Who is a theorist, and who gets to say?

According to Edles and Appelrouth a theory is “a system of generalized statements about phenomena.” (E&A 3) A theorist is a person who provides explanations for how and why society functions through a specific idea or concept. They look for a way to clarify general ideas and statements about an aspect of social life and provide evidence for these very occurrences. These theories tend to be critical and are rooted within moral assumptions which help to provide an understanding of the workings of our societies. Another important aspect of the work a theorist does is to account for the inevitable changes a society goes through and explain these through individual behaviors and what reasons are responsible for the changes.

Based on this evidence I believe that W.E.B Dubois is a social theorist and provides important insight on race and society. He set out to explain the intertwined dimensions of race and class, but his ideas and theories were largely ignored and not highly respected. One of the reasons that he is rejected as a theorist is because “he did not write explicitly about the big theoretical questions on such as the nature of action or social order.” ( E&A 327) His focus was largely centered on the African American communities and individuals and sought to explain the actual social conditions in which they lived. Based on earlier evidence of what constitutes a theorist, here Dubois is attempting to provide an explanation for a way a type of society functions through the specific concept of race. His concern with the intersection of race and class is explored through empirical research and the lived experience which is reflected in his writings The Philadelphia Negro, The souls of black folk and The souls of white folk.

The Philadelphia Negro was the first major sociological study of an African American community which focuses on empirical findings about the social conditions of African Americans in a community in Philadelphia. This study looks in depth at the severe social structural conditions that are faced in the African American communities. In his most famous work, The souls of black folk he writes in a more approachable style because he believed that empirical data alone wouldn’t provide enough insight into the problems African Americans faced. Dubois believed that this wouldn’t convince the white Americans of the true racial discrimination and thus wouldn’t bring about the change that he felt was vital to improve the societal conditions for African Americans. In both of these works it is clear that he is in fact a theorist and explores these ideas of social life in the context of race in hopes of producing a social change.

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