Category: All Issues

Building an Interdisciplinary Community through Public Sociology

Join us for a virtual conference on October 20-22, hosted by the Public Sociology Association at George Mason University.

The Public Sociology Association (PSA) conference at George Mason University (GMU) is a student-led and organized collaborative space for researchers ranging from undergraduate students to experienced practitioners. We invite proposals seeking to address: interdisciplinary research practice, public/community-engaged research projects, and further applications of the sociological imagination to active, dynamic and publicly-engaged contexts.

The conference is intended to express the vitality of public sociology as a discipline and the energy, inclusiveness, and innovation of GMU. The conference also aims to increase the accessibility of public sociological knowledge and advance publics’ understanding of, and engagement with, social issues; panels and other forms of conversation during the conference will address this topic.

This is the seventh annual conference hosted by the PSA and GMU’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology; it will feature traditional paper sessions, poster presentations, organized panels, and workshops in a virtual, online setting. Our panels and workshops are hosted by partnering organizations such as GMU’s Center for Social Science Research, GMU’s Graduate Student Sociological Association, the Democratizing NOVA research project, and the District of Columbia Sociological Society.

We are accepting proposals through October 15, 2021, click here to make a submission. If you have any questions, please reach out to Kellie Wilkerson (kwilker@gmu.edu) and Dhruv Deepak (ddeepak@gmu.edu).

The Challenge of Public Sociology – in the Pandemic of 2020

Emily McDonald's Collage of Public Sociology

This issue is the product of a collaborative effort of doctoral students in the public sociology PhD program at George Mason University. We are interested in exploring the many questions and debates surrounding public sociology since Michael Burawoy gave his presidential address, “For Public Sociology,” to the American Sociological Association (ASA) in 2004.

Our orienting questions for the issue included the following: What is public sociology? What does public sociology look like? Why is public sociology important? How is public sociology different from other public-facing disciplines/(sub)fields, such as public history? More specifically, what are some sites of public sociology in the Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia (DMV) area, the home of The Sociologist? We are interested in how public sociology may be articulated and practiced. With this special issue of The Sociologist, we encouraged and welcomed a range of submissions that capture the many understandings and forms of public sociology.

In responding to that call, we were pleased to find that submissions were all themed around rooting public sociology in the legacy of sociology’s scholar-activism, a legacy that is often framed as a “subfield” or “aspect” of our discipline rather than the very heart of it. In “The Sociology of W.E.B. Du Bois: The Centrality of Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” Aldon Morris highlights the central role played by W.E.B. Du Bois, other early African American sociologists, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in challenging the blatant and institutional racism that was foundational to the discipline of sociology. In “W.E.B. Du Bois, the First Public Sociologist,” Rutledge M. Dennis and Kimya N. Dennis work to reframe our understanding of W.E.B. Du Bois, positioning him as the first public sociologist.

Beyond Burawoy, sociologists such as Du Bois demonstrate the commitment and tenacity with which the founders of sociology engaged public issues and problems. Du Bois in particular embodied many roles in his pursuit of equality and social justice. He was not only a classical and public sociologist, but he was an empiricist, organizer, artist, and performer. In “Truth and Service: The Hundred-Year Legacy of Sociology at Howard University,” Britany Gatewood, Alexandra Rodriguez, and Marie Plaisime trace the history of sociology at Howard University, which has centered the analysis of race and the transformation of social inequality in society for over a century.

Finally, in “Participatory Action Research as Public Sociology: Bringing Lived Experience Back In,” Melissa Gouge and Andrea Robles provide a historical overview of Participatory Action Research (PAR) by reminding us of how the sociologists who are often left out of the canon offer practical guidelines for using PAR to help shape a more robust public sociology.

The cover image is a collage created for this special issue and is meant to depict a sociology that is collaborative, grounded in the traditions of popular education, and centered around the voices all too often left at the margins of our discipline, but whose dissenting calls have encouraged sociology to be an instrument for creating a more just society. Included in the collage are symbolic nods to both sociologists and organizations that embody or are informed by principles of public sociology.

In the collage, sociologists who mobilized their research and pedagogical skills to create abolitionist movements and foster and sustain civil rights movements are positioned next to sociologists of the present who uplift these legacies of activism, mobilize education for freedom, and create spaces for participatory models of understanding on issues ranging from human rights in the corporate supply chain to the ongoing marginalization of HBCUs. Inscribed above the pictures are calls for public sociology and engaged scholarship.

They are calls that challenge us to engage with our histories, “turn the light of truth” on wrongs, lend credibility and legitimacy to diverse forms of knowledge, and, above all, democratize the knowledge we seek to create. They are calls for us to establish a social ethic and create an educational path for a better informed citizenry prepared to change their communities. We believe public sociology calls us to be engaged in the service of rebuilding and transforming our institutions.

This issue was created during the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when we lost some who have lived out the work of public scholarship and also a time when the need for public sociology becomes all the more pressing. While in no way comprehensive, we hope this issue will stir conversations about how public sociology can more holistically be sustained by the rich traditions of scholar-activism and social movements for change.

Amber Kalb
Emily McDonald
Briana Pocratsky
Maria Valdovinos
Margaret Zeddies

Return to May 2020 Issue

The Sociology of W.E.B. Du Bois: The Centrality of Historically Black Colleges and Universities

On January 24, 2020, the District of Columbia Sociological Society hosted a presentation by Dr. Aldon Morris at the American Sociological Association (ASA) headquarters. Below is an excerpted version of that presentation. Dr. Morris is Professor of Sociology and African American Studies at Northwestern University and was elected 112th President of the ASA.

Today I discuss the originality and importance of the sociology of W. E. B. Du Bois and other black sociologists who further developed the Du Boisian intellectual agenda. I will then address the relationship between this “black” scholarship and the institutional settings from which it blossomed. That is, I will discuss the role that Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) played in the development of Du Boisian sociology and the development of the new discipline of sociology during the early decades of the twentieth century.

Early White American Sociology

Before we can understand the non-hegemonic structure of Du Boisian sociology, it is necessary to present a brief analysis of early white American sociology that remained dominant for a hundred years. The major postulates of white American sociology argued: (1) All systems of domination—that is, class, race, gender, and empire—were generated and sustained by natural, even cosmic forces. (2) African Americans and people of color globally were inferior to western whites. Thus, the global system of racial stratification existed because of the biological and cultural inferiority of people of color. (3) Because White supremacy was a natural phenomenon, resistance by black people could not change it. Blacks, therefore, did not possess human agency. Indeed, their inferiority erased any possibility that black people could exercise human agency capable of transforming racial inequality. (4) More generally, white sociologists theorized human agency as an attribute of dominant whites. Thus, only the action of whites could decrease racial inequality.

As a result, the conceptualization of the race problem as the white man’s burden became prominent. (5) These postulates of white sociology were generated through armchair theorizing rather than empirical data. This type of scholarship Du Bois labeled “car window” sociology.

This dominant white sociology was rooted in social Darwinism; this sociology advanced intellectual justifications for America’s racial apartheid and European empires that colonized colored people worldwide. Intense racism, and the sociological consensus that black people were biologically inferior, went hand-in-hand.

The white sociologists who made this brand of sociology dominant were professors in elite white northern universities. Among these institutions were the University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, Columbia University and Johns Hopkins University. These professors were upwardly mobile middle-class white males who identified with white elites and shared their values upholding the racial, class and gender status quo (Deegan, 1988). They were not professors out to topple inequality or even ruffle the feathers of the social order.

America’s leading capitalists and philanthropists funded elite white universities. They provided lucrative funds for professor salaries and honorific prizes, released time from teaching, research funds, and graduate student funding. These patrons were interested in an “objective” sociology framed as objective because it rationalized class and racial inequalities. They were interested in theories that valorized capitalism as a superior social order and justified rampant social inequalities as natural and inevitable.

These captains of industry were not interested in universities and professors who attacked capitalism as a greedy human enterprise bent on exploiting others for profits. They were not interested in research demonstrating that race, class, and gender inequalities generated immense unnecessary suffering. They abhorred research that argued for working class solidarity and labor unions. To the contrary, these elites directed funds to those universities that promoted their interests. Moreover, the interests of capitalists and white male professors converged. White professors were interested in joining, or at least co-existing comfortably, with these elites. Thus, institutionally and intellectually, white professors fell in line with capitalists’ interests in exchange for attractive professorships. Their sociology was a top down enterprise in the service of rulers.

Insurgent Sociology

I now turn to the insurgent sociology developed by the black sociologist, W. E. B. Du Bois (Morris, 2015). In contrast to conservative white sociology, Du Bois developed an emancipatory scientific sociology. First, Du Bois’ sociology theorized that modernity was a product of the African slave trade, centuries of slavery, and colonialism. These oppressive systems generated exploitable labor forces and raw materials, enabling western elites to build capitalist empires. Therefore, human beings, for the deliberate purpose of exploitation, constructed these systems of oppression. Du Bois, like his contemporaries Émile Durkheim and Max Weber, and his predecessor Karl Marx, was an analyst of modernity. However, Du Bois alone theorized the nuanced relationship among racism, colonialism, slavery, western empire building, and capitalist development made possible by these systems of human domination.

Second, Du Bois parted ways with white sociology that claimed global racial inequality emerged from natural and biological causes. Rather, Du Bois interrogated the global color line and its production of worldwide race stratification.

He concluded that whites, to ensure white supremacy across the globe, constructed such stratification. That color line, Du Bois famously predicted, was “the problem of the twentieth century” (Du Bois, 1903). That color line, he argued, structured the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in the Americas and the islands of the sea. Therefore, to understand modernity, its racial dynamics had to be centered in the analysis.

Third, Du Bois’ theory of the human self diverged from white theories of the self that emphasized communication and social interactions as benign processes engendering self-formation (Itzigsohn and Brown 2015). While Du Bois’ concept of “double consciousness” stressed that the self emerged through social interactions and communication, his formulation went beyond the ideas of Charles Horton Cooley (1902) and George Herbert Mead (1934) by highlighting the role that racial dynamics and power relations played in shaping the self.

Fourth, in Black Reconstruction in America (1935) and Damnation of Women (1920), Du Bois like Ida B. Wells (1895) and Anna Julia Cooper (1892) analyzed class, race, and gender interactions thus anticipating intersectionality and critical race paradigms. White sociology paid no attention to how systems of domination interlocked and reproduced social inequality. Fifth, Du Bois constructed a bottom-up sociology that interrogated the social world from the perspective of the oppressed. He theorized that people’s social position shaped their lived experiences. Thus, his analysis proceeded from the perspective of the oppressed. His sociology of African Americans posed a profound question: How does it feel to be a problem?

From this perspective, Du Bois identified the sources of cultural creativity and organizational strength that enabled African Americans to produce movements that liberated themselves. Du Bois’ emancipatory sociology of African Americans demonstrated the following: (1) African Americans were equals to all other races because racial oppression, not biological traits, relegated Blacks to the bottom of the racial hierarchy. (2) There was no such thing as “black crime” because social conditions, and not racial traits, produced crime. (3) The black community usually portrayed as a homogeneous mass, was heterogeneous, consisting of various social classes and diverse experiences. (4) The black church was the central cultural and organizational institution of the black community.

Hence, long before the civil rights movement, Du Bois predicted that such a movement, based in the church, would arise to overthrow racial inequality. As early as 1903 in Souls of Black Folk (1903), Du Bois predicted: “Someday the Awakening will come, when the pent-up vigor of ten million souls shall sweep irresistibly toward the Goal, out of the Valley of the Shadow of Death, where all that makes life worth living—Liberty, Justice, and Right—is marked ‘For White People Only.’” Thus, Du Bois differed from white sociologists, who, on the eve of the civil rights movement, had no idea it was coming. Indeed, white sociologists clung to the belief that such a movement was an impossibility because they thought racial change only ensued from white agency.

Emancipatory Sociology

Du Bois emerged as the first American sociologist to articulate the agency of the oppressed. Moreover, Du Bois moved easily from the standpoint of the oppressed to that of the oppressor:

High in the tower, where I sit…, I know many souls that toss and whirl and pass, but none…intrigue me more than the Souls of White Folk. Of them, I am singularly clairvoyant. I see in and through them. I view them from unusual points of vantage…I see these souls undressed and from the back and side” (Du Bois, 1920). Therefore, Du Bois created a scientifically rigorous and emancipatory sociology. In contrast to white dominant sociology of the period, Du Bois pioneered multi-methods by relying on both quantitative and qualitative methods to provide empirical evidence on which to base research findings (Wright, 2012). Indeed, two decades before the Chicago School conducted empirical studies, Du Bois’ Atlanta School executed numerous empirical studies analyzing rural and urban populations.

Finally, Du Bois rejected the claim that sociology should be an aloof detached science operating above social and political realities. Yet, Du Bois insisted that sociology embrace objectivity in its search for the truth. Nevertheless, for Du Bois, the purpose of those truths was to provide scientific guidance for efforts of liberation. In his struggles for black liberation, Du Bois made clear, “history and the other social sciences were to be my weapons, to be sharpened and applied by research and writing.” To be sure, Du Bois utilized sociology to engage in numerous political struggles to free humanity.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. expressed: “It was never possible to know where the scholar, Du Bois, ended and the organizer, Du Bois began. The two qualities in him were a single, unified force” (King, 1968). For Du Bois, a dispassionate, aloof sociology was a dry as dust enterprise steeped in scientific and political irrelevances. Given its theoretical and empirical power, Du Bois’ intellectual agenda would become the touchstone of an insurgent black sociology embraced by pioneering black sociologists housed in black colleges and universities.

The Academy

The lived experiences of pioneering black sociologists were radically different from white sociologists. They were members of a despised race who encountered economic exploitation, political disenfranchisement, racial segregation, lynching and daily insults. As Du Bois powerfully related, “I rode Jim Crow.” Even the college experience disempowered the personhood of black sociologists. Du Bois recalled, “When I entered college in 1885, I was supposed to learn there was a new reason for the degradation of the coloured people that was because they had inferior brains to whites” (Du Bois, 1958). Unlike upwardly mobile white sociologists eager to join white elites, black sociologists initiated struggles for survival and devised measures to protect their intellectual integrity. Consequently, when Du Bois encountered doctrines of black inferiority in college, he responded, “This I immediately challenged.

