Public Sociology

Marta Soler and Ramon Flecha


Ramon Flecha

Ramon Flecha is professor of sociology at the University of Barcelona and the founder and former Director of CREA, the Center of Research on Theories and Practices that Overcome Inequalities, at the same university. He is also Doctor Honoris Causa in sociology by the University of Vest Timisoara, Romania. He had directed one of the most important studies funded by the European Commission about the Roma people in Europe, the “Workalo” project. For that he got recognition not only from the academia, but also from the Roma citizens, when the Catalan Roma Federation gave him one of their national awards and was invited to be a member of the National Roma Council, which provides advice to the government. Flecha has been always strongly involved with poor and marginalized communities since the 60s, first in his hometown, Bilbao, and later in Barcelona, while he was also part of the clandestine movement against Franco’s dictatorship until 1975. His book “Sharing words”, published in Spanish, English and Chinese, includes some of this work. In 1991 founded CREA with colleagues from different disciplines, inside and outside the university, with whom he developed the communicative methodology that is key in CREA’s public sociology work. For the last decade he has been deeply involved in the study of Mondragon cooperative group as an alternative to capitalist economy, a project that has got the attention of relevant groups such as the Real Utopias Project in the US or the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Europe. Several works have been published on the topic.

Marta Soler

Marta Soler is Professor of Sociology at the University of Barcelona and current Director of CREA. She joined CREA as a junior researcher in 1992 and since then she participated in national and European studies on strategies to overcome exclusion. In 2001 she graduated from Harvard, with a dissertation on literary gatherings and social change (or the empowerment of the working class through breaking with cultural elitism). Some years later she spoke at the Havens Center at University of Wisconsin, Madison, about this study, with a lecture titled “Beyond Bourdieu”. Back in Spain she continued this work elaborating on speech acts theory with the analysis of communicative acts, and applying this analysis to gender inequalities and gender violence. From this work highlights her book with the philosopher John Searle “Language and social sciences” (2004) and two studies funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science (Communicative acts and social inequality in gender relations; Impact of communicative acts in the construction of egalitarian masculinities). Besides, Marta Soler is the Academic Director of the Degree in Sociology at the University of Barcelona and Board member of the Catalan Sociology Association (Catalan Academy of Sciences).


Read  “Critical Communicative Methodology: Informing Real Social Transformation threough Research.” then join the global discussion on Facebook!

Discussion Summaries & Comments

Barcelona (March 11, 2012):

Contribution session 5: Marta Soler and Ramon Flecha
We found the conversation with Marta Soler and Ramon Flecha very interesting and we also had the opportunity to continue talking with them in Barcelona. We told them that we liked very much how they provided clear examples of the public sociology done by CREA. Their work with La Milagrosa community and the development of the dialogic inclusion contract clearly exemplified the commitment to academic work and activism, as complementary.

In relation to the dialogic inclusion contract (DIC) some of us discussed whether includes just citizens or existing organizations. We then highlighted the need to count on both the associations and NGOs already operating in these communities and then involve neighbors who are not in these associations but live in the community and have their families there. Often, NGOs do not represent everybody from the communities. We also discussed the role of the researchers in the DIC and the extent to which the DIC would be possible or efficient in implementing successful actions without the participation of researchers. We decided that the contribution of public sociologists in the La Milagrosa DIC was crucial, as much as the social actors (neighbors).

We also discussed about “trust”, which is necessary to achieve with the people from a barrio in order to know their context and to use the scientific knowledge not for the improvement of academic vitas, but rather for the improvement of these people’s lives. The importance of building this “trust” was very clear when Flecha said that many people from these excluded neighborhoods are against researchers, they do not like us. Would then public sociology need to find ways to build this trust in different contexts?

About the critical communicative methodology (CCM) we wondered how to apply the dialogue when doing a research with private companies, or governmental agencies, which have more power than the citizens of a ghetto. Should we use the same principles?

