the legal framework in securing indigenous rights. For example, in his article, Rodriguez places “consent” under the multi-cultural counter-hegemony lens, which he sees as a step toward empowering indigenous communities in the negotiation processes that affect them. However, one student asked whether it is really counter-hegemony if Embera leaders “consented” to the flooding of their lands via a dialogue with different concessions. Ultimately, indigenous land would still be flooded, and they could really only expect monetary compensation for this. Their culture and way of life is still threatened regardless of whether the Embera “consent” to the dam project or not.

This touches on another notion that Laleh Behbehanian articulated about the case of the Embera. She called the $80 per month per person deal that was offered to them “the commodification of collective suffering”. It is not the suffering of the Embera that is being debated with negotiations taking place under FPIC, but rather, how much money that suffering is worth. It is a monetary tradeoff, an exchange for their self-suffiency and determination.

Our class seemed to agree that the juridification of indigenous rights simply makes their exploitation more palatable by having a legal process in place which legitimizes the system of dominance under which indigenous people are repressed. FPIC does not significantly challenge power relations. At best it allows indigenous people to stall projects, which is a weak power. And at worst FPIC solidifies the asymmetric power relations that were in place before and remain in place today.

In light of all of this, our class pondered: is it necessary to move outside the legal field to assure indigenous community of their rights? If so, what other areas might be available to indigenous community to defend their interests? Or can the legal road lead to potentially more impactive power struggles for indigenous communities throughout the globe?

Johannesburg (March 2, 2012):

Lecture 4: Social Minefields of Latin America- Cesar Rodriguez-Garavito
Tuesday 28 February 2012, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

Discussion summary

Our discussion of Cesar Rodriguez-Garavito’s ‘Social Minefields in Columbia’ raised questions on what it means to be a public sociologist.

We all thought that his metaphor of social minefields was wonderfully rich, but in engaging with indigenous communities we had the impression that he operates as a legal activist, rather than as a sociologist who “makes visible the invisible” as Michael has described it. He didn’t talk about the ethics of accountability and we worried about the issue of transparency.

This kind of intervention (especially in the context of contemporary South Africa) can raise security risks for vulnerable communities. Another neglected issue is the question of gaining access to such communities which needs special skills and sensitivities. We talked about how in the South African context a reliance on legal strategies can be disempowering. In the case of the Steel Valley struggle against a mining company’s pollution of the groundwater, the interventions of white lawyers depoliticised the issue and fostered a dependence on external expertise.

It seems to us that another dilemma of Public Sociology (apart from the four he mentioned) could be the tendency to ventriloquise – to speak with the voice of the dispossessed rather than to amplify that voice. This raised the question of what it means to be an organic public sociologist – in and of the social movement. This involves tensions between intellectual independence and subordination to the collective.

Overall much depends on the political context in which the Public Sociologist is operating. Clearly it is a fragile position, fraught with many complexities including a vanity factor which could come from all the public exposure.

Kyiv (March 4, 2012):

Lecture 4: Social Minefields of Latin America, Cesar Rodriguez Garavito –

Discussion Summary, National University of ‘Kyiv-Mohyla Academy’, Kyiv,


A great speech of Mr. Cesar Rodriguez Garavito gives us a clear structure of types of engagements into public sociology as well as a list of striking challenges that we need to consider whilestanding on a path of public sociologists. This brings us to the overall idea of estimating all the opportunities and thresholds that arevisible in Ukraine. Partly all of the discussed problems eventually are taking place in our society, but everything could be changed with a help of communities and willingness to do so. The speaker gave us a great idea to think about how to construct an appropriate community and how to work collectively with problems, which are emerging.

What is more, with the help of this lecture we understood that the reasons why Ukrainian Public sociology is so weak are the next:

1) Sociologist does not engage in the field on the time when things, which they investigate, happen. In spite the fact that they do a field work, most of the time they stay out of it.

2) Findings of sociological researches stay in professional community. Very few sociologists communicate their findings to large audience thought newspaper or blogs. Moreover, if they do it, the language is to complicate for non-professional sociologist. So, the public is not engaged in these processes.

3) The last one reason is professionalism and passion for work. Maybe, there is not enough passion in researcher, when they do their job. They explore something and forget about it. As Mr. Cesar Rodriguez Garavito said, we must build long-term relationships with people who engaged with us in the field

Also, we were impressed by the methodology introduced in this lecture, that is to say, the implementation of case studies in empirical research. Probably it is the influence of post-positivist scientific tradition prevailing in Ukrainian sociological discourse, but here the methodology of case study is almost never used (if it is, however, only in triangulation). Therefore, we find it rather useful to apply for investigating the minefields of Mr. Cesar Rodriguez Garavito, especially in the course of public sociology since it is aimed to bring urgent social problems on agenda.

