Du Bois' Theory of Work and Striving

18 Pages Posted: 25 Aug 2014

Date Written: 2014


This essay considers WEB Du Bois’s views on work. Examining not only his major writings like Souls of Black Folk and Darkwater, but also his early sociological writings, it places him in the wider context of Progressive theorists of the work ethic. It argues that this overlooked aspect of DuBois’s writing actually formed an important conceptual foundation of his democratic thought. The essay analyzes three specific concepts: striving, self-respect, and freedom. For DuBois, striving was a particular attitude toward labor, a desire to realize one’s individual talents in service to black Americans. This type of work would rectify the larger problem of double-consciousness, creating instead self-consciousness and self-respect. At the same time, his theory of freedom ultimately was a tragic one, acknowledging that systematic political change was unlikely. In short, the essay contends that DuBois saw striving as the primary democratic practice of an excluded people. It concludes with a discussion of the role of ideas about work in the continued exclusion of black citizens from American democracy.

Suggested Citation

Winkelman, Joel, Du Bois' Theory of Work and Striving (2014). APSA 2014 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2453552

Joel Winkelman (Contact Author)

Hamilton College ( email )

198 College Hill Road
Clinton, NY 13323
United States

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