Like the colleagues in Witts, we also discussed about the extent to which doing public sociology is to change the institutional arrangements in academia, but to achieve the credibility of the academia for a sociology that is socially committed, we need to do very rigorous work and science.

Finally, another important issue we discussed was the extension of the successful actions that are implemented in concrete areas, for instance, in education. The results from implementing successful actions in one ghetto school made possible the expansion of that actions in others areas of the La Milagrosa neighborhood, like housing, work and health. The role of the neighborhood’s assemblies was very important in this expansion. The same is true for the 15M movement, the “indignados” movement, which decided to pass from occupying Catalunya Square (main square in Barcelona were everything began) to the city neighborhoods. Then, who or what do we need to promote this assemblies in order to have all people’s voices and to achieve the best an egalitarian interaction between academia and society?

Marta Soler (University of Barcelona): Dear Ana

Thank you for your comments. As you said, I think the complementary commitment between academic work and activism is a key issue in the understanding of the potential impact of these examples of public sociology. This dialogue between the researchers and the social agents in La Milagrosa is truly contributing to obtain a deeper scientific understanding of that neighborhood, and to achieve a greater level of social transformation through scientific analysis. However, as you mentioned, in the Dialogic Inclusion Contract both researchers and social agents (not only NGOs or associations but also and specially those who have been traditionally excluded from public dialogues) are very relevant to obtain these results.

It is true that trust is a key element in the interaction between sociologists and social agents to obtain these research outcomes. The communicative methodology establishes the conditions to build this trust, for example, through overcoming the methodological gap between those who are the researchers and those who are researched. The Advisory Councils, a consultative body that works throughout the entire research process and is composed by people from vulnerable groups, is one of the ways to overcome this methodological gap.

As you said, this communicative methodological approach means rigorous scientific work and social commitment, and to some extent, it is true that public sociology contributes to change some institutional arrangements in the academia to guarantee the development of sociological work according to ethic and scientific principles in agreement with the international scientific community.

Ramon and Marta

Mica Stumpf (UC Berkeley): Dear Ana, Ramon, and Marta (and everyone),

I really enjoyed reading your summary and comments on the CCM lecture (and of course the lecture itself, Ramon and Marta!). I think you bring up many interesting points about the dialogic inclusion contract (DIC). I was especially interested in how you think about trust as an essential part of creating good research. I totally agree about that. Our class had some concerns about whether an egalitarian conversation could really ever be possible given the inherent power imbalances between the public and those who can claim professional titles. Our class discussed how simply having this educational background might make the sociologist have more say in the production of knowledge, even on a subliminal level.

I think what you bring up about trust would be one way to ensure that the conversation is more egalitarian. I also think that establishing trust would help to get more people interested in participating in research, and thus broaden the input coming from the communities where the sociologist works. Our class was just talking about this lecture again this morning and again it evoked a lot of lively conversation!

Overall I find the concept of CCM totally fascinating and worth striving for. Perhaps it is somewhat impossible to really have a totally egalitarian conversation between a scientist and community members, but I think that CCM is a good step in that direction and definitely an improvement upon traditional research methods which exclude community members and the subjects of the research from contributing their knowledge. Also I really like that Marta and Ramon are comfortable identifying with activists in the pursuit of social transformation. Many of the other public sociologists tried very hard to remain separate from activists in order to maintain their scientific legitimacy, but I like how CCM blends these things together.

Truthfully, I am quite envious of the popularity that CCM has in Europe versus here in the U.S. ???? I want to study this methodology further because I find it really inspiring.