I knew by experience that my own brains and body were not inferior to the average of my white fellow students…I early, therefore, started on a personal life crusade to prove Negro equality and to induce Negroes to demand it.” Thus, for black sociologists to embrace the white academy and its ideas would mean personal and race suicide. Their only rational choice was to develop a critical approach to white academia and its racial science. For them, their crucial need was a sociology that critically dissected systems of domination, especially racial oppression. They sought a new sociology that functioned as a liberating weapon that imagined futuristic societies rooted in social structures and processes free of racial oppression. As Andrew Douglas contends, black sociologists required black colleges to serve as a locus of critique and to develop transcendent messages in opposition to white oppression.

The white academy cooperated in furthering black sociologists’ quest for a critical sociology by sorting them into academic institutions segregated by race. As Francille Wilson (2006) posited, black sociologists became the segregated scholars. For their undergraduate education, almost all black sociologists attended historically black colleges located in the south. Thus, Ida B. Wells, Anna Julia Cooper, Du Bois, Richard R. Wright, Jr., Edmund Haynes, E. Franklin Frazier, Charles Johnson and Saint Clare Drake attended southern HBCUs.

If it were not for HBCUs including Fisk University, Atlanta University, Howard University, Hampton University, Tuskegee University, Spelman University, Tougaloo College, Savanna State University, Virginia Union University, Saint Augustine’s University, and Morehouse College, there is a great likelihood that there would have been no black sociologists. Relative to white colleges, HBCUs were severely disadvantaged. Like the students who attended them, the larger society considered black colleges inferior and treated them as such. Because of racially restricted funds from state legislatures and philanthropists, black professors were perennial victims of low pay and overwork. Crucial facilities including libraries and labs suffered due to limited resources. Moreover, white elites monitored HBCU’s curricula, making sure subversive thoughts were expunged and that descendants of ex-slaves absorbed industrial education.

In fact, racially conservative white administrators and presidents ran most HBCUs well into the twentieth century. This white control led to many black student revolts that sought academic freedom and self-determination.

HBCUs suffered double jeopardy because their racial and regional statuses relegated them to the academic periphery outside the purview of prestigious and rich white universities of the north. Because of their position in the academic hinterlands, black scholars and their intellectual contributions suffered marginalization and even erasure. White mainstream sociologists proceeded as if they were the only viable intellectual game. As far as they were concerned, black scholars produced no ideas and intellectual agendas which white sociologists were bound to respect.

Yet, despite these daunting challenges, HBCUs educated the first generations of black sociologists, thanks to dedicated black and white teachers who embraced their educational mission as a sacred trust to lift the descendants of ex-slaves from ignorance and poverty. Black students possessed a dogged determination to attain education as attested to by one enrollee who declared, “tell the white people we are arising!” HBCUs prepared the first generations of black sociologists to attend white graduate departments of sociology and earn doctorates, enabling them to become professional sociologists. Though white departments alienated black sociologists with their theories of black inferiority and the righteousness of racial inequality, HBCUs had prepared them to persevere while keeping their eyes on the prize of earning advanced degrees necessary for those who would challenge white sociology.

Professional Black Sociologists

With degrees in hand, black sociologists settled in segregated academic positions as professional sociologists. Even though the American Sociological Association honors four great black sociologists—Du Bois, Frazier, Cox and Johnson—white sociologists know little about the institutions where they worked and the unique challenges they faced in those institutions.

All pioneering black sociologists shared the experience of never holding professorships in white universities because white supremacy would not permit such an outcome. Thus, they spent their entire careers in economically poor, isolated and oppressed HBCUs. To understand black sociologists’ careers in HBCUs, it is instructive to hear Du Bois’ account of the experience, for his entire academic career unfolded in two HBCUs.

He writes:

If young colored men receive scientific training almost their only opening lies in the Negro university of the South… the difficulty here… is that very few of these institutions have the facilities for research, nor can they grant teachers the time to devote to it. The young scientist who goes to such an institution is usually given a heavy load of teaching covering several branches of scientific work. If he can find any time for research, he not only has few facilities at his disposal at the institution, but he has a body of college students handicapped by restricted high school and elementary school training.

Few of them have seen laboratories before coming to college or have been used to rigorous scientific methods…Not only does the young Negro scientist find difficulty in pursuing scientific research in a Negro institution. He lives usually in an intellectual desert so far as the surrounding world is concerned. State libraries will lend books to colored students but usually the reader must be segregated in separate and often inconvenient rooms. [Black scholars] are placed in rooms by themselves… In general, the libraries, museums, laboratories and scientific collections in the South are either completely closed to Negro investigators or are only partially opened and on humiliating terms” (Du Bois, 1939).

Du Bois complained about how lack of resources severely handicapped his research and writing. He explained, “In the matter of scholarships and prizes, difficulties are often raised in the case of colored candidates. It is practically impossible for the Negro in the South even to enter…scholarships examinations.” Thus, we see that extensive racial discrimination experienced by HBCUs caused black sociologists to face staggering odds in their mission to produce an emancipatory sociology. Yet, the wonder of it all is that black sociologists triumphed against these staggering odds, building major sociology programs and producing theoretical and empirically based sociology that countered the racist narratives dominant in the white mainstream.

 

Aldon Morris at ASA headquarters, January 2020.
Source: Julie Anderson.

 

Sociological Wisdom

Hence, during the embryonic years of American sociology, pioneering black sociologists, led by Du Bois, constructed an emancipatory scientific sociology useful to those fighting for freedom around the globe.

That sociology placed at its center the examination of systems of human domination, the social structures and processes inhibiting human freedom. That sociology emphasized the empowering agency of the oppressed anchored in their culture and institutions, and the sociological wisdom that exploitative hierarchies are edifices made by real human beings and thus can be torn asunder by human agency. Also, at the center of insurgent black sociology was the requirement that scientific scholarship anchor itself in systematic study and rigorous reasoning.

I close by noting that despite overwhelming odds, pioneering black sociologists armed with a scientific desire to be free who were housed in generative HBCUs constructed an invaluable insurgent sociology. Much of it, though unacknowledged, has been incorporated in mainstream sociology, and constitutes its intellectual fountainhead. If an innovative insurgent scientific sociology could take root in the worst of times, amid terrorism of lynch mobs, attacks from elites within the community it sought to liberate, and discrimination from a racist society that withheld crucial resources, then maybe there is hope for all who work to produce knowledge for the purpose of understanding and transforming humanity (Morris, 2015).

References

Cooley, Charles Horton. 1902. Human Nature and the Social Order. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Cooper, Anna Julia. 1892. A Voice from the South: By a Black Woman of the South. Xenia, Ohio: The Aldine Printing House.
Deegan, Mary Jo. 1988. Jane Addams and the Men of the Chicago School, 1892-1918. New Brunswick: Transaction Books.
Du Bois. W.E.B. 1903. The Souls of Black Folk. Chicago: Chicago: A.C. McClurg and Company.
____ 1935. Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880. New York: Henry Holt and Company.
____ 1939. “The Negro Scientist.” The American Scholar Vol. 8, No. 3 (summer), pp. 309-320.
____ 1958. “The Early Beginnings of the Pan-African Movement.” W.E.B. Du Bois Papers (MS 312). Special Collection and University Archive: University of Libraries. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Itzigsohn, Jose and Karida Brown. 2015. “Sociology and the Theory of Double Consciousness: W.E.B. Du Bois’s Phenomenology of Racialized Subjectivity”, Du Bois Review, 12, (2).
King, Martin Luther, Jr. 1968. “Honoring Dr. Du Bois,” Speech delivered at Carnegie Hall in New York City, February 23, 1968.
Mead, George Herbert. 1934. Mind, Self, and Society from the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Morris, Aldon. 2015. The Scholar Denied: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Birth of Modern Sociology. Oakland: University of California Press.
Wells, Ida B. 1895. A Record: Lynching in the United States. Chicago: Donohue & Henneberry, Binder and Engraver.
Wilson, Francille, R. 2006. The Segregated Scholars: Black Social Scientists and the Creation of Black Labor Studies, 1890–1950. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.
Wright, Earl, II. 2012, “Why, Where, and How to Infuse the Atlanta Sociological Laboratory into the Sociology Curriculum” Teaching Sociology, 40(3): 257-270. Sage Journal.

By Aldon Morris
President-Elect of the American Sociological Association

Return to May 2020 Issue

Truth and Service: The Hundred-Year Legacy of Sociology at Howard University

The motto of Howard University, “In Truth and Service,” is embodied by its scholars, students, and faculty. A century ago, Dr. Kelly Miller established the Department of Sociology to uncover the truth about the “race problem” in the United States. Since 1919, the mission of the department has been “to prepare students to analyze, transform, and overcome conditions of oppression, exploitation and injustice” (Howard University 2020). Howard University, notably called the Mecca, was “for scholars leading the intellectual discourse on the most pressing problems of Blacks in the U.S. and Africa, problems associated with race ideology, economic power, and social class” (Jarmon 2003). The Department became a home for scholars who believed in centering issues of inequality which marginalized the Black community.

 

Credit: Howard University.

 

Howard University is the only Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in the United States with a doctoral program in sociology. Within the nation’s capital, the Department is also the only program in the District of Columbia that offers a Ph.D. in sociology. The Department has produced a wave of Black Ph.Ds. in sociology and cultivated generations of Black leaders in communities, organizations, and institutions. Legendary scholars in the Department, such as Kelly Miller, E. Franklin Frazier, Joyce Ladner, and Andrew Billingsley, have contributed to the discipline of sociology and enhanced the scholarship on Black American life. The Department continues to be a powerhouse of Black intellectual thought and upholds the legacy of truth and service.

The Beginnings

At the turn of the 20th century, Howard University was the only institution for Blacks with University status. Like most HBCUs, its purpose was to educate Blacks in trade, particularly in agricultural, mechanical, and industrial subjects, for the workforce (Office for Civil Rights 1991). In the 1890s, Howard University began to adopt a liberal arts framework over vocational training, which led to a period of curricula and scholarship expansion (Jarmon 2013). Howard became a Mecca for Black scholars and students who were interested in social sciences and disciplines outside of industrial education (Jarmon 2013). Black scholars, including Dr. Kelly Miller, lectured about the “race problem” within the United States during the 1890s (Jarmon 2003).

 

Dr. Kelly Miller Source: Casey Nichols. 2007. Kelly Miller (1863-1939).

 

Miller believed that sociology provided an “objective perspective on questions of race and social inequality” (Jarmon 2003:366). In 1903, Miller piloted a new sociology course at Howard, and by 1919 the Department of Sociology was founded. Miller would serve as chairman until 1925, expanding the scope of the program’s courses and faculty. Howard has long been dedicated to the study of racial relations in society. During Miller’s tenure as chair of the Department, the curriculum included traditional sociological theory and methods but centered social inequality and race (Jarmon 2003).

 

Credit: The Baltimore Afro-American (1893-1988). June 6, 1925. pg A11.

 

The Frazier Era

Blacks continued to demand more educational opportunities and college-level courses outside of vocational training throughout the U.S. in the early 20th century. Howard University and other HBCUs were fighting against structural and political forces that tried to limit higher education for Blacks. E. Franklin Frazier, who assumed the position of chairman in the Department in 1934, strived for academic rigor that could rival departments at primarily white institutions (Jarmon 2003). In his first year, he revamped the curriculum, increased the educational standards of the Department, and instituted the M.A. program (Jarmon 2003; Platt 1991). Frazier and his protégé, G. Franklin Edwards, continued to consolidate the department and add courses that addressed the challenges of the Black community (Jarmon 2003). Frazier’s advocacy for using theory in practice and for the continuous pursuit of research and social policy for Black Americans would inspire the Department for decades to come.

 

Source: Poster from Office of War Information.
Domestic Operations Branch. News Bureau 1943.

 

The notion of biological determinism and the innate inferiority of the Blacks permeated social science research throughout the early 20th century (Dingwall, Nerlich, and Hillyard 2003; Jarmon 2013; Miller and Costello 2001; Platt 1991). In continuing Kelly’s mission to bring objectivity and truth to the race question, Frazier was committed to producing studies against scientific racism (Jarmon 2013). Frazier, much like his mentor W.E.B. Du Bois, wrote controversial pieces on race, class, and the reality of Black American life. In 1939, he published The Negro Family in the United States, which challenged the view of biological inferiority of Blacks and centered social and economic relations (Jarmon 2013).

 

Left to Right: James Nabrit, Charles Drew, Sterling Brown, E. Franklin Frazier, Rayford Logan, Alain Locke. Source: Moorland Spingarn Research Center, Howard University.

 

Frazier became known for his scholarship on race relations within the United States and globally. In 1948, Frazier was elected by the American Sociological Association (ASA) as the first Black president. In his ASA Presidential Address, Frazier stated that “sociology as an academic discipline did not deal specifically with the problem of race relations” and his role was to bring attention to this phenomenon within the discipline (Frazier 1949:2). Following this address, Frazier published two of his most renowned books, The Negro in the United States (1949) and The Black Bourgeoisie (1955). Frazier’s recognition of the need for new perspectives and to adjust to an ever-changing society planted seeds of change within the Department and the discipline (Jarmon 2003).

The Transformative Years

The Civil Rights Era brought social and political change, not only in the Department but in the wider society. Howard’s Sociology and Anthropology Departments merged in 1957, and Mark Hanna Watkin, the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in anthropology, became the Department chair from 1961 to 1968 (Davis 2019; DPAAC Staff 2016). Students were influenced by the movements and ideologies of the time and demonstrated against the curriculum of the Department. Students resisted the mainstream sociological perspectives being taught because they deemed it to be “too conservative and promoted the incipient movement towards Black sociology and dialectical materialism” (Jarmon 2003:370). Their resistance and the subsequent curriculum adjustments continue to influence the teaching of sociology in the Department today.

From the late 1960s to 1970s, the Department shifted towards a more radical sociological perspective which “combined elements of the Internal Colonial model, the Historical Materialism model, the Pan-African model, and the Critical Race model” (Gomes 2018:10).

