W.E.B. Du Bois is a celebrated academic today for his work. Notably, Du Bois performed research at University of Pennsylvania leading to his landmark study “The Philadelphia Negro,” which is widely studied in sociology and public health fields today for its introduction to the idea of social determinants. Another widely known work is the publication of “The Souls of Black Folk.” Du Bois is also known for his work as an American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist and professor at Atlanta University.
The birth of sociology is widely contested in the field as the discipline continues to change and adapt over the years. “The Scholar Denied” offers the perspective that sociology stems from a limited perspective that encouraged western ideology about colonialism and race. Aldon D. Morris frames an argument where Du Bois is opposition to this perspective and altered sociology through academic means.
Morris takes writing from Du Bois and contrasts them with popular ideology at the time, mostly by Booker T. Washington and Robert Ezra Park, a ghost writer for Washington. Washington believed that ex-slaves and the future of the black race in America could only succeed through productivity by manual labor. Washington’s theories supported colonialist ideology that benefitted the post-Civil War society and were therefore accepted and encouraged by society.
Du Bois disagreed with Washington and encouraged education in the black community. This disagreement led to a feud with Washington, which would exclude him from conferences with his white peers and arguably facilitate underfunding of Du Bois’ work at Atlanta University. Du Bois in turn wrote additional pieces problematizing sociology as a discipline due to his peers’ focus on creating structural law that agreed with society in order to gain respect within the science field at the time.
Morris also highlights the relationship between Du Bois and Max Weber, who met each other in Germany while Du Bois was still a student. Arguably, Du Bois’ time in Germany altered his ideology and later work by introducing different societal structures surrounding race and inequality than those in the United States. Although Weber started out as Du Bois’ professor, they were only four years apart and became more like peers than student-and-professor. They both studied agrarian culture and believed that social structure was not eternally fixed, an idea opposed and marginalized by Washington and Park.
Morris focuses on the relationships Du Bois had throughout his career to emphasize the effect he had on thinking and ideology in his time period. Despite being marginalized and often underfunded, Du Bois continued to create groundbreaking research and ideology that shaped the entire field of sociology. The book brings up substantial findings on the foundations of sociology, which lead to questions about the discipline today. Elitism in academia is a driver in many fields and might disguise itself in different ways: the prestige of a university name, the number of degrees a researcher has and overall experience are often influencers on how research is received by the academic community.
Aldon D. Morris is a professor of sociology at Northwestern University and an award-winning scholar, with interests including social movements, civil rights and social inequality. Morris was elected President-Elect of the American Sociological Association and will serve as the 112th President in 2021. The ASA meeting this year will be held in San Francisco. The meetings theme, “Power, Inequality and Resistance at Work,” largely reflects the ideas presented in “The Scholar Denied” by exploring inequality in the 21st century.
“The Scholar Denied,” though published in 2015, is still being widely discussed within sociology and other fields influenced by Du Bois. His work continues to spark new thinking and questions even 57 years after his death. “The Scholar Denied” is a great book for anyone in fields influenced by W.E.B. Du Bois or anyone who is inspired by the substantial and groundbreaking work done in his career.