Best wishes from Berkeley,

Miriam Gonzalez (UC Berkeley): I’m with Mica on this one. I find the concept of the CCM fascinating and I would be super intrigued in seeing whether it can be applied elsewhere. To this day I think about this methodology and if it could be applied in cases that I read about in other classes. Although I do agree that having an educational background can influence the production of knowledge by giving the sociologist greater say, what I thought was peculiar and special to the CCM is the fact that it aims to be egalitarian by using the cultural knowledge and experiences of the group in collaboration. By collaborating in this way, both have power in the production of knowledge, not one over the other (at least that is how I am understanding it). Yes a sociologist can observe all he wants, write about it, and perhaps try to implement change, but interacting with the group like Ramon did is, what I feel, makes this methodology special. The fact that he wasn’t purely and outsider coming in and trying to change the dynamics of the barrio. Instead, he took the time to develop the trust, understand the dynamics, and in collaboration with people who live in the barrio try to bring about change. The CCM seems highly appealing to me, I’d want to see in what other realms it could be taken to.

Marta Soler (University of Barcelona): Thank you for your contribution and your encouraging words about the communicative methodology. As you say, it is indeed, a step forward towards more egalitarian dialogues with end-users in the research process which has already been done in very different research fields, as it is shown in the special issue on CCM published in 2011 in Qualitative Inquiry. There you can find its development when researching on issues such as gender, cultural minorities (Roma people) or competitive cooperatives. We encourage you to have a look at it! We also totally agree with Mica in regards to the relevance and possibility to overcome the dualism between social engagement and rigorous scientific work. As the communicative methodology shows us, you can develop high quality scientific work and be committed to social transformation, working to guarantee that research results have an impact in society.
Best regards,

Marta and Ramon

Berkeley (March 16, 2012):

Marta Soler and Ramon Flecha discuss the use of Critical Communicative Methods (CCM) in creating social change through dialogue between publics and researchers. Essential to their research is dialogue between researcher and subjects, especially subjects that are traditionally excluded from other research models (i.e. poor and undereducated members of the community). Under this method, subjects are involved in advisory committees; multicultural research teams (to represent different backgrounds and bridge gaps in cultural intelligence) and communicative focus groups where people share their daily life stories. Communicative observations are a central source of research information. The co-production of knowledge has led to several great accomplishments. Such as increased literacy at Romani school and an understanding of the tension between desire, moral, sexual violence among teenagers.

In our class we found the concept of valuable knowledge across different cultural intelligence level a significant contribution to the discussion of public sociology. We discussed how all people can produce knowledge and that it is not the prerogative of academics. Contrary to a prevailing idea within sociological circles that claims that dominated subjects cannot develop sociological knowledge because their lack of resources consumes most aspects of their lives leaving little time to think gain useful knowledge about their surroundings, Soler and Flecha echo the ideas of Patricia Hill-Collins who argues that the more dominated and alienated a group or individual is, the more profound understanding they will have about the world around them. In this view, the primary role of academics is that of a transformative nature. We closed the argument with the idea that if a public sociologist consults the public, whether dominated or privileged, it must be with the belief that the subject has significant information to offer.

We continued with discussing the process of the research and information collection with regards to Marta Soler´s and Ramon Flecha´s experiences; both in a professional (Mondragon) and academic setting (Romani school and the sexual violence research). We also discussed their positions in a low level of violence and danger, compared researchers set in a context of violence and radical movement. Here our discussion moved into the subjects’ reaction toward the researchers and how radical movements often know what they want, but not how to achieve it. In contrast, in the school setting the subjects are often oblivious to the issues at hand. These two settings require very different forms of egalitarian dialogue in order to direct the power dynamics toward a collective consensus. Further the debate continued to the question of “When is a consensus achieved?” Maintaining an equal relationship is very tricky as both society and the cultural intelligence of the different participants “determine” their participatory role.

The Mondragon cooperative based in the Basque country was discussed as both a practical example of CCM, and a result of CCM as it presents a real utopian alternative to communism. What seemed to receive the most focus from the class was how this case could be used as an example, and if it was transferable to other nations as the Basque country has a long history of leftists movements and therefore offered Mondragon better odds than another nation. Building on that, the debate on what would be the competing factors for an expansion of the Mondragon cooperative, such as cultural context of new areas, a hostile Spanish (or another) state, and the reactions from the capitalist establishments became interesting points. We also discussed some reasons for the continued successes of the Mondragon cooperative; we saw that the way that Mondragon is actually a highly specialized network of co-operatives and the development of their own banking and educational institutions as instrumental in their successes.