 

Howard University Student Protest Organizing meeting, 1968. Source: Kyra Azore, The Hilltop News Reporter. 50 Years Later: The Demonstration that Changed Howard and the Legacy it Left.

 

During this transformation, the Department added new faculty to revamp the program. With the addition of Dr. Joyce Ladner, Dr. Robert Staples, Dr. Ralph C. Gomes, Dr. Jonnie Daniel, and Dr. Joan Harris to the faculty, the curriculum unapologetically focused on topics of scholar activism, the Black community, and a critical analysis of the discipline. Ladner, who later became chair of the Department, was a catalyst for change by expanding the curriculum to encourage perspectives outside of Euro-American sociological theories (Gomes 2018). With the influx of new faculty and the expanding need to develop Black sociology, the Ph.D. program was established by Dr. Gomes in 1974 (Gomes 2018). Urban sociology, intergroup relations, social control and deviance, social organizations, and social psychology were concentrations offered within the doctoral program (Gomes 2018). These specializations centered around social issues within the Black community and influenced the scholarship of future scholars matriculating through the program. Dr. Ivor Livingston, who received the first sociology doctorate degree from the Department in 1979, later became, and continues to be, a professor within the Department.

 

Howard University Student Sit-in of the Administration Building, 1968. Source: Kyra Azore, The Hilltop News Reporter. 50 Years Later: The Demonstration that Changed Howard and the Legacy it Left.

 

Considering economic and political movements during the 1980s and 1990s, many policies were impacting communities across the United States. Specifically, new racial politics and social policies, such as the War on Drugs and the disappearing social safety net, transformed the lives of people of color and women (Alexander 2012; Williams 2003). The Department was affected by the increasing financial restrictions happening in the broader society and at most HBCUs. Since the 1990s, the Department has reduced the number of faculty, decreased financial support for graduate students, and reduced the number of specializations (Gomes 2018). The Department became more interdisciplinary by collaborating with other Howard graduate programs and professional schools which gave it flexibility to adapt to the changing environment (Gomes 2018). Although the Department has felt the effects of the financial crisis of the 2000s and reduced funding allocations, it continued to matriculate cohorts of M.A. and Ph.D. students through the program and produce dozens of studies and articles.

Public Sociology in the New Millennium

Since 1895, the instruction of sociology at Howard University has focused on increasing the collective understanding of social inequality and race. Between 1997 and 2002, thirty-four articles on social inequality and or race relations were published by scholars within the Department. During the early 2000s, much of the Department’s coursework examined several dimensions of inequality, statistics, methods, social psychology, and administrative justice (Jarmon 2003).

The Department also embraced criminology as a critical area of study within sociology, and in 2016 changed its name to the Department of Sociology and Criminology. Although public sociology gained popularity in mainstream sociology, the Department has always been a center of scholar activism. The purpose of public sociology is to collaborate with historically exploited and oppressed communities to guide policy and social movement activism to create solutions to societal problems (Katz-Fishman and Scott 2006). The surge of interest in public sociology within the discipline has attracted students and faculty to the Department because of its legacy of service to the community.

 

2016 Department of Sociology and Criminology Open House Guest Speakers. Left to right: Dr. Samuel Ndubuisi, Health Statistician with DHHS (Department Alum); Dr. Judy Lubin, President of Public Square Communications (Department Alum); Dr. Ralph Gomes, Professor of Sociology. Credit: Britany Gatewood, PhD. 2016.

 

Dedication to public sociology and researching Black social life extended to various events and projects hosted by the Department. To examine the racial shifts due to the election of President Obama, faculty and students from across Howard University created a polling center to assess Black voters’ perception of the presidential election in 2016. Dr. Terri Adams, who will later serve as chair of the Department, led the polling center along with sociology doctoral students. Over 40 student callers contacted individuals who self-identified as Black or African American to discuss topics on voter registration, political affiliations, political issues facing Black America, racism, income inequality, and social justice. Public sociology continued to permeate the Department’s programming, and the inaugural Community Engagement Open House was hosted in 2016. This annual event brings together community organizations, students, and the broader community.

 

National Voter Poll Center, 2016. Source: Marie Plaisime, 2016.

 

The Legacy of the Mecca

The Department of Sociology and Criminology at Howard University has made numerous contributions to the discipline and American society. The accomplishments of faculty and students include articles, award-winning books, distinguished career awards, coveted fellowships, and government contracts and grants. Organizations, including the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Ford Foundation, have supported research that has ranged from inequalities within the criminal justice system to the impacts of natural disasters on communities of color. Since the Department’s inception, the graduate program has produced over 100 M.A. degrees and over 150 Ph.Ds., with a majority being Black scholars. Graduates have gone on to positions in the government, including for the U.S. Census Bureau and Center for Disease Control, and have taken faculty positions in academic institutions nationally and internationally.

 

HU Inside Out Program at the DC Department of Corrections. Dr. Bahiyyah Muhammad, Assistant Professor. Credit: Muntaquim Muhammad.

 

The Department continues the legacy of Dr. Kelly Miller. For over 100 years, “How will you use this knowledge to help your community?” has been a common theme throughout the scholarship, research, mentorship, and teaching at the Mecca. The undergraduate and graduate curriculum continues to center social inequality and critical discourse with an integration of scholar activism and public sociology. Centering inequality, the Black experience, and service has distinguished Howard from other sociology departments. The sentiments of current students attest to the environment that has been cultivated for over 100 years.

 

Impacts of Hurricanes Irma and Maria on the residents and first responders of St. Thomas. Left to right: Cassandra Jean, Ph.D. student; University of Virgin Island Representative; Dr. Terri Adams Fuller, Chair. Source: Cassandra Jean, 2019.

 

Howard has curated a space for critical dialogue around the intersections of race, class, oppression, and social institutions.” – Cassandra Jean, 3rd year Ph.D. student

Howard University creates a community for young Black scholars, while bringing a diverse culture to the environment. I personally have gained a wealth of knowledge and connections with Black educators with different backgrounds and concentrations who are determined to educate others and bring awareness to the injustices within America.” – Sydni Turner, 2nd year M.A. student

Howard has always been the helm of Black thought, critical and revolutionary ideology, and activism. The Department has operated this way historically and continues to embed these ideals for current and future scholars. Every professor centers the Black voice, when oftentimes within sociology, our voice is left unheard. Howard teaches us not only to highlight our perspectives but its significance and its power.”- Anthony Jackson, 5th year Ph.D. Candidate

Looking Towards the Future

The Department has had profound influences on the discipline of sociology and in local, national, and international communities. Miller founded the Department during the Jim Crow era, a time where there were few opportunities for Black scholars. Its faculty and students resisted oppression and segregation during the Civil Rights Movement. Howard continues to endure through the current, intensified marginalization of HBCUs. The scholarship produced out of the Department continues to be innovative and give voice to the Black community by Black scholars. In the years to come, the department will continue Miller and Frazier’s legacy by centering social inequality, uplifting the community, and by bringing truth and service to the discipline.

 

ASA Annual Conference, New York, 2019. Left to right: Dr. Walda Katz-Fishman, Professor; Marie Plaisime, Ph.D. student; Dr. Joyce Ladner, former chair; Dr. Britany Gatewood, department alum; Shannell Thomas, Ph.D. student; Anas Askar, Ph.D. student; Tia Dickerson, Ph.D. Student.
Source: Britany Gatewood, PhD, 2019.

 

The most important part of the continuing legacy of the Sociology and Criminology Department at Howard is to fight to keep, in a new moment, that vision of a transformative sociology for the people who are most marginalized, oppressed, and most exploited. Howard is where this marginalized section of society sends its intellectuals to be educated.”

– Dr. Walda Katz-Fishman, Professor of Sociology.

References

Alexander, Michelle. 2012. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York, NY: The New Press.

Davis, Kiara. 2019. “One Hundred Years of Sociology at Howard University by Kiara Davis on Prezi.” Retrieved April 2, 2020 (https://prezi.com/-7daf9eztnaf/one-hundred-years-of-sociology-at-howard-university/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy).

Dingwall, Robert, Brigitte Nerlich, and Samantha Hillyard. 2003. “Biological Determinism and Symbolic Interaction: Hereditary Streams and Cultural Roads.” Symbolic Interaction 26(4):631–44.

DPAAC Staff. 2016. “Watkins, Mark Hanna.” Retrieved April 14, 2020 (http://dh.howard.edu/finaid_manu/262).

Frazier, Franklin E. 1949. “Race Contacts and the Social Structure.” American Sociological Review 14(1):1–11.

Gomes, Ralph C. 2018. The Expansion of Graduate Studies in Sociology During the Decade of the 1970s. Washington, D.C. Unpublished Manuscript.

Howard University. 2020. “Department of Sociology and Criminology.” Retrieved April 14, 2020 (https://sociologyandcriminology.howard.edu/).

Jarmon, Charles. 2003. “Sociology at Howard University: From E. Franklin Frazier and Beyond.” Teaching Sociology 31(4):366–74.

Jarmon, Charles. 2013. “E. Franklin Frazier’s Sociology of Race and Class in Black America.” Black Scholar 43(1–2):89–102.

Katz-Fishman, Walda and Jerome Scott. 2006. “A Movement Rising: Consciousness, Vision, and Strategy from the Bottom Up.” Pp. 69–81 in Public Sociologies Reader, edited by J. Blau and K. E. Iyall Smith. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Miller, Eleanor M. and Carrie Yang Costello. 2001. “The Limits of Biological Determinism.” American Sociological Review 66(4):592–98.

Office for Civil Rights. 1991. Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Higher Education Desegregation. Washington: US Department of Education (ED).

Platt, Anthony M. 1991. E. Franklin Frazier Reconsidered. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Williams, Linda Faye. 2003. The Constraint of Race: Legacies of White Skin Privilege in America. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.

By Britany Gatewood, Alexandra Rodriguez, and Marie Plaisime

Return to May 2020 Issue

Participatory Action Research as Public Sociology: Bringing Lived Experience Back In

In 2004, Burawoy gave his presidential address, “For Public Sociology,” to the American Sociological Association causing a stir within the discipline, its effects still felt today in graduate seminars and in debates about the current state and future of sociology. In one speech, Burawoy reinvigorated the historical promise of imagining sociology as a discipline that can both explain society and work towards a more just world. In the wake of his address, debates arose around the meaning and purpose of public sociology (Clawson Sussman, Misra, et. al. 2007).

What public sociology is, what it looks like, are questions that have led to vigorous thought experimentation but little noticeable change in the discipline. Burawoy’s call may have reinvigorated the sociological debate about discourse with diverse publics, but it fell short of suggesting sociology should look to its own history to re-learn how to engage with many publics and, more importantly, to embrace worlds outside of the academy, to learn and to solve problems together.

Solving problems together through collaboration between scholars and publics was a central feature of the sociological research community long before Burawoy gave his address. The systematic study of structural forces and their impact on human thriving were employed among public intellectuals (though not always sociologists by training), among the likes of Jane Addams, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Anna Julia Cooper, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, W.E.B. Du Bois, Paolo Freire, Orlando Fals Borda, Septima Clark, Ella Baker, Myles and Frances Horton, and many unsung scholars who have yet to be admitted to the canon among the “greats.”

One approach to social science research, Participatory Action Research (PAR)1, a collaborative, solutions-based approach does as Mills (2000) suggested sociology should; it connects personal troubles with public issues. It is also an orientation toward deep engagement with publics and is intended to bring about social transformation, liberation, conscienziacion (to free oneself — Freire 1970) to create a more humane and just world. Rather than simply engaging in dialogue with diverse publics, as Burawoy suggested, implementing a PAR approach requires researchers working alongside ordinary people, utilizing social science research to produce useful and valid findings while at the same time alleviating (or reversing) harms.

This article describes the PAR approach, an orientation for “doing” public sociology in the historical tradition of the people mentioned earlier and in answering Burawoy’s call for more engagement with diverse publics. First, we discuss participatory research as an approach with theoretical foundations. Next, we describe the three pillars, which are the core to this approach, and the deep relations and trust necessary to do this work successfully. We then provide a set of considerations for increasing participation and engaging communities across research phases utilizing the PAR approach. Finally, we provide links to PAR approach resources, journals, professional associations, and suggested reading to learn more.

Participatory Action Research Approach and its Theoretical Roots

PAR approaches are becoming better known in sociology and other disciplinary fields. However, there remains confusion and misperceptions about what it is, and what it is not. This is partly due to the interdisciplinary theoretical underpinnings of participatory research, how it has emerged and evolved across disciplines, and its focus (e.g., transformational, systems change). PAR is an approach or orientation to how research is conducted with a set of action goals, as opposed to a research method.

For illustration, we will describe key elements of a better-known comparison case, a more traditional positivist approach founded by early sociologist Auguste Comte, generating universal laws for the social world that are validated by empirical data, in a mode similar to natural science (Turner 2001). To do so, key principles guide data collection strategies. Two of the most common are: first, an emphasis on reliability, using instruments that generate the same results each time they are used; and second, a belief in objectivity in which “researchers should remain distanced from what they study so findings depend on the nature of what is studied rather than on the personality, beliefs, and values of the researcher” (Payne and Payne 2004: 152).

When employing this traditional social science approach, it is most common to use quantitative research methods, like surveys, experiments, and secondary data analysis. Likewise, PAR is an approach rooted in critical theory and from various reactions to the German philosopher, Hegel. For critics, empiricism was too simplistic and mechanistic to build critical analysis or understand the nuances and patterns of human life. Building on Hegel’s work, Karl Marx and other canonical sociological theorists, such as those in the Frankfurt School and Weber, to name a few, continued developing theoretical approaches to distinguish the social sciences from natural science, to understand human behavior from the perspective of communities and individuals, and to improve material and social conditions.

In the 20th century, a small number of social theorists and activists in the U.S. and elsewhere continued to build on these approaches, and more importantly, began to apply these theories to work in and alongside communities to improve living conditions. Given the intent to understand lived experiences rather than formulation of social laws, research methods often employed are qualitative, including interviews, focus groups, ethnography, participant observation, and critical discourse analysis.

