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

Lecture Series with Michael Burawoy (Lecture 3: Decolonizing the Canon)

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Hybrid Event: Zoom and Sewell Social Sciences Bldg., Room 8417
@ 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm

This event was presented in collaboration with Conter magazine, the Department of HistoryDepartment of African American Studies, Department of Educational Policy Studies, and Department of Curriculum and Instruction at UW-Madison.

Lecture 3: Decolonizing the Canon
Sociology is a peculiar discipline in that its foundations lie in the work of “canonical” intellectuals, most prominently Marx, Weber and Durkheim. Du Bois presents a counter-point to the canon and a lightning rod for “decolonization” that is sweeping through US academia and beyond. It is possible to discern four academic responses to “decolonization”: restoration of the canon by insisting on the old foundations with concessionary additions at the periphery; rejection of the very idea of a canon as problematic; revolution in which an entirely new canon is born; reconstruction in which we rebuild the foundations through the introduction of a new candidate. The lecture undertakes such a reconstruction by putting Du Bois into dialogue with Marx, Weber and Durkheim and examines the radical consequences for our vision of social science.

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).