Marta Soler (University of Barcelona): Dear Raymond and Malene,

Thank you very much for going in depth into the contents of the Lecture.

One of the aspects we would like to highlight is the relevance of the inclusion of people’s voices into research, especially of those traditionally excluded from the public discussions and social debates. In this sense, we completely agree with your statement: “the subject has significant information to offer”. For this reason, it is relevant to take into account the cultural intelligence that all subjects have, and to think about possible ways to include such cultural intelligence into scientific dialogues. We have deeply discussed the difficulties to achieve the conditions for the “ideal speech situation” but evidences demonstrate humans’ capacity for language and action and the possibilities all people have to provide arguments to sustain their views and stances. So, the question is how to favour research processes which will be closer to break the methodological gap between researchers and those researched, and to favour the development of the conditions that facilitate that the cultural intelligence of all people enriches the research process.

The power dynamics in each context need to be taken into account in trying to reach such conditions for egalitarian dialogue. In fact, in our debate with Searle about communicative acts we discussed about the effect of power relationships in dialogue and how to create alternative dialogic conditions.

Finally, in relation to Mondragon, it is important to take into account that it has defined a strategy of internationalisation of coops that respects the democratic and participatory processes that characterise this alternative model.

Best regards,
Marta and Ramon

Malene H. Sørensen (UC Berkeley): Thank you so much Marta Soler and Ramon Flecha for taking the time to comment on our summary. I feel that the dialog here on Facebook is truly what enhances the quality of this public sociology class as it brings all the groups across the world together through comments and thoughts not only across the classes, but also opens for interaction with the authors of the sociology we discuss.

Approaching the end of this class and having interacted with so many great sociologists, I feel that both my possibilities within academic sociology, as well as the opportunities I might come across to make a change in the world, has increased as a result of the inspirational talks that have been conducted in Berkeley and across the world over Facebook. I hope this public sociology class gets the chance to reach new audiences and inspire more students. Thank you!

Marta Soler (UC Berkeley): Dear Malene,

Your words are really encouraging and they engage us to continue discussing with all of you through these fruitful dialogues on public sociology. We are delighted to share with you our contributions, to be enriched with your views and to participate in these debates that have a very positive impact in our scientific work.

Best regards,
Marta and Ramon

Johannesburg (March 8, 2012):

Today’s lecture made us reflect a great deal about ourselves as public sociologists both as academics and activists.  In general, we felt very comfortable with the self-reflexive approach to the public sociology that Ramon and Martha (and their institute) represent.  We felt that there was a very self-conscious approach to both their research and their activism, and that for them public sociology was about transformation of society and the academy.  This was much more pronounced than it was for Nandini and Cesar, both of whom seemed to have divisions between their professional and public sociologies.  Our Spanish comrades, on the other hand, saw their public sociology to be as much about transforming the academy as about society more broadly.  What we especially liked about Ramon and Martha is that their public sociology really geared toward transforming the world, linking up with “real utopias”, and not just defensive struggles.

While we really like the idea and practice (both for our activism and research) of Dialogic Inclusion Contract, we wondered about the use of the word “contract”.   We felt that it brought a legalistic, formal, and alienating sentiment to what is actually being done, which is antithetical to what the practice is actually about.  We wondered why they chose the word “contract.”  Action research has been a popular form of research in South Africa, but dialogic method makes clear the limitations of action research.  We especially like the idea of multiple knowledges that all have equal value, but still recognizing that this is a particular space/contract.  The method acknowledges the inequalities and hierarchies in the world, and in fact it is because of these inequalities, that creating a space where different forms of knowledge are equal is so important.  This resonates with us in South Africa as there has been a tradition of valuing particular elite knowledge to the detriment of other forms of knowledge.