Unlike traditional sociology, a PAR approach is an example of critical sociological scholarship that focuses on knowledge building and liberation and actively seeks to alleviate suffering through action. PAR researchers choose not to “ignore the oppressive values and discriminatory practices of the status quo” (Feagin and Vera 2008). In effect, the orientation not only enables the production of trustworthy scholarship, but also allows the researcher to “take sides” against that which causes harm to the communities we work with. In addition to the production of new knowledge, PAR is guided by several principles, including: 1) PAR is a democratic and equitable process; 2) power-sharing and co-learning are crucial to successful implementation; 3) respect for individuals’ knowledge, experience, and perspectives is key, and 4) agreeing to disagree is expected.

In our view, three pillars are essential to a participatory research approach: 1) active engagement of the community, ideally in the entire research-to-action process, 2) using a research design or methods to collect data systematically, and 3) using the findings to generate action plans and increase community engagement to improve social conditions.

These three pillars working together make this approach distinct from traditional social science and moves it beyond elements of critical theory to not just explain the social world but work with publics to transform it. Putting it simply, if researchers conduct a study in a community because they are interested in explaining a particular phenomenon (e.g., redlining, lack of public services, disproportionate impact of the coronavirus), and only engage the community to obtain feedback as opposed to working in partnership with the community without direct action, this would still be an example of a traditional research approach regardless of the theoretical underpinnings driving the study.

Social scientists working with communities and stakeholders in a research-to-action process has benefits for the research and the communities. Individuals with lived experience bring local expertise, have local networks they can engage, and can help bridge the divide and build trust between the researcher and the community. Their knowledge and perspectives contribute to crafting research questions and instruments that represent the issues or phenomenon that the study seeks to understand and measure, and therefore we argue, maximizes validity. In this research approach, trained individuals with lived experience and local expertise contributing the entire research-to-action process is considered a benefit to the process, not a lapse in objectivity.

Communities build capacity as they conduct PAR including how to build knowledge around an issue, research ethics and confidentiality, data collection, analysis, and how to translate findings and present those findings to their community so they are understood and can be utilized outside of the academy. Because of their methodological and theoretical training, and general interests in understanding power dynamics, sociologists have an important role to play in participatory research. Like any research study, it is important to know how to develop a defensible research design and at the same time know how to obtain the type of data necessary for the community to make evidence-based choices to seek the change they desire.

Despite our skills and training, many sociologists have little exposure to PAR. Our intent is to describe features of the PAR approach to not only make an argument for why PAR is an opportunity to “do” public sociology by working alongside people with lived experience but also to pique the interest of sociologists to do this work. The sections that follow are instructive for this second purpose.

Considerations for Engaging Communities Across Research Phases Utilizing the PAR Approach

Given that the underlying principles and goals of “doing” participatory research are to address power dynamics, through trust, community and relationship building, how do you engage communities to conduct PAR? Engagement and collaboration at each stage of the research-to-action process is essential to meeting these goals and is one of the distinguishing features between traditional and participatory research approaches. Below are some suggestions on how researchers could think of working with the community to create these opportunities.

Community Building

Fruitful implementation of PAR requires building authentic relationships. This often begins with connecting with community organizers, non-profits, or other community-based groups with an interest in understanding issues and harms systematically in order to alleviate them through self-directed action. In practice, this may mean many conversations, explaining the approach, its benefits, and working to counter mistrust of research(ers). Be prepared to listen and put in work you may feel is unrelated to research. In addition, community building with the broader community includes thinking about how to reach out to more community networks and stakeholders at each step. Gathering information and feedback early and often from multiple stakeholders will bring more interested parties to the table for action planning and implementation which is key to successful social change.

Community Building with a Research Team

Conducting an authentic participatory research study requires forming partnerships between individuals with diverse knowledge–a research team can be composed of a researcher, community members, and other stakeholders. This type of collaboration means working with people who may have different lived experience, and thus requires team building, flexibility, and respect for different types of knowledge. Crucial is knowing when to step in as the leader and facilitator and when to step back.

As the research team is established, collaboration to understand community issues follows. It is also important to establish roles, determine the type of expertise needed, devise shared principles, conduct skills and cultural asset mapping, resolve issues around representation (is there agreement that the right people are “at the table?”), and deal with power differentials.

 

Source: Andrea Robles.

 

PAR is intended to build capacity in the community, yet participants are often the same people in our society who are un(der)compensated for their labor (including emotional labor). Consequently, logistical issues like recruitment and remuneration for the labor, transportation, and meals for participants are important during this phase. There should be a commitment to regular gatherings for training, reflection, and team building that are agreed to during the initial phase as well.

Research Design and Execution

By now, you may be wondering what is the role of the PAR facilitator (that’s you, the “researcher”)? You may facilitate a process to develop your study’s research question(s) with your team. They may emerge from an existing community need or interest, a workshop, or through a more elaborate six-step approach like the SEED method devised by Zimmerman (2020).

A trained sociologist has a toolbox of qualitative and quantitative research methods they can employ, teach, and implement to collect data systematically and ethically, and can understand how to adapt methods and instruments to be culturally appropriate. You may teach research skills including confidentiality and protection of human subjects, engage in discussions about the advantages and disadvantages of different types of traditional and nontraditional research methods, and practice by role playing.

Once the team understands the methods, you may facilitate a process or conduct workshops about choosing the most appropriate research methods to answer the study’s research question given the resources and develop instruments and data collection protocols. Research methodology development requires time for reflection, dialogue, circling back to topics as needed so the team (you included) feels knowledgeable, and comfortable to do the data gathering work. Common methods used in participatory research include (but are not limited to):

1. Surveys, focus groups, one-on-one interviews2: Research teams may decide to use these more traditional social science methodologies. PAR often employs diagramming, dot-voting, and other methods of expression to use during interviews and focus groups to elicit responses for less talkative people or people from diverse linguistic communities.

2. Community mapping, transect walks: This is a systematic walk along a defined path with local people, typically a group, who will collectively: observe, ask, listen, and look at their surroundings. These are excellent techniques to open opportunities for conversation. Data is often represented with maps. Also conducted by viewing Google maps to analyze change over time (i.e., neighborhood development and gentrification).

3. Photovoice (or photo elicitation): Community researchers take photographs that illustrate issue(s) of interest and discuss them in a group setting, specifically, how the photos illustrate the issue(s), their community’s needs, assets, connections to structural forces. This method increases visibility of those often invisible, is a less intimidating way to share feelings, increases participants ability to reflect, helps produce a clearer understanding of issues, and produces compelling photographic records for political/local change-makers (Wang and Burris 1997; Clark-Ibáñez 2004).

4. Q-sort: This method helps the research team to understand multiple perspectives on an issue by ranking and sorting a series of statements (or photographs) developed by the research team. It brings to light many perspectives with a low barrier to participation and does not require similar understandings or orientations to an issue. The team develops the data to be analyzed, recruits participants, conducts the sorting activity (from least to most preference with a roughly normal distribution of data), and conducts analysis/interpretation. This method does require some software expertise which can be acquired by a team or other expert participant (van Exel and de Graaf 2005).

5. Oral histories, storytelling, and testimonios3: Research team members learn how to prepare an interview guide with questions and probes for follow-up questions to solicit depth and detail based on the research question(s). Then they recruit, schedule, and conduct the interviews. Training may be necessary for record-keeping procedures, interview research and preparation, interview setting, use of the equipment, interviewing techniques, transcription, coding, and theme building.

Collaborative Data Analysis and Interpretation

As with any social science research, once the data has been collected, it must be analyzed. The researcher needs to spend time teaching, mentoring and reviewing the work. It is exciting for the entire team to discuss and interpret the findings they have devoted so much time to learn. However, unlike a sole researcher’s work there may be multiple interpretations of the data and decision making on the form findings may take. This requires creating openings for honest discussion, debate, and ultimately might take practicing the principle of “agreeing to disagree.”

Presenting Findings and Developing Action Plans

Presenting findings and developing action plans with the team and other stakeholders is part of an action-reflection cycle. The team with expert knowledge about the community can decide on how best to present the results themselves in ways that can be understood, utilized, and exciting for multiple audiences who are not only interested in learning about the issue investigated but also enthusiastic to be part of social transformation.

An important part of action planning is stakeholders committing to how to use the findings to improve local conditions. During presentations, audiences can provide feedback on next steps and engage in action planning. An action plan may be internal to an organization or externally facing (i.e., to policy makers, city councils, written as a newspaper article, etc.). Reports are traditional ways to present information but there are also other creative methods such as presenting the findings through poetry, theater, songwriting, or memory books, in community meetings or during data walks to engage the public further.

Evaluating

Can PAR work be evaluated? Yes, this work can be evaluated using traditional or participatory strategies like Ripple Effects Mapping (Chazdon, Emery, Hansen, et al. 2017). One advantage of this evaluation technique is that it captures both the intended effects of the work but also the unintended effects that are often left out of traditional evaluation methods.

Conclusion

PAR is but one example of an approach to “doing” public sociology that extends beyond Burawoy’s call for discourse with diverse communities. It is a return to the historical roots of sociology to re-learn to embrace publics and solve social problems together. It extends beyond traditional sociological efforts to understand and explain the social world regardless of whether it is to establish social laws or learn the nuances of human life. This approach is unapologetically about bringing people into a research-to-action process who have lived experience, their own perspectives, beliefs, and are interested in using knowledge to make positive social change in their respective communities.

Like traditional research, PAR may lead to peer-reviewed publications, books, conference presentations, and policy or position papers. Unlike much traditional research, this work may also lead to deep and long commitment to communities, skill development and empowerment of participants, and celebration! This approach may not be for everyone. However, the benefits, skills and knowledge gained for all team members, the enjoyment of working with an enthusiastic team, and the opportunity to produce knowledge that is liberating for us and the communities we work with can reconnect us with our disciplinary history.

Notes

1. We are referring to the approach as Participatory Action Research throughout this article. More transformational but no less collaborative than other closely related approaches called participatory research, action research, Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR). See suggested readings for more discussion on distinctions among them.

2. These methods are known to most sociologists and will not be described further here.

3. Described as narraciones de urgencia (emergency or urgent narratives); a means to bear witness to injustices through spoken or written word (Caxaj, 2015).

References/Suggested Reading

Bergold, J. & Thomas, S. (2012). Participatory Research Methods: A Methodological Approach in Motion. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 13 (1). Art. 30, http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs1201302

Caxaj, C.S. (2015). Indigenous Storytelling and Participatory Action Research: Allies Toward Decolonization? Reflections from the Peoples’ International Health Tribunal. Global Qualitative Nursing Research, 2, Jan-Dec 2, doi: 10.1177/2333393615580764

Clark-Ibáñez, M. (2004). Framing the social world with photo-elicitation interviews. American Behavioral Scientist. 2004;47:1507–1527.

Clawson, D., Sussman, R. Misra, J., Gerstel, N., Stokes, R., Anderton, D.L., eds. (2007). Public Sociology: Fifteen Eminent Sociologists Debate Politics and the Profession in the Twenty-first Century. University of California Press: Berkeley, CA.

Fals Borda, O. (1998). People’s Participation: Challenges Ahead. New York and London: Apex Press and Intermediate Technology Publications

Feagin, J. & Vera (2008). Liberation Sociology, 2nd ed. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed, New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group

Israel, B., Eng, E., Schulz, A.J., Parker, E.A. (eds) (2005). Methods in Community-Based Participatory Research for Health, San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Jason, L A., Keys, C. B., Suarez-Balcazar, Y, Taylor, R.R., and Davis, M.I. (eds.) (2004). Participatory Community Research: Theories and Methods in Action, Washington DC: American Psychological Association

Kindon, S., Rachel Pain, and Mike Kesby. (2007). Participatory Action Research Approaches and Methods: Connecting people, participation, and place. New York: Routledge Studies in Human Geography.

Krishnaswamy, A. (2004). Participatory Research: Strategies and Tools. Practitioner: Newsletter of the National Network of Forest Practitioners, 22: 17-22.

Mills, C.W. (2000 [1959]). The Sociological Imagination, 40th Anniversary Edition. Oxford University Press: Oxford, UK.

Minkler, M. and Wallerstein, N. (eds.) (2008). Community-Based Participatory Research for Health: From Process to Outcomes, 2nd Edition. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley and Sons; Reason, P. and Bradbury, H. (eds.) (2001) Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice, Thousand Oaks CA: Sage Publications Inc.

Payne, G. and Payne, J. (2004). Key Concepts in Social Research. “Objectivity”, Pp. 152-156. Sage Publishing: Thousand Oaks, CA.

Pink, Sara. (2007). “Photography in Ethnography.” Doing Visual Sociology. Sage Publications.

Richie, Donald. (2003). Doing Oral History: Using Interviews to Uncover the Past and Preserve it for the Future. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Stringer, E (1999). Action Research, 2nd edition, Thousand Oaks CA: Sage Publications Inc.

Turner, J.H. (2001). International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences, First Edition. Elsevier: New York, NY.

van Exel, J., & de Graaf, G. (2005). Q methodology: A sneak preview. Retrieved from website: https://qmethodblog.files.wordpress.com/2016/01/qmethodologyasneakpreviewreferenceupdate.pdf

Wang, C. and Burris, M. (1997). Photovoice: Concept, Methodology, and Use for Participatory Needs Assessment. Health Education & Behavior, 23(3), 369-387.

Yosso, Tara J. (2005). “Whose Culture Has Capital? A Critical Race Theory Discussion of Community Cultural Wealth.” Race Ethnicity and Education 8:69‐91.

Zimmerman, Emily B. (2020). Researching Health Together: Engaging Patients and Stakeholders, From Topic Identification to Policy Change. Sage Publications: Thousand Oaks CA.

