comment on dubois, morris, and julian go

I have yet to read Aldon Morris’ The Scholar Denied, but Julian Go has written an extensive review of the book at the Berkeley sociology blog. In this post, I’ll offer some comments on how I view DuBois and then discuss Go’s opinions. Also, if someone (ahem) were to send a review copy of A Scholar Denied, I’d like to do a book forum on it later this semester.

My views on DuBois: Unlike a lot of sociologists, I’ve always been of the opinion that DuBois was a major figure in American intellectual history. As an undergraduate, I saw that many classes assigned The Souls of Black Folk, which is a seminal discussion of the psychology of race. In grad school, I read The Philadelphia Negro, which is also a seminal work in urban studies. I also discovered that he was a founder of the NAACP, consulted with the Federal government on educational matters, and founded an important research group at Atlanta University. After graduation, I learned tidbits about his biography such as being the first Black Harvard PhD and also being a well regarded historian of the Atlantic slave trade. Clearly, DuBois’ is a major intellectual figure, activist, and writer. This isn’t to say that DuBois is beyond reproach (e.g., check out his late career Stalinism – ugly, ugly, ugly) but he’s clearly earned his place in the intellectual hall of fame.

DuBois’ intellectual importance was so obvious to me that I always include him in my undergrad theory course and I never thought of it as odd. However, what surprised me is that for sociologists outside of critical race studies, DuBois is a non-entity. This struck me as bizarre. One time, Tukufu Zuberi gave a talk at IU about DuBois and one my junior colleagues even said afterward, “I still don’t see why DuBois is important for theory.” Later, I learned that there was a discussion among specialists about how much White sociologists of his era had hindered DuBois’ career. Honestly, I didn’t delve into it much further. I was neither a specialist in the history of social thought, and I trusted my own opinion of DuBois’ importance.

Julian Go’s essay: The Scholar Denied is a book by Aldon Morris that makes the case that DuBois was a (the?) founder of American sociology, that he was actively and indirectly hampered by other White academics, and that the history of the sociology needs serious revision. I am sympathetic, but I will address the book more directly once I have read it. Here, I want to explore Julian Go’s essay. In his essay, Go reminisces on his education at Chicago and how we should rethink the discipline given Morris’ new account of DuBois’ career:

If Aldon Morris in The Scholar Denied is right, then everything I learned as a sociology PhD student at the University of Chicago is wrong. Or at least everything that I learned about the history of sociology. At Chicago, my cohort and I were inculcated with the ideology and ideals of Chicago School. We were taught that American sociology originated with the Chicago School… The Scholar Denied suggests that Park plagiarized Du Bois, and that venerated sociologists like Max Weber were perhaps more influenced by Du Bois rather than the other way around.


It would be comforting to think that Du Bois was marginalized because of the narrow racism of the white establishment – the result of white racists who suppressed Du Bois out of their own deep prejudices against African-Americans… Still, there is another explanatory current amidst the flow. It is not only that Du Bois was black and other sociologists were white, or that Du Bois suffered from lack of capital, it is also that he had dangerous ideas. To be sure, Du Bois innovated by his empirical orientation and methodology. But Du Bois also innovated substantively, birthing a sociology of race that aimed to wrestle discourse on race away from the Darwinistic, biological and frankly racist sociological episteme of the day.

Here, what I find interesting is that collective memory, of which intellectual history is a part, is recognized as having individual components (quality of DuBois’ scholarship), structural components (DuBois’ location in the academic field), and larger context (DuBois’ non-biological and non-paternalistic approach to race conflicted with the rest of society). If you need an introduction to the debate that The Scholar Denied engages in, you can’t do better than Go’s essay.

My only criticism of Go’s essay is that he directly engages with rumor websites. If he is  truly interested in the writings of anonymous cowards, he should go to the University of Chicago’s bathroom stalls  where the griffiti has wit and substance.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street 


Written by fabiorojas

January 14, 2016 at 12:01 am

9 Responses

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  1. I have read the book and have on my “to do” list to write a review. I bought a copy and considered it money very well spent. It is really a very good book, the result of a decade or more of deep scholarship that is meticulously researched and documented, including documentation of citations to DuBois that occur in earlier works by an author and disappear from later editions or works by the same author, i.e. evidence that DuBois was not merely ignored, but actively erased from the sociological canon. The part of the story I found most fascinating that Go did not really hit hard on is that Robert Park worked for and essentially studied under Booker T Washington (not the other way around), and that Washington’s influence on Park is the likely basis for the erasure.

