Du Bois: Addressing the Colour Line


Modern Social Theory - Lecture 7

Lecturer: Prof Gurminder K Bhambra

Nov. 30, 2021


William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was freeborn in 1868 in Great Barrington in the northern state of Massachusetts. This was five years after the Emancipation Proclamation began the process of abolishing slavery across the former Confederate states and three years after the end of the Civil War. At the age of seventeen, and as Jim Crow laws were undoing the gains of Reconstruction, Du Bois travelled south of the ‘Mason-Dixie’ line to study at Fisk University in Tennessee. Du Bois was a contemporary of Weber and Durkheim, though his long life meant that he was active well beyond the 1890-1920 period identified as the foundational moment of sociological theory. Our interest here, is how his work bears directly upon the themes we have been discussing in the other writers. Put very simply, we can regard the theories we have discussed so far as involving universal claims that have been confounded by the particularities of racialised difference. In Du Bois, we trace the opposite movement from a deep and embodied engagement with a specific society organised around racialised differences to a universal claim about the construction of the global ‘color line’ in colonialism.

Readings:

  • Bhambra, Gurminder K. and John Holmwood 2021. ‘Du Bois: Addressing the Colour Line’ in Colonialism and Modern Social Theory. Cambridge: Polity
  • Du Bois, W. E. B. 1935. Black Reconstruction: An Essay toward a History of the Part which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880. Philadelphia: Albert Saifer Publisher
  • Du Bois, W. E. B. 1997 [1903]. The Souls of Black Folk. Edited and with an Introduction by David W. Blight and Robert Gooding-Williams. Boston: Bedford Books
  • Du Bois, W. E. B. 2007 [1945]. Color and Democracy. Introduction by Gerald Horne. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • Itzigsohn, José and Karida L. Brown 2020. The Sociology of W. E. B. du Bois: Racialized Modernity and the Global Color Line. New York: New York University Press
  • Lewis, David Levering 2000. W. E. B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919-1963. New York: Henry Holt and Company
  • Morris, Aldon 2015. A Scholar Denied: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Birth of Modern Sociology. Oakland: University of California Press

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was freeborn in 1868 in Great Barrington in the northern state of Massachusetts. This was five years after the Emancipation Proclamation began the process of abolishing slavery across the former Confederate states and three years after the end of the Civil War.

At the age of seventeen, and as Jim Crow laws were undoing the gains of Reconstruction, Du Bois travelled south of the ‘Mason-Dixie’ line to study at Fisk University in Tennessee. Du Bois was a contemporary of Weber and Durkheim, though his long life meant that he was active well beyond the 1890-1920 period identified as the foundational moment of sociological theory.

Our interest here, is how his work bears directly upon the themes we have been discussing in the other writers. Put very simply, we can regard the theories we have discussed so far as involving universal claims that have been confounded by the particularities of racialised difference.

In Du Bois, we trace the opposite movement from a deep and embodied engagement with a specific society organised around racialised differences to a universal claim about the construction of the global ‘color line’ in colonialism.

Readings:

  • Bhambra, Gurminder K. and John Holmwood 2021. ‘Du Bois: Addressing the Colour Line’ in Colonialism and Modern Social Theory. Cambridge: Polity
  • Du Bois, W. E. B. 1935. Black Reconstruction: An Essay toward a History of the Part which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880. Philadelphia: Albert Saifer Publisher
  • Du Bois, W. E. B. 1997 [1903]. The Souls of Black Folk. Edited and with an Introduction by David W. Blight and Robert Gooding-Williams. Boston: Bedford Books
  • Du Bois, W. E. B. 2007 [1945]. Color and Democracy. Introduction by Gerald Horne. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • Itzigsohn, José and Karida L. Brown 2020. The Sociology of W. E. B. du Bois: Racialized Modernity and the Global Color Line. New York: New York University Press
  • Lewis, David Levering 2000. W. E. B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919-1963. New York: Henry Holt and Company
  • Morris, Aldon 2015. A Scholar Denied: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Birth of Modern Sociology. Oakland: University of California Press