Resources

A Field Guide to Ripple Effect Mapping https://conservancy.umn.edu/handle/11299/190639

Center for Collaborative Action Research: http://cadres.pepperdine.edu/ccar/resources.html

Community toolbox (University of Kansas) https://ctb.ku.edu/en/toolkits

Critically-engaged Civic Learning Framework: https://adpaascu.wordpress.com/2018/02/21/campus-spotlight-moving-from-service-learning-to-critically-engaged-civic-learning-at-salem-state/

Data Walks: An Innovative Way to Share Data with Communities: https://www.urban.org/research/publication/data-walks-innovative-way-share-data-communities

Developing and Sustaining CBPR Partnerships: Skill-Building Curriculum, University of Washington https://depts.washington.edu/ccph/cbpr/

FAO — Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations http://www.fao.org/3/ad424e/ad424e03.htm

Institute for Community Research: https://icrweb.org/

Institute of Development Studies, Participatory Methods https://wwwparticipatorymethods.org/

PhotoVoice Methodology Guide: http://www.pwhce.ca/photovoice/pdf/Photovoice_Manual.pdf

Rapid Rural Appraisal and Participatory Rural Appraisal https://www.crs.org/sites/default/files/tools-research/rapid-rural-appraisal-and-participatory-rural-appraisal.pdf

SEED Method Toolkit: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4pFpU3fdpexbzkzQmNqb2o4NTQ/view

The Public Science Project: https://publicscienceproject.org/

Youth-Led Participatory Action Research (YPAR) Hub http://yparhub.berkeley.edu/

Journals

Action Research: https://journals.sagepub.com/home/arj

Educational Action Research: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/reac20

International Journal of Qualitative Methods: https://journals.sagepub.com/home/ijq

Participatory Design: http://pdcproceedings.org/index.html

Qualitative Inquiry: https://journals.sagepub.com/home/qix

Locate more at: http://participatoryresearch.web.unc.edu/journals-for-participatory-research/

Professional Associations

Action Research Network of the Americas (ARNA): https://arnawebsite.org/

Participatory Research in Asia: https://www.pria.org/

Action Learning, Action Research Association: https://www.alarassociation.org/

International Collaboration for Participatory Health Research (ICPHR): http://www.icphr.org/

By Melissa Gouge and Andrea Robles

Return to May 2020 Issue

W.E.B. Du Bois, the First Public Sociologist

Michael Burawoy’s (2004; 2005) challenging and provocative articles on public sociology sought to remind sociology of its historic origins as a “moral science.” In these articles, Burawoy juxtaposes what he believes sociology has become, and how and why it has morphed into an entity unrecognizable from its origins and legacy. Throughout the 2005 article, Burawoy cites W.E.B. Du Bois, along with Jane Addams, Karl Marx, Émile Durkheim, and Max Weber as early pioneers and representatives of this sociological approach, oriented toward one of many publics, and committed to addressing one or more public issues and problems. As a first step in the codification of sociology as a discipline, Burawoy created four typologies of knowledge corresponding to four distinct types of sociological orientation: professional, critical, policy, and public.

Our focus on Burawoy’s articles is important because like him, we believe the role of public sociology continues to be necessary. Burawoy’s effort to highlight its importance cast a much needed light on what has been a neglected orientation of the discipline. His frequent mention of Du Bois within the context of public sociology conveys a deep understanding and appreciation of Du Bois’s role as one of the early founding fathers of public sociology, at a time when the discipline was attempting to establish its identity. Beyond Burawoy’s appreciation, we assert that Du Bois was the first public sociologist and furthermore, that he consciously carved out a role for himself as a public sociologist. Viewing Du Bois’s life in its entirety, we are able to appreciate that he encapsulated all four types of Burawoy’s sociological orientations, often all at once.

Beginning in the 1970s, a number of sociologists (Green, 1973; Dennis, 1975) began to explore the role of W.E.B. Du Bois as one of the early, yet neglected and forgotten classical sociologists alongside Durkheim, Weber, Simmel, and Sumner. We all know of Du Bois’s role as a civil rights leader. As a black man in a world where race and color had taken center stage, race as a social idea and value became the central focus of Du Bois’s intellectual and scholastic critiques and analyses.

This paper explores the world of Du Bois, the sociologist, and in particular, his transition from sociologist to public sociologist. W.E.B. Du Bois cannot be fully understood as a sociologist, at least not as a public sociologist, without an understanding of the persistent and recurring late 19th and early 20th century national and international events he sought to address and resolve. In the U.S., and especially in the South, the nation chose not to grapple with the vestiges of slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction, which Du Bois (1935) analyzed and critiqued intensely.

Du Bois and the Making of a Public Sociologist in a World of National and International Strife

Du Bois contended with several legacies of slavery, among them the violence and intimidation that became institutionalized in the form of the Ku Klux Klan and other white vigilante groups. The purpose of these groups was to frighten and intimidate blacks, prevent them from voting, and prevent them from showing any public displays of success and prosperity. Additionally, Southern racial policy was also predicated on the idea that education and schools for blacks should not be given any priority. The premise underlying this policy was that an impoverished, poorly educated, and powerless black population would better ensure the economic and political superiority and success of whites. Further, the last two decades saw the emergence of Darwinism and social-Darwinism, with the latter adhering to a philosophy of human “survival of the fittest” and a policy of “right makes right,” along with the continuing policy of “manifest destiny” applied to America’s indigenous populations.

Thus, social-Darwinism (Dennis, 1995) coupled with an emerging practice of IQ testing, resulted in a new version of racism known as “scientific racism.” Lastly, the transition into the 20th century witnessed the emergence of America as a new imperial power following the victory in the Spanish-American War and acquisition of spoils; namely, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Hawaii. It was at this time that America emerged as a major urban and industrial economic behemoth whose productivity came to outpace England as the major capitalist stronghold.

In Europe, nations and principalities were still recovering from the Napoleonic wars and the war of 1848, also known as the war of intellectuals. According to Jacques Barzun (1965:133), “between 1870-1900 Europe was simultaneously a prey to all the forces previously described as acting separately toward the intensification of race-beliefs…Nationalism was an acute and universal fever…imperialism and prestige-diplomacy was clutching at every argument for the furtherance of commercial aims in Africa, America, and the Far East…”

The Berlin Conference of 1885 (Du Bois, 1940) in particular, constituted the most far-reaching and devastating event of the century for the African continent as it represented the beginning of a sustained European imperialist and colonialist attack, conquest, and occupation of the continent with dire economic, military, and political consequences for Africa’s development (Rodney, 1972).

A young Du Bois took to the stage, designating himself the self-declared socio-political missionary destined to address the ills of his people and the nation. In reality, his concerns were more global, as he viewed himself as the centerpiece of a national and world-wide missionary program to save people of African descent. This missionary spirit was on full display while celebrating his 25th birthday in 1893 in Germany, the point at which he began to define his role as an integral agent in solving the problems of his people. Per Du Bois’s own words (Du Bois, 1985 reprint: 28-29):

“…I am firmly convinced that my own best development is now one and the same with the best development of the world…The general proposition of working for the world’s good becomes too soon sickly sentimentality. I therefore take the work that the Unknown lay in my hands and work for the rise of the Negro people, taking for granted that their best development means the best development of the world.”

Thus, Du Bois projected himself into history and the world in a way that C. Wright Mills (1959) eventually came to describe as a feature of the “sociological imagination.” In two 1897 essays, Du Bois laid out an action plan whose substance and objective reside in what we would call public sociology, with the focus being the problem of race, class, social injustice, and inequality. In his action plan, the messengers would be a cadre of educated blacks dedicated to achieving freedom for their people and liberating the larger white society from its prejudice. Du Bois (1968[1903]) called this cadre, the educated elite, or the Talented Tenth.

In an essay entitled, “The Conservation of Races,” presented as a lecture before the American Negro Academy, Du Bois (1970 reprint) made the case for cultural and racial pluralism opposing what many were advancing at the end of the 19th century: that the race problem could be resolved if only the African race were to disappear either by being absorbed into the European race, or being deported to Africa or Latin America. Rejecting these options, Du Bois almost takes a “chosen people” approach, believing “the Negro race-has not as yet, given to civilization the full spiritual message which they are capable of giving…For the development of the Negro genius, of Negro literature and art, of Negro spirit, only Negroes bound and welded together, Negroes inspired by one vast ideal, can work out in its fullness the great message we have for humanity” (Du Bois, 1970 reprint: 73-85). To make this message a reality, Du Bois proposed the creation of “race organizations,” whose formation would be the responsibility of the Talented Tenth and would include such institutions as colleges and universities, newspapers, business organizations, schools of literature and art, all of which would feed into a national “intellectual clearing house” to be known as the American Negro Academy.

In a second essay (Du Bois, 1897b) delivered as a speech on November 19, 1897 before the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Du Bois focused mainly on the development of the newly emerging discipline of sociology.

The speech entitled “The study of the Negro Problem,” expanded upon his first essay and proposed the main sociological methods he sought to use in pursuing this line of inquiry: observation, research, and comparison. According to Du Bois, trained minds, such as the Talented Tenth, would be central in these studies and therefore, responsible for disseminating and conveying the results of these studies to the larger society via magazines, journals, newsletters, public lectures, and other media. This new approach to the issue of “the Negro Problem” would be addressed by black researchers already engaged in this line of inquiry, such as the Atlanta University Laboratory Studies by Earl Wright (2016).

The key to this research would have to be black researchers, as Du Bois believed white researchers lacked both the skills and objectivity to study blacks, a point emphasized by the use of foreign scholars, such as Gunnar Myrdal (1944), to study America’s racial problem.

In these two speeches, and through his focus on race and class, we see a profile of Du Bois the public sociologist. The key issue was the proviso highlighting the importance of accurate data, the understanding of that data, and the dissemination of information to black and white audiences by trained researchers and educators such as the Talented Tenth. Since dissemination of information was crucial, the information itself, and its interpretation would also be crucial.

In these two early speeches, we see the kernel of Du Bois’s vision for what a psychology addressing public issues of concern to a public should be and should accomplish; that is, address issues of great concern to one or more constituent groups on important local, regional, and national issues and problems. Having made information and data pre-requisites for social action and social policy, Du Bois set out to gather this information and data.

The Public Sociologist as Empiricist

Du Bois’s entry into the world of empirical research began while he was teaching at the University of Pennsylvania and working on a research project (August 1896-December 1897) designed to study the existence of and problems facing blacks living in the Seventh Ward of Philadelphia (Du Bois, 1967[1899]. This would be the first community study in the country, and Du Bois saw the opportunity to collect objective facts about blacks which, according to him, would stem the rampant disinformation circulating about blacks in the larger white community. The book, “The Philadelphia Negro (1967 reprint),” continues to serve as a model of early attempts at conducting fieldwork and survey research in a large urban setting.

During the course of his career, Du Bois also led four U.S. government funded research projects. In “Negroes of Farmville, Virginia (1898b),” we find a model for comparative research as it took place in a small rural town located in the south, providing both size and geographic location as comparatives. The three other studies included “The Negro in the Black Belt (1899),” “The Negro Landholder of Georgia (1901),” and “The Negro Farmer (1904).” Du Bois also conducted a fifth study in Lowndes County, Alabama 1906, but it was never published. Because the study was deemed counter to Booker T. Washington, it is believed to have been destroyed (Du Bois 1968). These studies were valuable tools in Du Bois’s intellectual and sociological arsenal as he sought ways to better study and understand the problems confronting blacks.

They also yielded data he would use throughout his life as he sought statistics to bolster his arguments related to the injustices being perpetrated towards blacks in society. This desire to unearth data as a reflection of social conditions, attitudes, and values, was an early feature of the public sociologist. With it, Du Bois sought to refute racial myths and misinformation. This early empirical stage in Du Bois’s academic and scholastic life did not merely reflect an orientation towards data and facts. It also reflected Du Bois’s faith and belief in science, the scientific approach, and scientific methodology as paths to social truths and social reality.

The Public Sociologist’s Use of Organizations as Insurgent Weapons

Du Bois viewed organizations as important strategic and tactical weapons in a subordinate group’s quest for equality and social justice. In his 1897 speech before the American Negro Academy, where he was to become the second president, Du Bois outlined the need for black organizations to serve as foundations for addressing community social and psychological needs. Du Bois saw the potential for these organizations to serve as home bases for collective action against a dominant white society. The Academy would be the first of many organizations either created by Du Bois, or joined by him, to launch a two-pronged strategy of attack. This strategy included creating a base for black community development and launching a frontal assault against the system of segregation and social injustice.

The Academy was an all-male organization; however, beyond excluding women, it also excluded the ordinary working man. For Du Bois, these exclusions were purposeful. He believed that the goals and objectives of the Academy would largely appeal to the educated, the Talented Tenth.

Du Bois believed, in the true spirit of the Luke theorem, that those blessed with intellectual talents and worldly possessions should be expected to give much in return. For him, this meant sacrificing time, energy, and even money to support their freedom. Just as Lenin (Lukacs, 1974) viewed the creation of the vanguard party organization as the main vehicle for organizing and coordinating the societal class struggle, Du Bois’s (1903) view of the Academy served as a vehicle to organize and coordinate the societal racial struggle.

Du Bois was also an organizer of the first national organization to address racial inequity, the Niagara Movement which restricted membership to fifty-nine black men. Created in 1905, the Movement failed and in 1910, the majority of its members, along with a few invited whites, formed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Both organizations were designed to confront and challenge discrimination and to set agendas for both black and white America on how to enact social policy to promote social and racial change. Du Bois played an activist-sociologist role or in other words, the public sociologist role in both organizations as he provided sociological insights on societal issues while demonstrating and petitioning as sociologist-citizen-activist. He played a similar organizational role internationally within the Pan-African Congresses.

Du Bois’s interest in the socio-cultural life of Africans and their links to Africans in America was first conveyed in his doctoral dissertation (1896). Keenly aware of the disconnect between Africans in Africa, the Caribbean, and North and South America, Du Bois, the public sociologist, actively engaged in creating and promoting economic, political, and cultural links between Africans on the continent and Africans in the diaspora.

Among the central themes in all of the congresses (Du Bois, 1940) was the challenge western colonialism and imperialism directed towards Africa, as well as towards Asia and Latin America. To develop and cement this relationship between the continent and the diaspora, Du Bois organized a series of Pan-African Congresses in 1919, 1921, 1923, and 1927 (Du Bois, 1940). These congresses were instrumental in setting the groundwork for the groundswell movement (Du Bois, 1965;1968) which resulted first, in the decolonization of India. In the 1950s and 1960s, the challenges posed by the various Congresses to the West’s commitment to democracy and freedom led to the almost complete decolonization of Africa. Du Bois’s role as scholar-activist-organizer was central to the success of the congresses just as it had been central to the success of the NAACP.

