Sociologists often debate or lament their public role but one sociologist who has walked all of New York City 16 times makes money on giving tours:
Helmreich, who wrote “The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City,” wants more than anything to share these lesser-known wonders of New York with others. He’s even willing to play tour guide, showing off his knowledge of the city’s more than 121,000 blocks…
Helmreich’s tour, dubbed “The New York That Nobody Sees,” can accommodate up to six people on an eight-plus-hour tour to any of the five boroughs. The cost: up to $1,500 per person, including meals, luxury transportation, travel expenses and signed copies of his book.
If a descendant of Italian immigrants wants to see the neighborhood his great-great-grandfather lived in when he came to America, Helmreich can show him and tell him about how it’s changed. If a real estate developer wants to know what the next hot neighborhood will be, Helmreich, a sociology professor at City College well-versed in gentrification patterns, can bring her to the precise block with the best housing stock ripe for a renaissance…
“The New York Nobody Knows” was such a hit that Princeton University Press signed him to write five more books, each one delving deeper into one of the boroughs.
Is he doing a public service through sharing his research knowledge or is he out to make money? Can he do both? It is not uncommon for academics to get involved with consulting or working with organizations. Yet, it sounds like the opportunities created by these tours are primarily for the wealthy and people who could capitalize on the information. Additionally, how recognized are his sociological observations by other sociologists and other scholars of New York City? Sociologists can seem to discredit more popular appeals – see the discussion around Sudhir Venkatesh’s The Floating City – even as many want to have broader recognition from the public.
More broadly, it would be worth hearing from more sociologists about the line between research and entrepreneurship. Is there a line where one has “sold out”? How can one do both?