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SOCIOL 2S06 (310)
David Young (301)

Du Bois

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McMaster University
David Young

Du Bois April-04-13 6:53 PM The Theoretical Ideas of Du Bois A) Theoretical Orientation 1) Theory and Society - he never presented an overarching theory or society - he distrusted the grand theory produced in the 19Th C - Du Bois' work was quite different from Marx, Weber and Durkheim as these theorists did write about overarching theory and were interested in grand theory - on the other hand, Du Bois was much more interested in developing theory that focused on specific issues and problems in society - therefore, his work was similar to the work of Simmel (looking at smaller aspects of society) 2) Theory and Research - he was not interested in deduction --> uninterested in taking theoretical ideas and testing them against empirical observations - he was interested in induction --> begin with empirical observations and then develop theoretical ideas 3) Theory and Practice - similarity to Marx, Du Bois did not distinguish between theory and practice --> uninterested in theory; only interested in developing sociological theory as a way of advancing political practice - Du Bois thought that theoretical ideas make it possible to understand social reality --> once we understand social reality, we can move toward social change 4) Theory and Interests - connected theory to his interests through Racial Inequality, Race Relations, and Social Change - early in his career, Du Bois thought that theory derived from research could destroy the ignorance on which racism was built --> he thought this research could alter beliefs and attitudes -- talking about changing ideas in society which will lead to social change [this is similar to Social Feminists -- social reform] - later in his career, he came to realize that economic interests shaped class and race relations --> realized that these capitalist interests would be too large to overcome by simply changing beliefs and attitudes through changing ideas because race and racism are embedded in society --> he came to the view that theory had to provide the basis for drastic political action B) Empirical Studies - Du Bois proceeded through induction to conduct a bunch of empirical studies which led to the development of theoretical ideas 1) The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study This book was published in 1899 - he utilized a large number of methods to study blacks in Philadelphia but mainly used Ethnography (a type of field research that involves providing descriptions of people and culture - he interviewed blacks in 2,500 households in Philadelphia (with the help of assistants) -> the aim of his study was to try to develop theoretical ideas that countered existing theoretical ideas about the circumstances facing blacks in the US 2) Existing Theoretical Ideas - came from white social theorists and white historians - essentially, these ideas suggests that there was something wrong with blacks - the ideas were that the unfortunate economic position of blacks was explained in terms of the supposed inferiority of blacks - it was argued that freed slaves lacked the skills, the experience and the intelligence to make wise choices and to take advantage of the new economic opportunities that freedom brought them [this is an individual problem -- their fault for the situation that they're in -- not a problem with just black people --> these were the kinds of ideas that Du Bois wanted to challenge with his research because this is what white social theorists were claiming 3) Du Bois' Study a) Empirical Data - Du Bois found that blacks in Philadelphia had steadily improved their lives after they were given emancipation in the late 1700s --> these blacks had started churches, schools, and small businesses; they had also entered the trades and the professions - Du Bois' empirical data countered the claims for white social theorists - Du Bois, however, did find evidence of various problems experienced by blacks --> run down housing, high crime, illiteracy, unemployment, excessive alcohol use, broken homes, low pay, bad health, early death, poverty, and gambling * whites were stereotyping blacks as mostly or typically being associated with these kinds of problems BUT Du Bois found that this is not why it spread: he found that while these problems existed, they were not typical problems --> they were contained in some way and only a relatively small number of blacks who experienced these problems -- Du Bois wanted to understand the causal factors of these problems b) Causal Factors - Du Bois argued that the problems experienced by some blacks stemmed from the organization of society rather than racial inferiority - he identified 3 causal factors to help explain these problems i. The Legacy of Slavery: in the American South, there was an issue with slavery -- the legacy of slavery limited the opportunities of many black immigrants from the South (after they were free, they went North but this legacy limited their opportunities) as their former treatment as slaves did not prepare them well for work in the industrialized North ii. Competition for Jobs: the competition between blacks and whites for jobs in the North -- competition with whites really limited the job opportunities for blacks -- employers had a
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