His tireless commitment and total devotion to the cause was unmatched. In essence, he was a one-man organizational unit, and the organization, and committed members, the Talented Tenth, served as weapons in the struggle. One could include in this section Du Bois’s use of magazines, periodicals, and newsletters, to get the message out to blacks and whites on issues of race because the creation of these outlets also requires organizational skills. Because Du Bois had little faith that whites would publish his views on race, he invested considerable time and energy on the development of media for blacks. These media outlets included: The Moon (1906); The Horizon (1907-1910); The Crisis, the house organ owned by the NAACP; The Brownie’s Book (written for children) 1920-1921, and later Phylon (1938), a review of race and culture, created at Atlanta University where Du Bois was a sociology professor. These periodicals were a part of his overall strategy to not only inform the public (both black and white) but to also shock the public into shedding old racial habits and adopting new ones.

The Public Sociologist as Creative Artist and Performer

Du Bois’s writings have always been characterized as having a “literary bent.” In “The Souls of Black Folk” (1903), the “Coming of John,” Du Bois uses allegory to highlight a racially charged story involving the death of white John by black John, and the eventual lynching of black John. Du Bois as public sociologist, sought every vehicle available to him to help move the issue of race and blacks and their life experiences, history, and culture forthrightly into the public square so that it could be accessible. Du Bois the poet-dramatist-creator (Du Bois, 1963; Freedomways, 1965; Agbeyebiawo, 1998), came alive through the poems “The Song of Smoke,” “A Hymn to the Peoples,” “Revelation,” “Almighty Death,” “The White Man’s Burden,” “Ghana Calls,” “Suez,” and the long epic poem, “A Litany at Atlanta.” These poems, and his pageant of the history of blacks from Africa to the New World, “The Star of Ethiopia,” were examples of how Du Bois sought to get the message to black audiences not only of the greatness of Africa but also of blacks in America. Importantly, he believed that blacks needed to be able to concisely define what and who they wished to be in relation to European-American people and culture. This was a call for cultural and social pluralism, rather than racial separation.

Du Bois the aesthete, also tried his hand at novels as a medium for telling the stories of black life from 1919 onward. The first of these novels was “The Quest of the Silver Fleece (1911).” Others followed, including “The Dark Princess (1928)” and the trilogy, “The Black Flame (1957).” With Du Bois the public sociologist as creative artist and performer, a clear picture emerges of the wide array of academic, scientific, and artistic tools he used in pursuit of his goal to convey the story of black life and black experience.

The Legacy of Du Bois as Public Sociologist

It is clear that Du Bois was the first public sociologist in our era. Like Karl Marx before him, the more we dig into the richness of his vast intellectual and scholastic treasure chest, the more we see and understand how driven he was to insert life into a seemingly moribund American society glued to some of the vestiges of its mixed good/bad society and its good/bad history. However, despite the ambiguities of the present and past, throughout his life, Du Bois seemingly sought to create a black Balzacian Comedie Humaine, portraying and analyzing almost every aspect of black life, culture, and experience in his poems, pageants, novels, short stories, historical studies, sociological research studies and essays.

 

Portrait of W. E. Burghardt Du Bois. Winold Reiss. Courtesy: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

 

Indeed, his contributions in these areas have been astonishing, a fact now recognized by the academic-scholastic-literary world. Volumes of books currently in print dissect his contributions in many areas of American and world history, including sociology, political theory, economics, literature, and even criminology, where he is now increasingly recognized by many as the first criminologist.

His record of devotion to public issues and problems in so many venues, his organizational strategies for collective change, and his prodigious and scholarly productivity over more than sixty years is nothing short of amazing, as is the tenacity with which he persisted. Du Bois was a public scholar, public intellectual, but above all, a public sociologist. This was conveyed by his analysis of issues and the solutions he sought for them. He continued to use his valuable sociological reasoning and logic long after he disengaged from and disavowed the discipline in its entirety – a discipline he, like Burawoy, loved, but ultimately denounced, as the profession increasingly moved away from its once great calling.

References

Agbeyebiawo, Daniel. 1998. The Life and Work of W.E.B. Du Bois. Accra: Daniel Agbeyebiawo.
Barzun, Jacques. 1965. Race: A Study in Superstition. New York: Harper and Row.
Burawoy, Michael. 2005. “For Public Sociology.” American Sociological Review 70: 4-28.
Du Bois, W.E.B. 1898a. “The Study of the Negro Problem.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 11(January) 1-23.
____ 1898b. “The Negroes of Farmville Virginia: A Social Study” Bulletin of the U.S. Department of Labor, Vol. 3(January, 1898) pp. 1-38.
____ 1899. “The Negro in the Black Belt. Bulletin of the U.S. Department of Labor, 647-777.
____ 1900. “The Negro Farmer” Special Report of the Census Office.
____ 1901. “The Negro Landowner of Georgia,” Bulletin of the U.S. Department of Labor, 647-777.
____ 1903. The Souls of Black Folk. New York: McClurg and Company.
____ 1911. The Quest of the Silver Fleece. Chicago: McClurg and Company.
____ 1928. Dark Princess. New York: Harcourt and Brace.
____ 1935. Black Reconstruction in America. New York: Free Press.
____ 1938. A Pageant in Seven Decades. Atlanta: Atlanta University Press.
____ 1940. Dusk of Dawn. New York: Harcourt and Brace.
____ 1957. The Black Flame-The Ordeal of Mansart. New York: Mainstream Publishers.
____ 1963. W.E.B. Du Bois: An ABC of Color. Berlin: Seven Seas Publishers.
____ 1965. “The W.E.B. Memorial Issue” Freedomways, Vol.5, No.1.
____ 1967. The Philadelphia Negro. New York: Schocken Books.
____ 1968. The Autobiography of W.E.B. Du Bois. New York: International Publishers.
____ 1969. The Suppression of the African Slave Trade. New York: Schocken Books.
____ 1970. “The Conservation of Races” Pp. 73-85 in W.E.B. Du Bois Speaks. Edited by Philip S. Foner. New York: Pathfinder.
____ 1985. “Contributions to the Negro Problems” in Against Racism: Unpublished Essays, Papers, Addresses 1887-1961 By W.E.B. Du Bois, edited by Herbert Aptheker. Amherst: University of Mass. Press.
Dennis, Rutledge M. 1995. “Social Darwinism, Scientific Racism and the Metaphysics of Race” Journal of Negro Education, 64: 243-252.
____ 1975. The Sociology of W.E.B. Du Bois. Ph.D. dissertation. Washington State University.
Green, Dan S. 1973. The Truth Shall Set You Free: The Sociology of W.E.B. Du Bois. Ph.D. dissertation. University of Massachusetts.
Lukacs, Georg. 1971. Lenin: A Study of the Unity of His Thought. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Mills, C. Wright. 1959. The Sociological Imagination. New York and London: Oxford University Press.
Myrdal, Gunnar. 1944. The American Dilemma. New York: Harper and Row.
Rodney, Walter. 1972. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. London: Bogle-L’Overture.
Wright, Earl. 2016. The First American School of Sociology: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Atlanta Sociological Laboratory. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate.

By Rutledge M. Dennis and Kimya N. Dennis

Return to May 2020 Issue

Racial Tug of War: The Enduring Conflict over Affirmative Action

In October of 2019, U.S. District Court Judge Allison Burroughs decided that Harvard College’s consideration of race in undergraduate admissions was constitutional. The decades long conservative-led legal challenges to affirmative action had finally landed at Harvard College. This was significant because the landmark Supreme Court decision in Bakke v. Regents of University of California (1978) upheld Harvard’s affirmative action as the ideal application of race-conscious admissions. This plan centered on holistic review, or the consideration of race amidst a broad range of factors—and with race not being the determining factor.

However, this challenge to affirmative action at Harvard differed from previous cases and the lawsuits launched by the same body, Students for Fair Admissions, and its parent organization, the Project on Fair Representation. In Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard College, conservative activist Edward Blum had selected Asian plaintiffs rather than White women, the preferred lead plaintiffs in anti-affirmative action cases since the early 1990s. In this case, Asian plaintiffs claimed that affirmative action, or the consideration of the race of underrepresented applicants—Black and Latino candidates—discriminated against Asians, violating their equal protection under the law.

Rather than motivated by an organic, sincere concern regarding anti-Asian discrimination in admissions—a legitimate matter considering the lower scores on subjective characteristics such as likability and courage of Asian applicants—it is important to consider this matter as yet another test case in challenging affirmative action throughout the field of higher education, with modifications made to federal court tactics. In my book, To Fulfill These Rights: Political Struggle over Affirmative Action and Open Admissions (Columbia University Press 2019), I consider these admissions policies as primary locations of race and class conflict in the post-civil rights period, and I examine a variety of tactics and racial political strategies utilized by conservative organizations to eliminate affirmative action and open admissions in a variety of local and national contexts.

Much literature on affirmative action centers debate over its moral implications, righteousness, and effectiveness. These works ask: is affirmative action actually reverse discrimination? Does affirmative action violate (ostensibly) meritocratic admissions? Does affirmative action disadvantage underrepresented students? Yet these works tell us little about why we are constantly hearing about a policy that is only implemented at selective, elite institutions and thus impacts a small percentage of college-educated American students.

Why has political conflict persisted so long and what does it tell us about racial politics in the post-civil rights period? To Fulfill These Rights answers these questions by analyzing fifty years of political contention over the adoption and rollback of affirmative action and open admissions (or open enrollment policies at less selective institutions).

Through political struggle, a variety of political actors (including conservative organizations and think tanks, liberal administrators and legislators, and progressive and radical students) uphold and challenge the racial common sense of post-civil rights America. In contrast to the Jim Crow period, in which outright racial domination primarily characterized the racial landscape, the conflictual racial logics of diversity and colorblindness play a particular role in consolidating power in the post-civil rights era. These racial logics have been primarily shaped through struggle over affirmative action, with conservative organizations aiming to assert colorblindness through the elimination of affirmative action, and with selective universities aiming to uphold the legally defensible practice of diversity on campuses, now a commodity that signifies a well-rounded, progressive education.

As the racial logic of diversity has been institutionalized in higher education and beyond (however vaguely and underspecified), conservative challenges to affirmative action have been met with considerable opposition. To Fulfill These Rights traces this highly publicized tug-of-war through attention to adoption and rollback of affirmative action at University of California, University of Michigan, and University of Texas-Austin, and open admissions in the senior colleges of the City University of New York system.

Thus, Edward Blum’s challenge to affirmative action at Harvard builds upon a long legacy of conservative-led federal court cases that aimed for a Supreme Court elimination of affirmative action across the nation. As civil rights activists mounted hundreds of legal challenges to “separate but equal,” culminating in Brown v. Board of Education which declared Jim Crow unconstitutional, conservatives appropriating civil rights legal tactics aim to chip away at affirmative action until the federal courts finally declare it unlawful.

While the consideration of race in admissions for the purpose of constituting diverse classes is still legal, conservatives have effectively restricted the means by which universities implement affirmative action, have legally elevated colorblind methods for achieving diversity, and have legally legitimated notions of White victimization by affirmative action. Tactically, Blum conflates Asian discrimination with perceived White victimization, as a means to overturn affirmative action at Harvard. Mobilizing the model minority stereotype, Blum pits the test scores of Asian applicants against those of Black and Latinx applicants, arguing that Black and Latinx students do not deserve admission. Yet research shows that Asian applicants with disproportionately higher test scores are admitted at rates lower than White applicants, demonstrating that Asians are held to higher standards than White students (Chin et al 1996; Kidder 2006).

Thus, even if affirmative action was eliminated, Asians would likely still be disadvantaged in admissions as compared to Whites, especially in elite universities where legacy status, wealth, and social networks play an important role in admissions.

Additionally, these anti-affirmative action lawsuits assume that admissions to elite institutions are (and have historically been) meritocratic, when, in reality, elite institutions have always developed admissions criteria in accordance to their own institutional priorities, rather than solely by grades and test scores (Karabel 2005). Universities are motivated to preserve affirmative action because diversity has become an important commodity, and also, because universities aim to maintain institutional autonomy.

By potentially limiting which students can be admitted, universities might lose the ability to target tuition-paying legacy students, wealthy donor families, and profitable student athletes. This is why, when a race-neutral admissions policy had been implemented in the University of Texas system (the Texas Ten Percent Plan) after an affirmative action ban, the University of Texas-Austin admissions director and university president still publicly rejected the policy. The new policy had been relatively effective at maintaining similar numbers of underrepresented students at the flagship institution (Thompson and Tobias 2000). To the university president and admissions director, the ban interfered with their ability to compose their classes, with the majority of the student body automatically admitted by being in the top ten percent of their high school classes. For this reason, elite institutions will always appeal legal decisions that reject their ability to consider race in admissions.

It is a contemporary example of what critical race theorists refer to as interest convergence—where Black interests in achieving racial equality are supported when it converges with the interest of Whites (Bell 1980). Here, the interest in maintaining affirmative action (originally developed as a means of desegregation) aligns with university administrators’ desire to maintain institutional autonomy.

As the Supreme Court currently leans rightward, and Donald Trump is still president, this is an advantageous time for an anti-affirmative action case to be heard in the highest court. Blum will appeal the Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard decision, and is also engaged in a variety of other anti-civil rights cases, including a challenge to affirmative action at the University of North Carolina, a challenge to the California Voting Rights Act, a challenge to minority representation on the Texas State Bar, and other cases in earlier stages of development. This is an important reminder that we cannot understand anti-affirmative action cases in isolation. These conservative challenges are part of a larger movement to limit civil and social citizenship in the neoliberal post-civil rights period.

References

Bell, D. A .J. (1980). “Brown v. Board of Education and the Interest-Convergence Dilemma.” Harvard Law Review 93, 3.

Chin, G. J., Cho, S., Kang, J., and Wu, F. H. (1996). “Beyond Self-Interest: Asian Pacific Americans Toward a Community of Justice.” Asian Pacific American Law Journal 4, 129–162.

