Going Public A Guide for Social Scientists
by Arlene Stein and Jessie Daniels, illustrated by Corey Fields
University of Chicago Press, 2017
Cloth: 978-0-226-36464-3 | Paper: 978-0-226-36478-0 | Electronic: 978-0-226-36481-0
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226364810.001.0001


At a time when policy discussions are dominated by “I feel” instead of “I know,” it is more important than ever for social scientists to make themselves heard. When those who possess in-depth training and expertise are excluded from public debates about pressing social issues—such as climate change, the prison system, or healthcare—vested interests can sway public opinion in uninformed ways. Yet few graduate students, researchers, or faculty know how to do this kind of work—or feel empowered to do it.

 While there has been an increasing call for social scientists to engage more broadly with the public, concrete advice for starting the conversation has been in short supply. Arlene Stein and Jessie Daniels seek to change this with Going Public, the first guide that truly explains how to be a public scholar. They offer guidance on writing beyond the academy, including how to get started with op-eds and articles and later how to write books that appeal to general audiences. They then turn to the digital realm with strategies for successfully building an online presence, cultivating an audience, and navigating the unique challenges of digital world. They also address some of the challenges facing those who go public, including the pervasive view that anything less than scholarly writing isn’t serious and the stigma that one’s work might be dubbed “journalistic.”

Going Public shows that by connecting with experts, policymakers, journalists, and laypeople, social scientists can actually make their own work stronger. And by learning to effectively add their voices to the conversation, researchers can help make sure that their knowledge is truly heard above the digital din.


Arlene Stein is professor of sociology at Rutgers University, where she directs the Institute for Research on Women. She is the author of four books, including Reluctant Witnesses and The Stranger Next Door, and has written for the Nation, Jacobin, and the New Inquiry, among others. Jessie Daniels is professor of sociology and critical social psychology at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. She is the author or editor of five books, including Cyber Racism and Being a Scholar in the Digital Era, and blogs at Racism Review.


“There’s much to admire in this brave and much-needed book about doing public scholarship. The text is clearly written and consistently engaging. The examples are vivid, compelling, and fresh. The advice—about the pros and cons of going public—is candid and wise. I’d recommend it to any aspiring academic who wants their voice to carry beyond the ivory tower.”
— Eric Klinenberg, professor of sociology at New York University

Going Public is an informed and readable guide by two social scientists who practice what they preach, and practice effectively. Meet the challenge of communicating with the public outside the professional confines of social science disciplines—without damaging your career.”
— Howard Rheingold, author of Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution and Net Smart: How to Thrive Online

“Both inspiring and practical, Going Public is an engaging guide for scholars who want to reach audiences beyond the academy. In graceful prose, it offers insightful advice on the rewards and perils of going public, and on how to narrate a good story, cultivate an effective voice, make use of new digital tools, build an audience, and produce writing that matters both within academia and beyond.”
— Angelique Haugerud, author of No Billionaire Left Behind: Satirical Activism in America

“A clear, cheery read worth pressing on bright-eyed early career researchers and mature curmudgeons alike.”
— Times Higher Education

Going Public is a lucid, stepwise breakdown of what you need to do to get your work out there. Stein and Daniels target social scientists, but their advice applies to any academic who wants to approach a general audience. They show how to devise a pitch (your spiel for editors and other gatekeepers), a peg (something that connects your pitch to current events), and a hook (the bit that will really catch an editor’s attention). They explain how to identify opportunities in the public sphere—to recognize when you can leap into the news cycle.”
— Chronicle of Higher Education

“For the experienced social scientists trying to navigate these changed circumstances, as well as for those beginning their academic career in a setting framed by media with which their advisors may have little experience, Arlene Stein and Jessie Daniels’s Going Public: A Guide for Social Scientists marks an important contribution to the literature on public scholarship and academic life. . . . Going Public is more than a guide—although it will be valuable in that capacity for scholars at every stage in their career—it also acts as an inquiry into what it might mean to be a social scientist in the wake of “the digital turn.”
— Social Forces


DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226364810.003.0001
There's a big world out there that needs to hear from scholars. We need to intervene on public debates about pressing issues. Journalists regularly consult academics as experts. But in the process, journalists tend to distort their ideas, failing to contextualize their studies adequately. Scholars need to learn how to translate their work themselves. This book shows them how to do so.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226364810.003.0002
This chapter discusses four principles of good writing, offering a guide for academics who wish to enlarge their audiences. These principles include: 1) thinking of oneself as a writer, 2) knowing one's audience; 3) striving for clarity and concreteness; 4) showing and telling.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226364810.003.0003
[op-ed;long form articles;digital magazines;storytelling]
Scholars can exercise their public voices by writing op-eds, commentaries, and magazine articles (both paper glossies and electronic). This chapter offers a step-by-step guide for doing so, and includes examples from published articles.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226364810.003.0004
[pop sociology;ethnography;cultural critiques;social trends;publishing]
Is the heyday of general interest social science dead? We argue that it is not. Books about social trends, ethnographic studies, and cultural critiques are three genres of popular social science today. We discuss successful books and what makes them appealing for general audiences. We also discuss different kinds of publishers and what they look for. Popularizing does not mean dumbing down your ideas.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226364810.003.0005
[digital technology;media;public scholar;blog;public intellectual]
Today, being a public scholar almost surely means using digital technologies. From writing blogs about their research and work conditions, to setting up Facebook pages for scholarly books, to maintaining Twitter accounts to connect around research themes with people beyond the usual academic peers, scholars with a desire for life as a public intellectual are increasingly turning to digital technologies. The shift to using digital technologies to engage wider publics around scholarly ideas is referred to here as “the digital turn.” This chapter offers both an intellectual grounding in these shifts in the academy as well as hands-on tips about how to be a public scholar after the digital turn.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226364810.003.0006
To build an audience, you need to know your audience and they need to know you. In this chapter, we address how you build an audience for your work. While the digital turn makes it possible to reach more people who are interested in your work than ever before, the downside is that getting the most out of digital technologies takes more than simply the “click of a mouse” as the popular misconception about the Internet goes. Drawing on extensive interviews with prominent public scholars, this chapter describes how your network is your audience and what it means to have a professional persona.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226364810.003.0007
[public scholars;attack;harassment]
Far from naïve about the risks of going public, here the authors provide a frank discussion about what is at stake in doing public scholarship. They note that these risks for going public are not evenly distributed among all academics. Instead, those scholars who are most vulnerable as public scholars are those from marginalized groups - women, LGBT scholars, people of color, and those of us at the intersection of several of these. Yet, these are the scholars who are often most committed to speaking outside the academy. Using case studies and interviews from public scholars who have come under attack, this chapter offers practical advice about the precautions that scholars may take.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226364810.003.0008
[impact;measurement;tenure promotion]
Once you've taken the plunge to be a public scholar, how do you make it count for you in ways that matter? This chapter describes a number of ways to measure the impact of publicly engaged scholarship, and how to make those measures understandable by hiring, tenure and promotion committees. There is also a growing number of people who hold the PhD and are re-imagining alternative academic careers that combine being a public scholar with life outside the tenure-track.Finally, we offer some perspective on making a real difference outside the academy.