Michael Burawoy’s Path: From North to South, and Back Again by Gay Seidman (2024)

Screenshot from website.

Critical Sociology


As anyone who has met Michael Burawoy can tell you, he remains very, very British – from his unflagging loyalty to Manchester United, to his very British ‘flat cap’, to his consistent repetition of ‘bloody brilliant’ as the highest compliment he can offer to his dozens of grateful advisees. But despite his early British socialization (or, perhaps, because of it), I want to argue that it was Michael’s confrontation with Britain’s imperialism that truly sparked his sociological imagination, and has served as the cornerstone of his extraordinary career. As Michael acknowledges, the insights he gleaned from his early experiences in former British colonies reshaped his view of class dynamics and the role of the state, raising questions he has continued to explore in different contexts across the globe. Why do workers consent to exploitation? Why do democratic states allow racial hierarchies to shape class dynamics? Why is racial capitalism so persistent, long after working-class citizens have gained real voice in independent nations? Moreover I would argue, Michael’s ongoing engagement with activists and scholars in the global South has helped shape his insistence on a question that for him, may be even more immediate: how can sociologists contribute to meaningful social change?