Karabel, J. (2005). The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Boston: Mariner

Kidder, W. C. (2006). “Negative Action Versus Affirmative Action: Asian Pacific  Americans Are Still Caught in the Crossfire.” Michigan Journal of Race and Law11, 605.

Thompson, J. P., and Tobias, S. (2000). “The Texas Ten Percent Plan.” American Behavioral Scientist 43(7), 1121–1138.

By Amaka Okechukwu

Return to January 2020 Issue

Morris Rosenberg and DCSS’s Outreach to High Schools

Tomisin Fasosin’s paper in this issue, which extensively cites the research of Dr. Morris Rosenberg, is a wonderful example of the substantial contributions and continuing relevance of Dr. Rosenberg’s research focusing on the adolescent mind. Ms. Fasosin is a 12th grade student at Marriotts Ridge High School in Maryland, and she wrote her paper in fulfillment of requirements for independent research course taught by Mr. Paul Eckert, Resource Teacher at Marriotts Ridge High. In the fall of 2018, Ms. Fasosin reached out to the editor of The Sociologist for guidance in “researching in the field of sociology”. In many email and telephone conversations with the editor, Fasosin asked thoughtful questions about sociological research, and her paper reflects her budding skills as a sociologist. In 2019, the District of Columbia Sociological Society (DCSS), guided by the vision of Sally Hillsman, DCSS president, began an outreach program, in cooperation with the American Sociological Association (ASA), to engage High School students and teachers.

Dr. Morris Rosenberg is honored every year by the DCSS with an award in his name, presented to a sociologist with outstanding achievement in the field. It is therefore appropriate (and serendipitous) that DCSS’s outreach efforts to engage high school students and teachers coincides with a paper by a local high school student who found much relevance in research on the adolescent mind by Dr. Morris Rosenberg, and reached out to The Sociologist as an authoritative source.

DCSS’s nascent High School Outreach program builds on efforts by the ASA and its involvement with the National Council for Social Studies (NCSS), whose membership includes K-12 classroom teachers, university faculty, and curriculum designers. In 2018, ASA organized a half day symposium at the NCSS Annual Meeting in Chicago. The symposium consisted of three sessions: (1) Dr. Laura Beth Nielsen, from Northwestern University, spoke about hate speech and free speech in the classroom. (2) A representative from Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) gave a presentation on data literacy and ICPSR resources for teachers. (3) Two high school teachers (who are long-term leaders in the high school sociology community) shared lesson plans. At the 2019 NCSS Meeting in Austin, Texas, the ASA organized three sessions about (1) gun ownership and how to talk about guns in the classroom based on research by Dr. Harel Shapira at the University of Texas, Austin; (2) free data resources for elementary and secondary school teachers presented by Dr. Kevin Dougherty of Baylor University and Diego de los Rios of ASA; and (3) informational exchange on lesson plans.

During 2019, DCSS and ASA also made several attempts to reach out to several high schools in the Maryland suburbs and the District of Columbia.

It has been difficult to engage high school teachers and instructors because we believe there is little incentive for them to become involved with DCSS or ASA. The advantages of membership are not clear or even tangible to many high school sociology or social studies teachers and instructors. We have learned that many high school teachers do make long-term commitments to the discipline. Our outreach efforts are ongoing as we develop new strategies for engagement.

Return to January 2020 Issue

A Cultural Look on the Adolescent Mind

Culture and Self-Esteem

Multiple studies conducted by researchers in the field of sociology have revealed that culture’s moderation of self-esteem in adolescents is unlike its moderation in any other age group. The discrepancies across age groups can be supported by the fact that teenagers are impressionable at such a young age and lack secure identities (Bleidorn et al. 2016). Self-esteem is something all humans possess and are constantly striving to improve (Flynn 2003). It is important to look at self-esteem from a cultural aspect to pinpoint where adequate behavioral changes should be made to improve it. Not only do the behaviors, attitudes, and values of adolescent culture have a direct correlation with their self-esteem, culture undoubtedly fosters the development of an adolescent’s sense of self in society.

Culture moderates the level of self-esteem in an individual because it contains certain aspects of their lives, such as their values and beliefs, which become the forefront of how one measures their worth. Self-esteem is a holistic concept, and it is not only impacted from within, but by one’s surroundings as well. This social construct encompasses cultural values and how society places importance on those values (Louis 2014). It reflects the dominant values in any given individual’s culture (Becker, et. al 2016). Many professionals in the field of sociology, have researched the significance of one’s environment on the overall self-concept. The former Professor of Sociology at University of Maryland, Morris Rosenberg, often asked questions about how social life, daily interactions, and social structures all play a role in shaping who an individual is and wishes to be (Rosenberg 1965).

Culture contains all the factors that could play a role in developing one’s self-esteem including race, socioeconomic class, gender and age (Myers et al. 2011). Looking at the race aspect, African Americans generally receive personal self-esteem because of reflected appraisal from their community but receive a lower personal efficacy because of social and economic inequality. This reveals that race can influence the level of self-esteem. From a socio-economic aspect, a study of 918 early adolescents from lower and upper middle-class families in Colombia and Quebec was conducted on how they would fare on a self-esteem scale (Santo et. al 2013). Researchers found that the self-esteem of teenagers was affected by contextual factors like race, gender, familial background, and social class. These factors ultimately cause the discrepancies in self-esteem across cultures.

Self-esteem occurs when a person internalizes cultural values (Becker et al. 2014). Since all people are different in their own ways, the way they perceive the world and themselves in it will differ as well. The relationship between culture and self-esteem is critical in understanding its influence on adolescents. The environment of a teenager ultimately impacts how they perceive their worth because of different aspects of their surroundings.

When looking at self-esteem, one must consider the ever-growing adolescent mind. As the adolescent mind is underdeveloped, cultural differences have a substantial impact on the evolution of their psyche. In a study included in the Archives of Scientific Psychology, results showed that sociocultural differences actually moderate self-esteem across the ages. The presence of cultural differences was more prominent during adolescence than any other age period. (Helwig and Ruprecht 2017). “Adolescence can be a time of disorientation and discovery” as the adolescent experiences opposing ideals from many different environments (Tsui 2015). These environments represent the cultural clashes a teenager encounters as they grow older.

Adolescence

Since adolescence is a time of new and ever-changing experiences, one’s surroundings have the most impact on their values and beliefs. A study from the Journal of Adolescence tested early and mid-adolescents on how age impacted culture’s influence on self-esteem. Researchers noticed that culture’s influence decreased as their respondent’s age increased (Benish-Weisman et al. 2015).

They alluded to the fact that culture’s effect on an individual’s behavior is strongest during adolescence. Experts claim that their self-concept is still malleable; therefore, cultural pressures will have a larger impact on their development (Bleidorn et al. 2016). These pressures reflect biological and sociocultural influences placed upon young individuals.

It is interesting to analyze the behaviors of immigrant children or children of mixed race in particular, as cultural clashes in their lives are more apparent.

Immigrant children in the United States often face cultural differences in their multiple environments at school, home, and other areas. These all add up to cultivate their identity (Flynn 2003). A switch in environment will likely result in a switch in social constructs and values (Daniel et al. 2016), which is why most foreign children find themselves struggling to define themselves as individuals. Similarly, teenagers of mixed race often find themselves at ends with their self-concept. Racial categories have formed the basis of the identities of many, and “what” a person is seems more important than “who” they are (Tsui 2015). Value differentiation is the idea that helps us understand that the value a culture places on certain concepts can influence and cause discrepancies in self-esteem across adolescence (Daniel et al. 2016). Comparing these values can aid in determining the level of self-esteem exhibited within adolescents.

It is important to compare and contrast the differences across cultures surrounding adolescent self-esteem to get a closer look on how they impact the youth. Self-esteem might not be present in the same way in certain groups of people simply because it is not valued in the same way in their culture or environment (Daniel et al. 2016). This relates back to value differentiation; the idea that the importance a culture places on a certain idea will dictate how they perform on tests surrounding that idea (Daniel et. al 2016). Even certified tests like the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSES) might not be as effective because different cultures have various understandings of self-esteem and the overall self-concept (Gnambs et al. 2018). The RSES might not be as relevant to their cultures’ values or beliefs.

The paper Seeing Oneself Positively in Different Cultural Contexts compares Western cultures to Eastern cultures; the former values individual freedoms while the latter values conformity and tradition (Becker, et al. 2014). Western culture prides self-esteem as something everyone possesses and should constantly strive to improve (Flynn, 2003). In the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, studies revealed that adolescents of Eastern cultures like China, Japan, and India scored lower on the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale than their Western counterparts in the Americas or Western Europe.

The idea is that culture has such a large impact on adolescent self-esteem, that the beliefs or values of that culture can determine a teen’s perception of their worth. These concepts are fairly evident, but it will take more than facts to make a change. During adolescence, one’s self-esteem constantly fluctuates, and cultural differences have more of a presence at that time (Helwig, et. al). If one’s environment depletes one’s sense of self and accomplishment, one’s self-esteem will be low (Manning 2007).

In America, consumer culture of the modern era has altered the adolescent mind. The possession of popular commercial brands has a great impact on the modern adolescent’s self-esteem and how they feel they fit into society. This is just one of the many examples of how the values and social constructs associated with a group of people can alter the self-esteem of a young individual.

Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSES)

These examples should be more than simply identified; concrete information and data surrounding them should be collected. Surveys aid sociologists in gathering data from sample groups to create complex ideas involving prevalent topics in their environment. Questionnaires like the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSES) have helped spread knowledge about the presence of culture on self-esteem (Gnambs et al. 2018). The RSES comprises 10 questions with answers ranging from “Strongly Agree” and “Agree” to “Disagree” and “Strongly Disagree.”

A study from the Archives of Scientific Psychology utilized the RSES to reveal the relationship between cultural backgrounds and age when it comes to self-esteem (Helwig et al. 2017). Data from this study helped reveal that socio-cultural backgrounds actually moderate the presence of high or low self-esteem across age groups. Wellness models like the “indivisible self” promote positive behaviors in teens and unveil tools that will help improve their self-esteem (Myers, et al. 2011). Specifically, this model includes creative, physical, essential, social, and coping mechanisms for maintaining one’s self-esteem. If these models were distributed in schools across the country, and taught to students, its impact would be extraordinary. A scale was given to 18 individuals on a 3-part survey to rate the level of importance of different ways used to promote resilience. Significance was placed on the positive command climate. Placing importance on culture and positive environments will help promote positive self-esteem. Resilience is the capacity to cope with a crisis or recover from difficulties (Meredith, et al. 2011).

Most importantly, resilience promotes a positive self-esteem and self-concept. Another concept similar to resilience is hardiness. Created by Suzanne Kobasa, hardiness suggests that there are cultural buffers that affect self-esteem, and are directly related to one’s psychological resilience (Kobasa 1982). This concept confirms the influence of culture on self-esteem as it pertains to adolescents. It all goes to show that one’s environment, one’s culture, has a great impact on their personal resilience. Promoting resilience in teens utilizing these surveys and models will undoubtedly promote positive self-esteem and behavior in adolescents.

Survey and Results

For research purposes, I conducted a survey at my high school. The survey served to identify different cultural aspects of the target group, and it utilized self-conceptual statements to measure the level of self-esteem in my target group and how their environment impacted self-esteem. I asked demographic questions to get a feel for the target group, and then incorporated the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSES) to determine the level of self-esteem of the respondents.

There was a total 80 recipients: 67 were female and 13 were male. Regarding grade levels, 12 students reported to be in 9th grade, 52 in 10th, 14 in 11th, and 2 students in 12th grade. On average, many students had 4 to 5 people in their family. About 88 percent of students reported participating in after-school activities, and a majority claimed to take part in 2 to 3 activities. A majority of students felt that they possessed a number of good qualities, and only 8 percent disagreed with that statement. Over three-quarters of students feel positive about themselves and their abilities. Although this is good, there are many variances. Over three-quarters of students wish they could have more respect for themselves, and the same number of students feel useless at times. Over half of students feel that they are no good at all.

These differences support the claim that cultural aspects can lead to fluctuation in self-esteem. One’s gender, race, family size, and outside activities can all affect how they see themselves in relation to their peers and society. Now with this information, respondents will be able to analyze how their internalized values and outside activities can influence their self-esteem.

Conclusion

Not only does culture contain an individual’s familial background, it plays a role in the level of self-esteem in the adolescent. One’s physical, social, political, and economic environments shape how one sees themselves in society. There are many factors that influence an adolescent’s perception of their worth, and culture encompasses all of those factors.

Many journals and professional studies have highlighted the fact that the values teens internalize have a big impact on how they measure their worth. It is important to look at self-esteem from a cultural aspect because one can highlight certain differences that cause variations in it, ultimately allowing people to realize what a huge impact culture has on self-worth.

With my research, I now have a better understanding of the topic, and my own study supports the claim of some of the scholars. Promoting positive self-esteem creates a generation of socially conscious individuals who can grow together as a community. With collaborative coping mechanisms and avid discussions concerning cultural differences, adolescents will not only improve their self-esteem, but encourage others to as well.

Source: pixabay.com

 

Works Cited

“Adolescence.” Psychology Today, www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/adolescence. Accessed 5 Mar. 2019.

Becker, M., and Et. al. “Culture influences young people’s self-esteem: Fulfillment of value priorities of other individuals important to youth.” Seeing Oneself Positively in Different Cultural Contexts. Science Daily, doi:10.1177/0146167214522836. Accessed 10 Dec. 2018.

Benish-Weisman, Maya, et al. “Multiple Social Identifications and Adolescents’ Self-Esteem.” Journal of Adolescence, vol. 44, Oct. 2015, pp. 21–31. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2015.06.008.

Bleidorn, Wiebke, et al. “Age and Gender Differences in Self-Esteem—A Cross-Cultural Window.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 111, no. 3, Sept. 2016, pp. 396–410. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1037/pspp0000078.supp (Supplemental).

Daniel, Ella, et al. “Value-Differentiation and Self-Esteem among Majority and Immigrant Youth.” Journal of Moral Education, vol. 45, no. 3, Sept. 2016, pp. 338–353. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/03057240.2016.1204273.

