UBC Sociology’s Distinguished Speaker Series hosts McMaster University Professor Neil McLaughlin for a talk titled, “What Erich Fromm’s critical theory can teach us about public sociology.”
German public intellectual Erich Fromm was the most influential and global public sociologist of the mid 20th century as well as a central member of the Frankfurt School circle that created what Michael Burawoy calls “critical sociology.” Yet we do not think of Fromm as a public sociologist even though he was trained by Alfred Weber and influenced David Riesman, C. Wright Mills, and a generation of engaged Marxist scholars. Yet the canon of public sociology generally ignores Fromm, highlighting David Riesman, C. Wright Mills and, more recently,W.E.B DuBois while Dorothy Smith often represents critical sociology. This presentation will examine the canonization process for public sociology and use the case of Fromm to complicate the debate about whether public sociology undermines professional sociological excellence. Fromm’s public sociological engagement allowed him to make unique intellectual contributions but it also had both negative and positive consequences for his professional sociology and attempts to change the world. An agenda for thinking about and studying public sociology is offered that can move the debate beyond for or against public sociology polemics in the age of social media-mediated celebrity intellectuals.