W. E. B. du Bois and the Critique of the Competitive Society by Douglas Andrew J.;

W. E. B. du Bois and the Critique of the Competitive Society by Douglas Andrew J.;


Author:Douglas, Andrew J.;
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: University of Georgia Press
Published: 2019-08-14T16:00:00+00:00

Though these remarks were crafted and published some eighty years ago, they could pass as biting criticism of the neoliberal academy in the twenty-first century.50

William Watkins has noted that “the Social Reconstructionists never claimed Du Bois, nor did he claim them,” but “they were undeniably linked by virtue of their history, pedagogy, and views on the nature of society, Socialism, and reform.” Watkins has noted, too, that the “Reconstructionists” were not blind to race, that “their larger work suggests an interest in the ‘Negro question’ and specifically the education of Blacks.”51 In one notable piece published in the Social Frontier, an essay entitled “The Problem of Minorities,” the pioneering sociologist Margaret Mead spoke, if only in passing, to the driving theme of our analysis. “Race prejudice rages most fiercely,” she said, “in those areas of society where economic competition is the strongest and in those periods of depression when economic anxiety is the deepest.”52 So Du Bois was not alone in his thinking about progressive education; his emphasis on planning, on the trope of “social reconstruction,” bore the markers of its time, discernable traces of a broader Depression era intellectual milieu. But Du Bois’s insistence that “the American Negro problem is and must be the center of the Negro university,” that “plans for the future of our group, must be built on a base of our problems, our dreams and frustrations,” lends a distinctive gravity to the kind of critique that Du Bois sought to institutionalize. And, as I have tried to suggest here, we can learn something about the nature of this critique by studying the way that Du Bois makes his case for its institutionalization. The rhetorical mode of the charge—the charge to the graduates, we might say—taps into a speculative dimension. In its necessary “vagueness,” this speculative gesture underscores the irrationality of the inherited world and its competitive form, and also the subsequent need not to accommodate this inheritance, but actively to negate it.


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