Flynn, Heather Kohler. “Self Esteem Theory and Measurement: A Critical Review.” Self Esteem Theory and Measurement: A Critical Review, vol. 3, no. 1, Nov. 2003. ThirdSpace, journals.sfu.ca/thirdspace/index.php/journal/article/view/kohler-flynn/164. Accessed 5 Oct. 2018.

Gnambs, Timo, et al. “The Structure of the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale: A Cross-Cultural Meta-Analysis.” Zeitschrift Für Psychologie, vol. 226, no. 1, 2018, pp. 14–29. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1027/2151-2604/a000317 (Supplemental).

Helwig, Nathaniel E., and Mark R. Ruprecht. “Age, Gender, and Self-Esteem: A Sociocultural Look through a Nonparametric Lens.” Archives of Scientific Psychology, vol. 5, no. 1, July 2017, pp. 19–31. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1037/arc0000032.supp (Supplemental).

Hughes, Michael, and David H. Demo. “Self-Perceptions of Black Americans: Self-Esteem and Personal Efficacy.” American Journal of Sociology, vol. 95, no. 1, 1989, pp. 132–159. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2780408.

Kobasa, Suzanne. “Hardiness.” Research Gate, Jan. 1982, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232539170_Hardiness_and_Health_A_Prospective_Study. Accessed 25 Mar. 2019.

Louis, Laetitia. “Culture influences young people’s self-esteem.” CNRS, 13 Feb. 2014, www2.cnrs.fr/sites/en/fichier/cp_estime_de_soi_mb_ang.pdf. Accessed 4 Jan. 2019.

Manning, Maureen A. “Self-Concept and Self-Esteem in Adolescents.” Student Services. Semantics Scholar, pdfs.semanticscholar.org/5367/523293360cf1fd39a4da7a7f4e7e27bfcbaa.pdf. Accessed 15 Jan. 2019. Excerpt originally published in Student Services, Feb. 2007.

Meredith, Lisa S., et al. “Literature and Expert Review to Identify Factors That Promote Resilience.” Promoting Psychological Resilience in the U.S. Military, RAND Corporation, 2011, pp. 11–30. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.7249/mg996osd.10.

Myers, Jane E., et al. “Promoting Self-Esteem in Adolescents: The Influence of Wellness Factors.” Journal of Counseling & Development, vol. 89, no. 1, Winter 2011, pp. 28–36. EBSCOhost,proxy-bc.researchport.umd.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,url,uid&db=buh&AN=58488114&site=eds-live&scope=site.

“Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale.” Self Report Measures for Love and Compassion Research: Self-Esteem, edited by Fetzer. Fetzer Institute, Fetzer, fetzer.org/sites/default/files/images/stories/pdf/selfmeasures/Self_Measures_for_Self-Esteem_ROSENBERG_SELF-ESTEEM.pdf. Accessed 1 Oct. 2018.

Santo, Jonathan Bruce, et al. “Factors Underlying Contextual Variations in the Structure of the Self: Differences Related to SES, Gender, Culture, and ‘Majority/Nonmajority’ Status During Early Adolescence.” Journal of Research on Adolescence (Wiley-Blackwell), vol. 23, no. 1, Mar. 2013, pp. 69–80. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/j.1532-7795.2012.00793.x.

Tsui, Bonnie. “Choose Your Own Identity.” New York Times, 14 Dec. 2015, www.nytimes.com/2015/12/14/magazine/choose-your-own-identity.html. Accessed 4 Oct. 2018.

“What is Culture?” YouTube, uploaded by LiveScience, 2 Aug. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=fL5WzpuvXfY. Accessed 22 Oct. 2018.

By Tomisin Fasosin

Return to January 2020 Issue

Oppressive Societies and Social Justice Warriors: Conversation With Joe R. Feagin

On January 2, 2020, The Sociologist (TS) interviewed Dr. Joe R. Feagin, Distinguished Professor in sociology at Texas A & M University. Professor Feagin has done much internationally recognized research on U.S. racism, sexism, and urban political economy issues. He has written 73 scholarly books and 200-plus scholarly articles. His books include Systemic Racism (Routledge 2006); Liberation Sociology (3rd ed., Paradigm 2014); White Party, White Government (Routledge 2012); The White Racial Frame (2nd ed., Routledge 2013); Latinos Facing Racism (Routledge 2014); How Blacks Built America (Routledge 2015); Elite White Men Ruling (Routledge, 2017); Racist America (4th ed., Routledge 2018); and Rethinking Diversity Frameworks in Higher Education (2020). He is the recipient of the 2012 Soka Gakkai International-USA Social Justice Award, the 2013 American Association for Affirmative Action’s Arthur Fletcher Lifetime Achievement Award, and three major American Sociological Association awards: W. E. B. Du Bois Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award, the Cox-Johnson-Frazier Award (for research in the African American scholarly tradition), and the Public Understanding of Sociology Award. He was the 1999-2000 president of the American Sociological Association.

TS: What are the most important insights you can share from your distinguished career?

Joe Feagin: Probably the most important one is in regard to sociological research and analysis on the deeper realities of highly oppressive societies like the United States. Sociology as a discipline has probably done more to uncover the surface cover-ups and concealing of the underlying realities of this country than any other academic discipline. At least, a critical progressive stream in sociological research and analysis has done that. But too much mainstream sociology, especially since the 1930s or so, has moved in the direction of instrumental-positivism and emphasized statistical methods, and focused on too narrow subjects so that people can get grants from mainstream grant agencies.

I think the main insight I have gained over the years from my own research, and the critical research of many other sociologists, is just how deeply and foundationally oppressive this country is, in terms of systemic racism, systemic classism, systemic sexism/heterosexism. We have very deep foundational realities of oppression that are covered up regularly by the mainstream media, by churches, by political and educational institutions, and by other societal means that elite white men at the top of society generally use to maintain oppression today.

TS: Did you say churches, as in religious institutions?

Joe Feagin: Yes. The original intellectuals in this country—when you go back to the 1600s when slavery was being built into our country—were mostly clergymen. Jonathan Edwards, for example, the famous evangelical 17th century preacher, and many others like him, worked to rationalize slavery. And they really started the broad white racial framing I write a lot about, which on the one hand sees white people as superior and virtuous, and on the other hand views black Americans and Native Americans as inferior racially and unvirtuous. They often framed this thinking in Christian religious terms, even before there were explicit “race” categories during the 1600s; early on, they preferred to talk about “uncivilized savages” referring to black people being brought as slaves and the Native Americans being killed off on the move westward.

The English colonists who founded what became known as Jamestown mostly considered themselves Christians. They considered themselves civilized. They considered the people they encountered, the Native Americans, as uncivilized and un-Christian. So, the first racialized framing really was in religious terms. They considered themselves virtuous Christians, and in their minds, they were encountering unvirtuous, uncivilized others. Pretty soon, in 1619, the white colonists in Jamestown bought about 20 Africans off a Dutch-flagged pirate ship. For the first decade or so, some of those early enslaved workers could work themselves out of slavery, but after that, pretty quickly, by about 1650, most black people were enslaved, including the children of those who had come earlier. The white colonizers also bought into the old religious myth about Ham, Noah’s son—that Ham had looked upon a naked Noah and had not covered him up, and thus Ham was cursed by Noah. It is a myth developed outside the Bible. The myth makes Ham an African, and Africans, later on, as inferior and justly punished with suffering. So, being enslaved is God’s just and divine punishment. And this is just one racist narrative, one myth whites used to justify slavery that was built into that dominant white racial frame.

They also took negative words like “black” from a deeper, older European tradition, and soon they started describing Africans negatively as “black,” with ministers like Reverend Samuel Purchas making color-coded references to what soon became the “races.” So, you have the leaders of the European colonists, who were often ministers, crafting this first white racial framing of Native Americans and Africans. To some degree, they import ideas from cultures in Europe. And then you get this color-coding that is imposed on everybody by the white leadership. If you go back into English culture, the term black is used in a lot of negative ways—the devil is black for example in Christian theology, and the angels are white. Other religious ideas are used to justify the killing of Native Americans.

And now, to the question of sociology. I would say sociologists have done a lot to help us understand racial mythologizing and racism generally; we have greatly developed ideas of prejudice and stereotyping. But the reason I started talking about white racial framing is that it is a broader way of looking at this oppression in terms of the racist interpretations, racist ideology, and racist emotions as well.

The white racial framing is more than just prejudice, which is just one key feature in rationalizing oppression. You’ve also got to add into that white framing the racist interpretations, narratives, and the emotions and racist imagery.

TS: How has sociology improved our world?

Joe Feagin: I think we have created more social justice warriors than just about any other academic discipline. By the way, social justice warriors should be a good term, but it has become a very negative term used by the alternate-right, by white supremacists, by white nationalists these days. Yet, earlier critical thinker-activists like David Walker, Harriet Martineau, W. E. B. Du Bois, Anna Julia Cooper, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and many others were social justice warriors. Thinking about sociology, it is amazing that numerous black civil rights leaders have been sociologists—they have been sociology majors, or they took a lot of sociology courses.

Dr. Martin Luther King was a sociology major at Morehouse. With a strong sociological bent, Ida B. Wells-Barnett did the first systematic study of lynching called The Red Record; she was attacked and threatened many times for her anti-lynching activities. Her printing press was destroyed because whites didn’t like what she was writing. Du Bois, one of the first black sociologists, did very important race-critical analysis. Oliver Cromwell Cox, a brilliant African American sociologist—who was trained at the Chicago School by white sociologists but became very critical of them on racial matters—wrote the first thorough and extended study of institutional and systemic racism (in his book Caste, Class and Race). I think one of the very good things sociologists have done for this society—both mainstream and more critical public sociology—is to bring the subterranean reality of racial oppression (and other oppressions) into the light of day.

TS: In terms of racial and ethnic relations, do you think the United States is moving closer to the diversity within unity ideal or are we moving closer to the American apartheid?

Joe Feagin: I would say the situation is like two trains on the same track headed toward each other. On the one hand, you have a large proportion of white Americans that has always been white nationalist—holding onto strong ideas of white supremacy, holding onto the extreme versions of the white racial frame. Generally speaking, the Republican Party, especially since the Reagan era, has become the white party in America, and it has attracted whites who hold these strong white nationalist, supremacy views.

For a while in the 1980s and 1990s, the extreme white supremacy ideas held by many whites were expressed mainly in the all-white backstage—that is, for the most part, at that time, many whites would not openly tell aggressively racist jokes or make aggressively racist statements in the more public frontstage. But since about the George H. W. Bush era, more whites have become willing to express openly and aggressively white nationalist, supremacist ideas.

This happened because of the fear of more aggressive civil rights enforcement and the browning of America. The other train coming down the same track is the non-white demography train.

The demography train will happen no matter what. It is simply that each year the white percentage of the population goes down. And since most whites are not trained to value multi-culturalism, and most whites do not have an honest understanding of white racism, and most whites do not understand what it is like to be black or Latino/a in this country, it is easy for whites to be fearful, isolated, and afraid. They believe that once people of color are in power in the country, they will do to white people, what white people have done to people of color. That is not likely. California is a very good example of the change that’s coming.

When I was a young professor there, the state was conservative, now it is one of the most liberal and progressive states. There is a minority of whites who do not mind a multiracial, multicultural society. Then you have a great many whites now becoming more openly racist. Little has really changed for the latter whites, except their openness. The demography train that is coming down the track has already arrived in California, in New York state, and in Texas.

TS: What are the problems of group identity (hyper-group identity), when it comes to fostering inter-community relations?

Joe Feagin: There’s a long conversation there. I think back on the role of sociology. Sociologists have been kind of at the forefront (together with psychology) in dealing with racial identity and ethnic identity issues. A lot of that work has focused on self-chosen identities—the identity that people choose themselves, how they see themselves. Much less research, analysis, and theory has been done on imposed identities. These are identities that are imposed on you by people with greater power and the ability to do that. Within a racial-ethnic group (and this is true of racial identity groups), there are often ethnic divisions in terms of national origin; it is certainly true for whites.

However, people of color run into the reality that white people have disproportionate power that allows them to impose racial identities. That’s the problem of identity politics in this country. Now, the most important identity politics is what we don’t talk about, it is white identity politics. That is what white nationalism is about. When whites talk negatively about U.S. identity politics in reference to people of color, they are really indirectly featuring white identity politics.

TS: Who is your hero or mentor; who has inspired you?

Joe Feagin: Sadly, I have never had very good mentors. At least, not since the 7th grade. And that was true in college and in graduate school. I think (and this might be a bit arrogant) one of the things I do well is academic mentoring; I have learned how to do that pretty well, because I have not had good mentoring. I had some partial mentoring, but rarely. At Harvard, Gordon Allport was the closest to being a mentor; he was in his last faculty years, but he helped me get some modest research funding as a student. He was a kind and generous man, and one of the founders of modern social psychology.

Most of the people who have inspired me a great deal have been scholars and scholar-activists in the black critical tradition, like Du Bois especially. When I started reading Frederick Douglass and other black critical thinkers as a graduate student and young faculty member in the 1960s—for example Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture), and many others—they had a profound influence on me. The 1960s and early 1970s were a very dynamic time for critical sociologists. Lots of critical sociology analyses, a lot of it outside of mainstream sociology.

And a lot of the (especially younger) sociologists of various backgrounds were beginning to read critical analyses of racism, classism, sexism. Kwame Ture’s book with Charles Hamilton (Black Power) dealing with institutional racism had a major effect on my research. And when I got to know about and study some of the early women sociologists, like Jane Addams and Harriet Martineau, I began to understand just how systemic sexism also was in this country.

I also had a political economist friend who got me to read Karl Marx for the first time in the 1960s. When I was in graduate school taking social theory classes, Marx was a non-person. My theory class had Durkheim, Weber, but no Marx. Talcott Parsons was a towering figure then at Harvard; and George Homans was my theory professor. Neither had any use for Marxist ideas and analysis.

I had one little course on the sociology of the Soviet Union, where Marx was at least mentioned and that was the only place I encountered Marx’s ideas during my undergraduate and graduate school years. You know, that was at the tail end of severe McCarthyism, which pretty much wiped out much Marxist thinking in universities. These historical and contemporary scholarly and activist figures were not personal mentors, but they have had powerful intellectual influences on me and my research over the years.

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