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aldon morris book forum #3: some criticisms

If you’ve read the three posts so far on The Scholar Denied (here, here and here), then you will know that I hold the book in high esteem and that I am very sympathetic to its overall claim that sociology really needs to put DuBois, and his legacy, at the center of the history of American sociology. Here, I’ll raise to criticisms of the book.

First, there is a criticism raised by Al Young in his Contexts review of The  Scholar Denied. From Young’s perspective, Morris under-develops certain ideas and the omission of specific details makes it hard to assess the claim. The best example is the claim that DuBois and his followers and students constituted the first true school of American sociology. Young correctly points out that Morris does not exactly tell you about the commonalities among these scholars. Aside from a focus on race, one doesn’t know what ties them together – common methods? theories? Etc.

Second, there are some tensions within Morris’ text, including one that undermines a major thesis of the book. One of Morris’ major goals of the book is to claim that DuBois is a major theorist, but in an early chapter, Morris reveals that DuBois viewed himself as an anti-theoretical writer. DuBois, like many of his era, were tired of “grand theory” like Comte and specifically wanted to create an empirically grounded sociology of race and racism. One should then be forgiven if DuBois comes off as a sociologist of race rather than as a theorist, like Durkheim. In fact, the gifted scholar of race is how most people understand DuBois’ and his work. This doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t appreciate the theoretical insights, but “scholar of race” is closer to DuBois’ presentation of self than “theorist.”

Overall, a wonderful book that surely stimulates a lot of discussion.

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

Written by fabiorojas

April 20, 2016 at 12:01 am

3 Responses

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  1. Intellectual history question (and the scare quotes are noted, and amply reiterated): “One of Morris’ major goals of the book is to claim that DuBois is a major theorist, but in an early chapter, Morris reveals that DuBois viewed himself as an anti-theoretical writer. DuBois, like many of his era, were tired of “grand theory” like Comte and specifically wanted to create an empirically grounded sociology of race and racism. One should then be forgiven if DuBois comes off as a sociologist of race rather than as a theorist, like Durkheim. In fact, the gifted scholar of race is how most people understand DuBois’ and his work. This doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t appreciate the theoretical insights, but “scholar of race” is closer to DuBois’ presentation of self than “theorist.”

    Would the statement about being a scholar of “race” rather than “theorist” hold any similar significance during his time? DuBois was classically trained and his opposition to “theory” seems to be radically different from a similar sentiment today. For example, in The Souls of Black Folks his epigraphs are music. Toady this would perhaps be regarded as a gesture towards High Theory (or literary theory). DuBois, in addition to being an innovator and practitioner of the most highly “empirical” methods, also incorporated incredibly sophisticated stylistic devices that are “theoretical,” at least as recognized by today’s theorists with a capital T (again in the literary theory sense).

    Also, is the notion of Dubois as a “scholar of race” itself anachronistic? His dissertation was on the historical and political economy of slavery, this is not about “race scholarship” in the current sense – meaning, it predates the very division on “race scholarship.” Were academics who studied European peasants “race scholars?”

    Anyways, appreciate your reviews and engagement with this work. Thank you for your thought provoking reviews.

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    RonA

    April 20, 2016 at 6:33 am

  2. RonA: You make fair points. It is absolutely the case that scholarly categories of today do not translate well into the past. This supports my point though. The scholars who made a conscious attempt to “be theory,” for a lack of a better word are more likely to be placed into today’s high status category of “theory.” But that doesn’t mean that we can’t reframe a text as “theory” like we did for Weber. It would be very easy for me to accept Souls as high theory in the same way.

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    fabiorojas

    April 20, 2016 at 5:26 pm

  3. PS. I teach Souls in my theory class, BTW.

    Like

    fabiorojas

    April 20, 2016 at 5:27 pm


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