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Feb 23, 2018

Today is the 150th anniversary of W.E.B. Du Bois’s birth. To mark this occasion, I interviewed Du Bois scholar, Dr. Tony Monteiro.

In this conversation, Dr. Monteiro talks about the year long project he and his colleagues launched in Philadelphia including a weekly radio show on WURD, where works of Du Bois are read. As part of The Year of Du Bois, Dr. Monteiro has helped form Du Bois reading groups throughout the city at historically Black churches such as Mother Bethel AME Church and The Church of the Advocate—to name just two.

The significance of Du Bois in our times is also explored. Dr. Monteiro talks about Du Bois’s methodology and why his work focused on solutions to the pressing problems of his time and why this continues to be relevant today. In addition, Dr. Monteiro describes why Du Bois insisted on an analysis of problems that wedded sociology and philosophy, as well as discussing why Du Bois focused on the Black working class.

Of particular interest to Beyond Prisons listeners would be the discussion of the special police force that Du Bois describes in his writings. On Du Bois’s poetics and social science in the Souls of Black Folk, Dr. Monteiro says,  “Humanity cannot be reduced to quantitative, or statistical or other types of variables. There is the immeasurable…” and this is, in part, why reading Du Bois is such a wonderfully rich and rewarding experience. There is much to be learned from reading Du Bois and this episode helps to highlight some of Du Bois’s most significant contributions, providing insight into why his work continues to be relevant.

My interest in Du Bois’s work began many years ago when I was a grad student searching for a way to make sense of the problems of mass incarceration, and particularly reentry. I would read Du Bois and even taught the Souls of Black Folk in my classes. Under the guidance of Dr. Monteiro, I expanded my understanding of Du Bois and began to make connections between what I was working on (prisons and reentry) and Du Bois’s sociology, philosophy, poetics, and phenomenology. Trained as a policy analyst, I found Du Bois’s work brought something to the understanding of social problems that was missing from policy analysis.

In my own writing, I describe the approach to the study of problems in public policy analysis and criminology as being rooted in methodological fetishism, which is the tendency within disciplines to esteem a single model/methodological approach. In public policy analysis the preferred/esteemed approach is cost-benefit analysis. In my view, this limits the possibility of critical inquiry—that is, it limits our understanding of social problems and doesn’t address the how or why, but focuses only on the what. Du Bois’s approach upsets this tendency because he drew upon empirical sources, and worked to understand the inner life world of Black people—thereby moving beyond quantitative analysis. This is why we chose to invite Dr. Monteiro back to the show and why reading Du Bois matters to us here at the podcast.

We’ve put together a very short list of readings and links that listeners might find useful:

  1. The Year of Du Bois:
  2. The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study by W.E.B. Du Bois:
  3. The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois:
  4. Some Notes on Negro Crime, Particularly in Georgia:
  5. The Souls of White Folk:
  6. Darkwater: Voices from within The Veil:
  7. Du Bois 150th Festival:
  8. Outlaw, L. T. (2000, March). W.E.B. Du Bois on the Study of Social Problems. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, The Study of African American Problems: W.E.B. Du Bois's Agenda, Then and Now, 568, 281-297.
  9. Monteiro, A. (2007). W.E.B. Du Bois and the Study of Black Humanity: A Rediscovery. Journal of Black Studies, 607.
  10. Monteiro, A. (2011). Race and the Racialized State: A Du Boisian Interrogation. Journal of the Research Group on Socialism and Democracy Online, 26(2).
  11. Katz, M. B. (2000, March). Race, Poverty, and Welfare: Du Bois's Legacy for Policy. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, The Study of African American Problems: W.E.B. Du Bois's Agenda, Then and Now, 568, 111- 127.
  12. Gordon, L. R. (2000, March). Du Bois's Humanistic Philosophy of Human Sciences. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, The Study of African American Problems: W.E.B. Du Bois's Agenda, Then and Now, 568, 265- 280.

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Music & Production: Jared Ware