Decolonizing the Canon: The Significance of W. E. B. Du Bois

Friday, 27 January 2023 | 14:30 to 16:30 EST | Room 519, FIfth Floor, Kaneff Tower | York University

With Michael Burawoy, Department of Sociology, University of California at Berkeley

Decolonization is spreading across academia, but it’s happening at different rates in different disciplines in different countries.  I shall be focusing on sociology, but the arguments may apply to neighboring disciplines. Our discipline is in flux, posing the question as to what to do with our peculiar canon. I consider four alternatives:  restoration, rejection, revolution or reconstruction.  I will argue for reconstruction, a view that is tied to particular theory of the canon, namely: it is foundational, it is historical, it is geographical and it is relational. The canon has changed over the last 50 years facing the critique of feminism and the incorporation of Marx. It not only changes overtime but is also appropriated and reconstructed differently in different countries. In the United States, today, a major challenge comes from W.E.B. Du Bois. This requires us to put him into dialogue with Marx, Weber and Durkheim. Broadly conceived, Du Bois’ work goes through three phases: a Durkheim phase, an anti-Weber phase and a Marxist phase.  Recognizing the development of Du Bois’ ideas in the reconstruction of the sociological canon transforms our vision of science toward: an explanatory science with a global and historical perspective on racial capitalism; a moral science with a utopian dimension, a reflexive science that positions the scientist within the world they study, an interdisciplinary science that recognizes boundaries in order to cross them; a public science that forces sociology out of its academic cocoon and into the public arena.

Register in advance for this in-person event at this link.

This talk is organized by Hyun Ok Park, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Korean Office for Research and Education (KORE), presented by KORE, and co-sponsored by the following York University units: Department of Sociology, Department of Politics, Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, Office of the Vice-President, Research & Innovation, Graduate Program in Sociology, Graduate Program in Social and Political Thought, the Marxist Studies in Global and Asian Perspectives (MSGAP) Initiative, and the York Centre for Asian Research.

Michael Burawoy is a Professor of Sociology at the University of California at Berkeley. He has been a participant observer of industrial workplaces in four countries: Zambia, United States, Hungary and Russia. In his different projects he has tried to illuminate — from the standpoint of the working class — postcolonialism, the organization of consent to capitalism, the peculiar forms of class consciousness and work organization in state socialism, and, finally, the dilemmas of transition from socialism to capitalism. Over the course of four decades of research and teaching, he has developed The Extended Case Method that allows broad conclusions to be drawn from ethnographic research. The same methodology is advanced in Global Ethnography, a book coauthored with 9 graduate students, that shows how globalization can be studied “from below” through participating in the lives of those who experience it. No longer able to work in factories, he turned to the study of his own workplace – the university – to consider the way sociology itself is produced and then disseminated to diverse publics. His advocacy of public sociology has generated much heat in many a cool place. Throughout his sociological career he has engaged with Marxism, pursuing its reconstruction in the light of his research and, more broadly, in the light of the historical challenges of the late 20th and early 21st. centuries. Most recently he has been studying the life and work of W.E.B. Du Bois with a view to his significance both for sociology and for Marxism. He has been president of the American Sociological Association (2003-4); president of the International Sociological Association (2010-14); founding editor of the magazine, Global Dialogue (2010-17);  and co-chair and secretary of the Berkeley Faculty Association (2015–21).