W.E.B. Du Bois: A Life of Critical Engagement

Lecture Series with Michael Burawoy (Lecture 1: Critical Engagement vs. Public Sociology)

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Hybrid Event: Zoom and Sewell Social Sciences Bldg., Room 8417
@ 2:00 pm - 3:30 pm

This event was presented in collaboration with Conter magazine, the Department of History and Department of African American Studies at UW-Madison.

Lecture 1: Critical Engagement vs. Public Sociology
W.E.B. Du Bois is often viewed as a “public sociologist,” but public sociology has been defined by its relationship to professional, policy and critical sociology, part of an “introverted” academic discipline. Du Bois’ marginalization/withdrawal/expulsion from the academy led to an “extraverted sociology” of critical engagement, more akin to sociology of the global south. The changing sociology of Du Bois can be attributed to his engagement in the politics of a changing world, not just in the US but in the world at large, as well as his evolving reflection on that engagement. Accordingly, his life followed 4 phases: scholar denied, scholar unbound, scholar radicalized and scholar persecuted.

In advance of the series, Michael Burawoy requests that the audience listen to this 30 minute lecture Du Bois gave on April 9, 1960, in the Great Hall in the Memorial Union at Madison, Wisconsin. It was sponsored by the Socialist Club. Du Bois titled it “Socialism and the American Negro”. Three years later, he would die in exile at the age of 96 in Ghana, on the eve of the March on Washington. The lecture is Du Bois’ assessment of the world at large and its potentialities from the standpoint of race, class and capitalism. In many ways he still speaks to us in the present; in other ways it represents a vision from 65 years ago. By interlacing his lecture with stories from his own life, Du Bois gives you a sense of the man himself. The four Havens Wright lectures will attempt, in their different ways, to show how he arrived at these radical views and how we might assess them today.

About the Lecture Series

W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963) was one of the great US public intellectuals of the 20th century. Educated at Fisk, Harvard (first African American PhD), and the University of Berlin, he became a leading historian and sociologist. As a literary figure he was a novelist, critic and a poet as well as for 24 years (1910-1934) the founder and editor of The Crisis, the popular magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. As a political activist he was a socialist, a Pan-Africanist, a civil rights advocate, and a leader of the international peace movement. For much of his life and afterwards, his race, his intellectual scope, and his intrepid independent radicalism marginalized him within the academic world. His public stances against imperialism and capitalism would make him an enemy of the US state, leading him to take up exile in Ghana for the last two years of his life. While other disciplines have engaged his life and work, sociology has been slow to adopt him and when they have, their attention has been focused on his early, more conservative writings rather than his later Marxism. The lectures will address the significance of the totality of his oeuvre, how and why they shift over the 20th century and with what implications for contemporary social science.

About the Speaker

For nearly 50 years Michael Burawoy taught sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. He has been an ethnographer of workplaces in the US, Zambia, Hungary and Russia. In various books, including The Color of Class on the Copper Mines (1972), Manufacturing Consent (1979), The Politics of Production (1985), The Radiant Past (with Janos Lukács) (1992), Public Sociology (2021), he has advanced theories of advanced capitalism, state socialism and postcolonialism, while developing the distinctive methodology of The Extended Case Method (2009).