    Liked by 1 person


    January 14, 2016 at 1:30 am

  2. I was on the never-really-discussed-DuBois track in grad school (and hardly took sociology in undergrad), so my foundation was already well-built before I confronted his absence. It’s very hard to unring the bell of disciplinary introduction. For example, some of what I read from DuBois strikes me as unoriginal, even though it was published before my referents. It’s an uphill battle, in other words, but I think Morris deserves a lot of credit for waging it.


    Philip N. Cohen

    January 14, 2016 at 9:45 pm

  3. OW: Thanks for the note. If it is true that the erasure has something to do with B Washington, it suggests that the issue isn’t merely racial (as Julian’s essay implies) it is about an internal dispute among Black intellectuals.

    PNP: The reason is may appear unoriginal is that much of what he writes is now common place. For example, Julian’s essay points to the Polish Peasant discussion for a sense of duality. This also appears in Mead’s social psychology and other places. But it is a big break from earlier writings that viewed the self as unified.



    January 14, 2016 at 9:57 pm

  4. A couple of years ago I added work by DuBois and by Jane Addams to my course on classical theory, thinking about them both as distinctly American–obviously, unlike Marx, Durkheim, and Weber. One challenge was finding a comprehensive and oversimplifiable view of the world in their works. I haven’t found it. Dip anywhere into Durkheim, for example, and you’ll find SOCIETY. But I’ve yet to locate the simple statement from either DuBois or Addams about the way the world works. The Philadelphia Negro, in particular, is filled with trenchant and provocative observations about all kinds of things, but not something that looks like an overarching theory. This is not to say that Park et al. didn’t squeeze the works of DuBois out, but maybe there was something about the nature of the work that made it easier to do so.


    David S. Meyer

    January 14, 2016 at 11:56 pm

  5. Morris also does not stress the BTW line as Black agency as much as he could, instead emphasizing the White racism angle. But they are not incompatible.That there was a political battle between DuBois and BTW is well known, as is the fact that BTW aggressively sought to be what I call the “official Black,” i.e. the person through whom all money flowed, and the fact that BTW punished enemies. But BTW’s strength with Whites came from his alliance with White supremacists.

    I read Kahlil Muhammad’s The Condemnation of Blackness just before reading Scholar Denied, which emphasizes the impact of White Southern sociologists who used social science to pursue White supremacist aims and also the ways in which even liberal Whites explained White immigrant crime as a social problem to be remedied with social programs while treating Black crime as evidence of constitutional inferiority that justified segregation.

    Returning to the foundations of American sociology as an empirical discipline with race at its center is pretty interesting stuff.



    January 15, 2016 at 2:16 am

  6. I think it’s time we all join the History of Sociology section. Fascinating.

    I’m with David. I’ve been using DuBois and Addams in classical theory for a while (as well as other non-canon people – Ibn Khaldun, Veblen, Spencer, Sumner, Small, and Ward among others), and it is hard to see the forest for the trees in their work. Unless the forest is just a particular population. Even so, it provides a nice counterpoint to the grand theory tradition.



    January 15, 2016 at 3:27 am

  7. I would say that Morris’s story is about DuBois and Park and the Chicago School and who invented American empirical sociology, not about Marx, Weber, Durkheim and the European canon. Except insofar as both Weber and DuBois were concerned early in their careers about issues of minorities.



    January 15, 2016 at 4:16 am

  8. @cwalken: For Durkheim or Marx, the message is clear but nearly all other authors require some work. For example, Weber needs to be carefully excerpted for undergrads. And some of the others have obvious take home points: DuBois/race, Spencer/evolution, Sumner/institution. Our canon can easily be modified.



    January 15, 2016 at 4:51 am

  9. This seems odd to someone outside sociology. I read Dubois in at least two different non-sociology college classes and read the Philadelphia Negro as a matter of course on my own. He seems quite plainly among the very most revered and influential American academics.



    January 16, 2016 at 2:27 pm

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