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Small portions of this essay appear in Metropolitiques, the Austin American-Statesman, and Invisible in Austin.
What can local public sociology look like, and what does it accomplish? This essay tracks the origins, makings and impacts of the book Invisible in Austin to evaluate its model of public sociology: as a collective enterprise with a local aim. Invisible in Austin: Life and Labor in an American City, the culmination of a three-year collaborative qualitative research project between a professor and twelve graduate students, depicts social suffering as lived for 11 individuals in Austin, Texas—a booming, highly segregated city with one of the country’s highest levels of income inequality. In its design, production, and effects, it envisions public sociology in a two-fold sense—in its joint, horizontal making, and in its intent to intervene in the local public sphere to make visible the daily lived experience of social marginality for those whose labor allows Austin to survive and thrive as a hip, creative technopolis—house cleaners, office machine repairers, cab drivers, restaurant cooks and dish washers, exotic dancers, musicians, and roofers, among them. Reflecting on the origins of the book, its joint assembling, and its outcomes thus far, we take stock of the lessons learned. In so doing, we provide a rubric for evaluating the wide spectrum of possible impacts of a public sociological intervention: through direct and indirect audience engagements, on the project’s subjects, and on local public policy. This reflection concludes with three suggestions: to approach public sociology as collective enterprise, to take narrative seriously, and to seek wide exposure.
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- A Proposal for Public Sociology as Localized Intervention and Collective Enterprise: The Makings and Impact of Invisible in Austin
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