A talk by Michael Burawoy, “Decolonizing the Canon: The Significance of W.E.B. Du Bois

A talk by Michael Burawoy, “Decolonizing the Canon: The Significance of W.E.B. Du Bois

January 27, 2023

Event Description: 


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.



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 (2010-2017); and co-chair and secretary of the Berkeley Faculty Association (2015-2021).

For an amusing account of his research see Jeff Byles' article in the Village Voice, "Tales of the Kefir Furnaceman."


Recent and Forthcoming Publications

The Making of Black Marxism: The Complementary Perspectives of W.E.B. Du Bois and Frantz Fanon. (Forthcoming in The Oxford Handbook of W.E.B. Du Bois)

The Necessity of Real Utopias.(Global Dialogue, 2022)

Reflections on Critical Engagement." (In Critical Engagement with Public Sociology, 2022) 

Walking on Two Legs: Black Marxism and the Sociological Canon (Critical Sociology, 2022)

Public Sociology: Between Utopia and Anti-Utopia (Polity Press, October 2021)

Pour un Marxisme Sociologique (with Erik Wright) (Les éditions sociale , October 2021)

The State of US Sociology: From Crisis to Renewal   (Critical Sociology, 2022)

Why is Classical Theory Classical? Theorizing the Canon and Canonizing Du Bois (Journal of Classical Sociology 2021)

Decolonizing Sociology: The Significance of W.E.B. Du Bois  (Critical Sociology, 2021)

Living Sociology: On Being in the World One Studies  (Annual Review of Sociology, 2021)

Return to Fanon (Contexts 2021)

Going Public with Polanyi in the Era of Trump. (The Routledge International Handbook of Public Sociology, 2021).

Living Theory: Reflections on Four Decades of Teaching Social Theory in Constructing Social Research Objects edited by Hakon Leiulfsrud and Peter Sohlberg (2021)

Public Sociology under Covid-19. Preface to Covid-19: An Epochal Social Change edited by Paolo Diana, Giovannipaolo Ferrari, Pietro Dommarco (2021) (Italian)


This talk is organized by Hyun Ok Park, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Korean Office for Research and Education (KORE) at York University.

This in-person event is presented by the Korean Office for Research and Education (KORE) at York University, which is funded by the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS). This talk is co-sponsored at York University by the Department of Politics, Department of Sociology, Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change, Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, Graduate Program in Sociology, Graduate Program in Social and Political Thought, Marxist Studies in Global and Asian Perspectives, Office of the Vice-President Research & Education and the York Centre for Asian Research.


For more information: kore@yorku.ca || https://kore.info.yorku.ca/