We also questioned how they decide what is successful in their actions.  Based on what criteria is success measured?  This is also linked to issues of transferability as it does seem to be a fundamental question underpinning much of what public sociology does.

It was striking to us that in their case it was not about individuals doing public sociology, but it’s a collective project and has an institutional home.  This made us wonder what it takes to create such a space.  Can public sociologist really exist in isolation?  Or do we need a broader support environment to push the boundaries like they have in Spain?  At first we reflected on our own institutional location at Wits, and bemoaned all the pressures on us to produce as individual academics and not collective projects with a larger transformative project.  For example, in the weekend’s Sunday Times our neighboring university (UJ) placed a big advertisement bragging about how they had 600 research units last year (this is the quantitative measures to our academic research).  For many of us, this exemplifies how academia has lost its social mission and has become neoliberalized.  But then we also reflected that our comrades in Spain have created this alternative environment within their institution.  It did not miraculously appear out of thin air.

Marta Soler (University of Barcelona): Thank you very much for your comments and contributions to the discussion initiated last week with Berkeley. We really like the idea you highlighted at the end (tight relationship between better activist and better academic) as it brings about the idea that doing research for social change means linking serious academic work to social actors, rather than taking distance from academia or from social actors. CREA, of course, did not “miraculously appear out of this air”. As our colleagues from Witts well know with the amazing work you are doing in South Africa, it takes a lot of effort, clear vision and coherence of one’s work to one’s principles to do so. In our case, it was very important that from the beginning CREA(which belongs to the university) was formed by members inside and outside the university (i.e. social movements, unions, administration, private sector…), and one of the most important activities, since 1991, have been the Seminars “with the book at hand”, in which we meet twice a month to discuss the most important works from different disciplines, for instance, Weber’s Economy and Society, Smith’s Wealth of Nations, Habermas’ Theory of Communicative Action, Mead’s Mind Self and Society, Sen’s Development as Freedom, to just mention some examples. In this seminars, the rule is that to speak you have to say from what page in the book, thus avoiding the common practice of talking without having read the source (like Althusser, who wrote “Reading Capital” without having read it himself). In this seminar speaking is not related to position in the academic hierarchy but to having read the text. Besides, it creates a very rich learning environment among people from very different disciplines and backgrounds, and the basis of the theoretical development of CREA work. We totally agree with you that in front of neoliberalization of academia, we need to create alternatives, as well as recreate those alternatives that work in other places in the world. This “Public sociology live” initiative is a good opportunity for widening the network and learning from each other’s experiences.
With regards to the Dialogic Inclusion Contract, what makes sense to this concept is the fact that everybody has a voice: from family members to teachers, volunteers, administrative staff or researchers. The word “contract” is used here as a way to express an “agreement” among all the sectors involved and with responsibilities and commitments towards social inclusion, which should be formalized in some way that guarantees all voices will be taken into account.
Another interesting question is about the concept of success and transferability. In other academic fields, for example health, the success of a treatment is measured on the bases of its effectiveness: how many people overcome a health problem. In social sciences, we have evidences that show that when a concrete action is implemented, we obtain success. The concept of successful action is based on this idea. For example, we have evidences that the Mondragon Corporation is resisting better the economic crisis due to their internal organization based on democratic principles. Success in “measured”, for instance, in low unemployment rates, creation of jobs, new investments, etc. Now the key, and what we are studying, is how this is transferred to other contexts, which will mean that the “treatment” could be useful in other parts of the world.
Finally, it is very important for us to work as a team, with different disciplines jointly connected with the same goal: overcome social exclusion. We are sociologists, economists, psychologists, biologists, anthropologists, educators, lawyers, etc. We know that this transversal principle could be more difficult to put in practice depending on the academic context but there are evidences in different parts of the world that demonstrates that it is possible.