Still, we have question about ethics of public sociology which was briefly mentioned while talking about critical approach in mass-media and scientific publications. What we would like to ask is should the sociologist develop the global ethics of public sociology, and what is the difference between the public and the general sociological ethics? Of course, for now there is no even universal sociological ethics, but should there be some global rules for public sociologists, which would help to solve social problems worldwide? Or the influence of national and cultural features on social scientists should be kept? We would like to hear the opinion of Mr. Cesar Rodriguez Garavito and Mr. Michael Burawoy.

Contributors: participants in the fourth session of Public Sociology course of National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy: Nadiia Barycheva, Serhiy Bilosludcev, Anna Basova, Svitlana Kisilova.

Federico Quadrelli (Italy): Hello to everybody! My name is Federico and I am an italian sociologist (really young, I completed my MA degree on July 2011 in sociology of work and organizations, in Milan). I’m also the owner for the page “SOCIOLOGIA” (15000 users from a lot of different countries, more from Italy, of course). Since some weeks I found in youtube the lessons of “Public sociology”, of Professor Burawoy. I’m following yours lessons with interest and curiosity. Unfortunatly I cannot came in USA, but the opportunity to see the lessons in youtube it’s great! I posted on my facebook page “SOCIOLOGIA” some of these videos and members of the “community” (it’s not the correct word, but it’s in common sense) have appreciated. I wrote to professor Burawoy to express my congratulation for the lessons, the course and of course the idea to post these videos in social media (facebook, youtube….). I’m really glad that Professor Burawoy have answered to my email, and suggesting me this page. I think that “Social media” are a great opportunity to share knowledge, opinions and informations. Sometime is a good way, sometime it is in a bad way. I think that in this case is absolutly a good thing. More university should do the same. Social media are a new form of social relation, and as Castells said of “power”. Hope to see more videos and disccusions here and in youtube, so I can learn more, and keep in touch my collegues (facebook-friends) that have not the opportunity to learn this things or to move in some university With social media sometimes the information and the knowledge sharing it’s easier (of course when there are so professionals and important professors, scholars, researcher, that do that). Thanks for that!
Greetings from me, and from the members of my page “SOCIOLOGIA”.
ps: I’m sorry for mistakes, my english is not so good!

Tehran (March 11, 2012):

Discussion Summary: Student Sociological Association of TehranUniversity and Iranian Sociological Association

First comment: The issue of accessibility:

A shared concern for both Dr.Sunder and Mr. Rodriguez is that sociologist while connecting to a group loses his/her Accessibility, whether towards the professional sociologists or other groups that sociologist must relate to them such as the state.

It seems that this concern is some other form of the concern of objectivity which is seen in the positivism paradigm. Whether the aim of public sociologist is to defend being “value free” similar to professional sociologist or he/she can be value centered and follow a particular group.

Second comment: the issue of agreement

In the last two examples we see that sociologist tries to create agreement among a public and its opposition. There are two presuppositions to this agreement: 1. the possibility of agreement based on a joint interest and 2. The necessity of accepting current rules and trying to reach a joint interest in existing context. Does the utopia of agreement truly exist? And if it does, doesn’t it reduce the critical part of public sociology to play by the rules? Maybe the Sunder’s and Rodriguez’s emphasis on this kind of agreement challenges the recognition of variety and diversity which is a significant factor of social life.

Third comment: Research priority

In last two examples public sociologists are acting in a critical situation where there is an active public and their successful problem solving in this situation has increased their legitimacy to work as a public sociologist. Therefore can we assume that the public sociologist can interfere in the situations where a public is facing a critical situation? It seems that we can interfere before a critical situation and even form a public and in addition to that in some political situations it is not possible to go for a critical situation.

Forth comment: public sociologist as a translator

Social Impact Assessment projectsin Iran reflect the role of public sociologist as a translator. Products of thesociologists is not comprehensible for the policy makers and therefore it is the responsibility of public sociologist to transfer the public’s needs and challenges to the policy makers. Additionally the structure of neighborhood management committee in Iran is somehow a kind of dialogue between the sociologist and people that shapes the neighborhood development patterns. Urban policy making projects are good examples of such role. Neighborhood management committees in Iran are colleagues of public sociologists. Members of these institutions as semi democratic organizations have been chosen among elderly and trustworthy members of the neighborhood and as representatives of a neighborhood they can play the role of medium between people and municipality state structure. On the other hand they can appear as a reference institution to the public sociologist to help them find true problems of the public and recognize the future of the neighborhood pathologically and problematically.

