February 2009 Issue Volume 37 Issue 2

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Re-Stating the Significance of the DuBois Distinguished Scholarship Award

This is the first in a series of three articles about ASA’s named awards.

by Mary Pattillo, Northwestern University

To fortify our collective memory, it is important that we continuously share the stories of collective action and progress. Many members do not know why ASA’s highest award for scholarship is named after W.E.B. DuBois. The answer is that ASA members organized to recognize this founder of American sociology and champion of engaged scholarship. In May of 2006, the proposed name change was put before the full membership for a vote. The proposal succeeded and the award was renamed. Below is an article that originally appeared in the May/June 2006 issue of Footnotes, which provides background on this preeminent scholar and details the merits of the proposal. A scholarly analysis of DuBois’s significance to sociology by Aldon Morris also appeared in the ASA edited volume, Sociology in America: A History. For more information on the award, see www.asanet.org/cs/awards.

"Background on Proposed Name Change for ASA’s Distinguished Scholarship Award," Footnotes, May/June 2006

by Aldon Morris, Michael Schwartz, Mary Pattillo, Dan Clawson, Cedric Herring, Howard Winant and Walter Allen

We believe that the proposal to rename the ASA Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award after W.E.B. DuBois is an idea whose time has come. Indeed, we collected more than 600 signatures in less than a month from ASA members who endorsed the change [to W.E.B. DuBois Career of Disinguished Scholarship Award]. Signatures were received from two-thirds of the ASA Council, 13 ASA presidents and the last four winners of the current award. It is fitting that a vote of the entire ASA membership will now determine whether this important change will be enacted.


W.E.B. DuBois

DuBois’ work has taken on enhanced prominence because American scholars appreciate his body of thought as a key tool for understanding the globalizing world, and because in other countries, DuBois has long been recognized as the pre-eminent American sociologist. His foundational ideas are current in many areas, including social psychology, stratification, race relations, social change, and world systems. His pioneering empirical work has established methodological trajectories in a wide array of fields. As a result, DuBois is one of the most cited sociologists of all times.

But there is an additional reason why DuBois’ name is appropriate for the ASA’s highest award. DuBois made an impact on the world through his writings and his efforts to bring insights to bear on key social problems. And throughout his life, these efforts bore fruit: in the formation of the NAACP, the creation of The Crisis Magazine, and his pivotal work that helped lay the foundation for the independence of Africa and Asia. DuBois’ scholarship and activism established him as the consummate public intellectual. He fought for the rights of people of color worldwide, for women and worker’s rights, Jewish freedom, a peaceful world without nuclear weapons, and global democracy.

We believe that renaming the award is to de-racialize excellence and provide an opportunity for members to claim their multicultural intellectual heritage. There is a growing sense in the profession that we need to project a coherent image to the broader public we seek to inform. Other social sciences send out key intellectual messages by naming prizes after appropriate figures: the highest award in Political Science is named after James Madison; Anthropology’s highest award is named after Franz Boas. The W.E.B. DuBois Award would send a message that connects sociology with the intellectual and social currents associated with DuBois.

Renaming the award sets the standard for a distinguished sociological career at the very highest level of achievement. Because this would not be one award among many, it would most closely approximate our ideal of what a sociologist can achieve. By naming this award for W.E.B. DuBois, we reinvigorate our sense of what’s possible in sociology and vivify our discipline. Because this change cannot be made lightly, it is to be decided by the entire ASA membership.

With this change, we would be asserting that DuBois’ legacy is the ongoing business of sociology; that we have a professional commitment to the values of social justice, egalitarianism, and human freedom. These values have sometimes lifted our field to its highest level of influence, enabling us to identify, as DuBois did, with human emancipation, democracy, and peace. Can we embrace that identity again? logo_small


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