Kyiv (April 1, 2012)

There are several points we would like to mention after watching the very inspiring lection of Mr. Flencha and Mrs. Soler.

The first point is connected with the example of bearing the several identities in the same time. Unfortunately, to ours opinion, being a 100 percent member of several social categories or groups is possible for person, only if there is no significant tension between those categories in society. If there is a tension, and even a violent conflict, then the individual must decide, which identity is more preferable, or make that decision under the pressure of circumstances.

The second point is the danger of attempt of solving social problem to be unsuccessful. It was mentioned what will be in case, if public sociologist will achieves his goals (the decrease of extremism, the start of dialogue of social agents, the development of the way to solve the problem). But it is always important to remember what can be, if the attempt to deal with problem will fail. For example, the failure of the government established after the Orange revolution in Ukraine in 2004 to apply democratic reforms caused the rise of new social problems, with still actual old problems. After the Orange revolution there was the decrease of civil activity, for people lost trust in the achieving goals, especially political, through social movements. It is obvious, but still important to remember, that becoming the active participant of researched social processes leads sociologist to sharing the responsibility with other participants.

Moreover, the other question rises is there an opportunity for marginalized groups of people to become a part of creation of social knowledge process and in which way it could be done? These groups are often excluded from what we call “public”, however society tries to solve their problems without taking their mind into account. These features might be in the roots of conflicts and structural resistance. So, how can we solve these problems?

In addition, Mr. Flencha and Mrs. Soler were talking about the newly created methodology of conversation and its implementation to the different aspects of sociology; it could be public sociology, as well as professional sociology. We greatly admire the new approaches that gave us a possibility to become a public sociologist in the nearest future through being in the right place and in the right time, and through connecting other people to the discussion. But, nevertheless, we should be considered with national aspects, as well as cultural differences. To ours mind, in order to provide a conversation with other groups of people in Ukraine the first step to make is to change an image of sociologist in Ukrainian society. But what is more applicable is to create a network of sociologists interested in not only investigation of the major problems, but otherwise in providing successful solutions. However, an another form of getting knowledge through conversation with different people is given and, as a result, could be really productive in developing public sociology in our country. What is in utmost interest of ours is in getting sociology into a dialog with other disciplines and in creating a broader prospective for public sociology.

Contributors: participants of Public Sociology course of National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy: Serhiy Bilosludcev, Asja Chornogorska, Nadiia Barycheva

Marta Soler (University of Barcelona): Dear colleagues,
Thank you for your comments and contributions, they are all very important. We could go in depth into many different aspects you mention; we will take some. First, with regards to the question of identities, there is a wide body of literature about “multiple identities” as well as the inequalities related to that. The example we gave was to exemplify how sociologists we can change our analyses or “ideal types” in dialogue with the social actors who have the everyday experience of what we study. In the example, a well-known French sociologist changed his concept of “metissage” in this dialogue. The Roma woman’s daily experience made her feel that she is 100% French when she has the rights and duties (like paying taxes) as any 100% French person, and she also felt 100% Roma with her family and traditions. The Communicative Methodology is based on these types of dialogues.The point you raised on “unsuccessful actions” is very interesting. When this happens, it may provoke “disenchantment” on researchers and those who supported this “possible utopia”. You provide an excellent example with the Orange revolution. So what is the solution, wouldn’t that be to continue researching on the basis of previous “successful actions”? What is our role as social scientists?The third question, related to the structural resistances and the inclusion of excluded groups, it is crucial in our field of research. We know that we have subjects and structures and tensions between both. We think that a very useful example of how to put these two dimensions in common is the speech of Rafael López, a neighbor from the La Milagrosa community, from a poor and excluded family, which we explained in our talk. Mr. Lopez talked at the Final Conference of the INCLUD-ED research project, at the European Parliament on 6th December 2011: this research project, we used the communicative methodology that you are also mentioning in your contribution. Through this, sociologists give a better image to society as it is demonstrated that we work with and for them.Thank you again for your comments!
Marta and Ramon