Final comment:

Rodriguez’s activity is important from several different aspects. First: he tries to connect his activities inside the academy to his activities outside the academy and does not agree with the differentiation between these two. Secondly he spends lots of time to gain access to the indigenous people  and educate them to come to know about the sociological imagination.This point is very important because makes indigenous people capable of dealing with their problems on their own with the help of creating public educational material out of academic material.

rodriguezgaravito on said:

Thank you all for such interesting, thought-provoking comments. They all raise difficult issues, both at the conceptual and the practical levels. As I understand them, they cluster around two topics:

1. Public sociology’s and law’s emancipatory potential: course participants from Johannesburg and Berkeley questioned whether public sociologists’ engagement in law-centered struggles (such as the ones on indigenous rights I analyze and participate in) has any emancipatory effects. They seem to be generally skeptical of law’s counterhegemonic potential, given the tendency of legal rules to reinforce the status quo.

I agree that law tends to have this hegemonic effect, as I argue in the paper I presented (“”, Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, 2011). And it certainly creates the risk of depoliticization and domination of subaltern social actors, such as indigenous peoples. But law also has a counter-hegemonic, emancipatory potential, as illustrated by a myriad social movements that have successfully mobilized legal tools in struggling for social justice. Some prominent examples are the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa (which successfully combined litigation before the Constitutional Court with political mobilization to reverse the South African government’s policy of denial on HIV-AIDS) and the global movement against domestic violence that led to the creation of an international legal framework that serves as a powerful leverage point for the feminist movement. Similarly, the Latin American indigenous movement has aptly combined direct action and legal mobilization by exploiting the opportunities created by international and national norms on free, prior and informed consultation, as I try to show in the presentation and the paper.

To put it in Gramscian terms, although the legal field is permeated by hegemonic discourses and plays a major role in setting the rules of the game that favor hegemonic actors, it also offers a terrain for contestation. The content of legal norms and the outcomes of legal struggles are not always predetermined; they can be shaped by innovative legal and political strategies that question the status quo. Such strategies, in turn, rely on alternative diagnoses and explanations of the issue at hand, be it patriarchy, predatory development or ethnocide. My view is that public sociologists can play a key role in constructing such diagnoses and explanations, and in connecting them with legal and political strategies undertaken by subaltern actors.

2. Public sociologists’ relationship with social actors: students from Barcelona, Kyiv, Tehran and Johannesburg raised questions on the practical and ethical dilemmas of engaging with social movements and other social actors. For instance, students in the Johannesburg course pointed out “the tendency to ventriloquise – to speak with the voice of the dispossessed rather than to amplify that voice”, and worried about public sociologists’ lack of transparency and accountability. Similar issues arose in the online conversation with participants in the Berkeley course.

These cautionary notes are well taken. Public sociology is, by definition, a risky enterprise, as it straddles conventional boundaries (e.g., academia/practice) and engages with different publics (e.g., social movements, state authorities, public opinion). But I believe that, just as there are standards to manage the risks of professional sociology (e.g., protection of human subjects, etc.), a reflexive practice of public sociology can also develop strategies to deal with the associated risks. In my talk, I pointed to two strategies: autonomy and transparency.

Autonomy entails a deliberate effort on the part of public sociologists to differentiate themselves from the social actors they engage with, be it governmental agencies, grassroots movements or the media. Transparency means always being explicit about this identity in dealing with those and other actors.

The demands of autonomy and transparency do not exclude collaborations with actors who share the public sociologist’s diagnoses or recommendations (e.g., state agencies willing to enforce indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consultation). But it does exclude formal and informal arrangement that may compromise the sociologist’s intellectual autonomy and freedom of expression (e.g., paid consultancies that give a state agency a say on the content and publicity of research findings). To my mind, this autonomy needs to be kept also vis-à-vis social movements. Precisely in order to be useful to a movement’s cause, a public sociologist needs to remain distinguishable from it.

Once she crosses an “invisible picket line” (as Michael Burawoy has called it in “The Southern Windmill”) and becomes, in practice, a government advisor or a regular militant, she ceases to exercise the type of reflexivity that is essential to academic pursuits, no matter how committed to practical issues. Moreover, by not crossing the invisible picket line, public sociologists may also increase the transparency of their practice and mitigate the risk of “ventriloquizing” the dispossessed and other social actors.