say their names: ida b. wells and the humanizing of data

The following is a guest post by Allen Hillery.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett was an American investigative journalist, educator and early leader in the civil rights movement. Born July 16, 1862 she dedicated most of her life combating prejudice and violence with the goal of achieving African-American equality. She researched and documented lynching in the United States in an attempt to bring awareness across the country and the world. Using data, she exposed the increasing use of lynching of African American men following the emancipation proclamation. 

Continue reading “say their names: ida b. wells and the humanizing of data”

what about du bois? a response to prasad’s critique of emancipatory sociology

The following is a guest post by Rory Kramer.

I highly recommend Monica Prasad’s recent piece in Socius advocating for problem-solving sociology as our era’s pragmatism. I cannot emphasize enough how smart it is and how much I love the idea of pragmatism as an escape from philosophical debates that are fun to have late at night, but more often than not lead nowhere in terms of getting stuff done. And I think the examples at the end, like Aliza Luft’s work on genocide, are great examples of sociology done well and summarized in the piece fantastically.

To try to summarize a complicated, in-depth piece in a quick paragraph or so (please read the whole thing), Prasad convincingly identifies three themes in how sociologists conceptualize the goal our work: rationalist, skeptic, and emancipatory. The rationalist studies for the sake of knowledge itself—the ultimate and exclusive goal of study is to understand society, regardless of whether or not society improves (or gets worse) thanks to that knowledge. The emancipatory studies for the sake of improving society—arguing that we should search for knowledge to create a better society, else it be squandering our efforts. The skeptic questions both whether or not sociology and academic discourse itself is at all useful, merging in some ways the critiques of rationalists toward emancipation and emancipatory scholars’ critiques of rationalist inaction into an almost meta-analysis of why and how we study and how that explains why reason is inadequate both as a driver of social change and as a means toward truth.

Continue reading “what about du bois? a response to prasad’s critique of emancipatory sociology”

lovecraft and american history behind the veil

H.P. Lovecraft was an influential science fiction/fantasy and horror author in the early 20th century United States. His popularity has been on the rise for some time now, with his work and ideas featured in everything from board games to TV shows. My morning walk to the office in Providence passes though H.P. Lovecraft square, and monuments to him litter the East Side of Providence where he lived.

Lovecraft was also a massive and unapologetic racist. And his racism was not somehow an incidental and unrelated aspect of his persona, it was central to the themes of his work: xenophobia, fear of the unknowable other, threats to civilized men lurking at the edges of the Earth, and so on. Recognition of Lovecraft’s racism has led to two interesting and parallel kinds of reevaluations: on one hand, trying to remove him from a pedestal like a Confederate monuments (e.g. in 2015 the World Fantasy Award was changed to no longer resemble Lovecraft) and, on the other, producing a set of modern “Lovecraftian” works that explicitly reject his racism and xenophobia and re-read his works in that light. Two notable projects are Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country, a book and then TV show that offers a kind “Get Out” rereading of Lovecraft where the real horror is racist white people, and Ruthanna Emrys’ Innsmouth Legacy series, so far containing a pair of novels that reimagines a classic Lovecraft story by connecting it to the internment of Japanese Americans in WWII and retelling that story from the perspective of the marginalized racial others whom Lovecraft so feared.

What I want to do in the rest of this post is, in that spirit, offer a re-reading of a fairly popular Lovecraft quote (from the opening “The Call of Cthulhu”) through the lens of Du Bois’s understanding of the veil to make sense of a recurrent dynamic in discussions of American history. First, here’s the quote:

Continue reading “lovecraft and american history behind the veil”