Sao Paulo (March 12, 2012):

On Marta Soler and Ramon Flecha class.
First of all, I’d like to emphasize the importance of this comunicative procedure. In my opinion, that’s the core of reflexive sociology which should be supported and expanded by public sociologists.
Furthermore, Marta and Ramon provided us terrific examples of succesful cases.
Very briefly I’d like to point out only a question: the “positionality” of the sociology which apply this method.
If I understand well, in case of Roma people, they show us how important sociology can be in the process of the recognition of a discriminated minority identity by state aparatus.
… In the case of “La Milagrosa barrio” they show us how important sociology can be in terms of building links between poor workers and coops – that is a company.
In both cases, however, aren’t we in face of a policy sociology instead a public sociology – or a sort of mix between policy and public sociology?
I mean is sociology helping people to overcome real troubles by a cooperative relation to the state and companys?

Marta Soler (University of Barcelona): Dear Ruy,

Thank you very much for your comments. As we mentioned, the communicative methodology means the inclusion of people’s voices into the whole research process from a dialogic approach to allow a better scientific understanding of the social reality. According to that, the communicative methodology, as it is seen in the examples you mention, achieves greater social impact of the research results. In the case of the Roma people, the relevance of this impact of sociological research is clearly seen in the improvement of the situation of the Roma in different social areas, including the political recognition of this community. In La Milagrosa neighborhood, for example, research results are aiding the creation of new social and occupational opportunities for traditionally excluded people.

In that sense, the question of “positionality” that you mention is very relevant, because, indeed, the research results obtained through this methodological approach can be useful for social agents themselves to contribute to the transformation of societies. In that sense, I understand your point about the mix between policy and public sociology, because the impact from research is both at the policy and public levels.

Ruy Braga (University of Sao Paulo): Thanks so much, Marta!!

That’s it. I agree 100%.

All the best, Ruy.

Ray Abád ‎(UC Berkeley): Ruy you raise a good point in seeing the connection between policy sociology and public sociology, as you will see from the dialogue that took place today (which should be posted very shortly) between us (at Berkeley) and Karl Von Holdt who has worked in many different spheres of sociology, but particularly (as we read about in his article) in policy sociology in overseeing an effort to transform the practices of the largest hospital in the Southern Hemisphere which is located in Soweto, South Africa. Von Holdt and his team’s efforts were to increase efficiency in a hospital too large to be properly managed under the context of social reconstruction in post-apartheid South Africa. Von Holdt and his team made great progress at raising public awareness of the disparities taking place at this hospital by engaging in a form of organic public sociology by organizing a march that consisted of hospital workers, administrators and members of the community. Ultimately, their efforts were shut down from the ruling administration and business returned to as usual at the hospital. In our discussions with Von Holdt, we collectively came to a conclusion that in order to be effective in the realm of policy sociology, it is often crucial to engage with publics in the very same way that Marta Soler and Ramon Flecha actively practice with the Critical Communicative Methodology. The way that they have engaged with community members and held public forums and formed multi-cultural research teams and advisory committees which has in turn led to social change in places such as La Milagrosa barrio, shows that active organic public sociology can often be the legwork that leads to effective policy change and social transformation.

Nestor Ignacio Zapata (UC Berkeley): I think that it is important to find a good balance between all the different types of sociology. Professor Burawoy brings up a good point in that professional sociology often times produces knowledge that is used in a public sociology context. I also think that there is a danger when we begin to interact in just one category. The professional is too far removed from society; are we not trying to change it? The public sociologist often forgets to reflect on their experiences because they are too involved with a community. Something that was brought up in class about the CCM method was that we can never truly take out power within any group. We understand that we can try to make things as equal as possible but the reality is that we cannot find a space that actually has that.

Marta Soler (University of Barcelona): Dear Raymond,

Thank you for the example. It is very interesting to reflect on cases in the area of health where it is identified the relevance of engaging the public in the design of effective policies and actions. In La Milagrosa barrio (Albacete), the process of transformation of the neighbourhood also includes the definition of actions in relation to health issues that affect different social groups. In this process, the role of social agents in the decision-making of these actions is very important in order to ensure the design of measures which really address the needs of the people in the area and which can contribute to a preventive health plan for all.

Ramon and Marta Soler

Marta Soler (University of Barcelona): Dear Nestor,

Thank you for your thoughts. The question of power is present in many theoretical contributions of social sciences and it is important to take into account this aspect in our research work, as the distribution of power is not equal among social groups. However, as you say, it does not mean that we can not be inspired by successful cases that we can found in social reality and where steps have been made to reduce the gap among people, a gap generated by power relationships. From public sociology we can base our work on those scientific evidences from the international community. Those evidences show that if we further the analysis of realities such as La Milagrosa or the Mondragon Corporation we can be closer to find which elements are contributing to reduce power and therefore to build actions based on alternative values, such as solidarity or altruism.

Ramon Flecha and Marta Soler

Andrew Levine-Murray (UC Berkeley):  I think this is a great discussion, but I’m still wondering, if power and power relations are inescapable, particularly between the researcher and the researched, how can we possibly have egalitarian communication or dialogue? Moreover, if our public sociology (ie. our organic engagement or dialogic communication with publics) is closely related to policy sociology, are the power relations between researcher and researched exacerbated, in that the researcher has closer ties to both the the state (with power through legitimacy, force, laws etc.) and companies (with power over money etc.) as Ruy Braga explains?

In light of these questions, I guess I’m wondering what the CCM looks like in “real life”? How do you negotiate differential power relations when in the field? Is there time for critical reflection of your own biases as a researcher?

I know that two central components of the CCM are the advisory committees and multicultural research teams, which are used to bridge the gap between researchers and researched, and I believe that they work in reducing this gap. But I’m wondering if true and complete egalitarianism can actually be reached, and if not – if it can only be reached to a certain extent – what consequences or limitations does this pose for the CCM?

After typing this all out, I apologize it’s all questions!!

Marta Soler (University of Barcelona): Dear Andrew,
Your questions are relevant, no need to apologize! We understand that the point in your comment is how CCM can assure there is “real” dialogue, or that it is “truly” egalitarian. In the analysis of communicative acts that take place in a situation of dialogue, we propose that there are amost always power interactions (coming from the social structure). In that sense, to establish the conditions for egalitarian dialogue between researchers and researched does not eliminate the power interactions between them from the social structure (i.e. difference in status, socioeconomic position, may be level of education…): both researchers and social actors bring something different to the dialogue: knowledge about scientific research and knowledge about experienced reality. Researchers must go to the field with this attitude, acknowledging these power interactions, and through it is through this dialogic process that the researcher can reflect with the people about his/her biases (as you suggest).

Here there is a brief explanation about this from the article some of you read from the Special Issue: Critical Communicative Methodology (Qualitative Inquiry, vol. 17, n.4, march 2011). We hope it helps:
“good intentions of egalitarian dialogue between researchers and social actors do not break with the methodological gap that has traditionally been present in the scientific research. Not only do researchers and subjects need to be willing to engage in egalitarian dialogue but also do they need alternative structures and norms and a particular approach for organizing the research that ensures greater equity. Critical communicative research provides those structures and approach. In doing so, it moves from an ethics of intention to a Weberian ethics of responsibility (Searle & Soler, 2004), the latter being characterized by the commitment to the consequences of interaction”.

Marta Soler & Ramon Flecha

M Ridho Taqwa (Asosiasi Program Studi Sosiologi Se-Indonesia, APSSI): very good.