Research Programs: Fellowships for University Teachers

Period of Performance

1/1/2007 - 6/30/2007

Funding Totals

$24,000.00 (approved)
$24,000.00 (awarded)

Essays on the Political Thought of W.E.B. Du Bois

FAIN: FA-52293-06

Lawrie Balfour
University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA 22903-4833)

This project asks how W. E. B. Du Bois’s understanding of the relationship between slavery and American democracy illuminates political challenges of the post-civil rights era. Written between the turn of the twentieth century and the dawn of the modern Civil Rights Movement, Du Bois’s work exposes connections between the persistence of racial inequality and Americans’ difficulty in reckoning with history. His political thought offers a distinct lens through which to examine the idea of "We the People," for it explicitly locates African American experiences at the heart of American history and gauges American achievements from that perspective.

Media Coverage

Battling with Du Bois (Review)
Author(s): Kwame Anthony Appiah
Publication: New York Review of Books
Date: 12/22/2011
URL: http://

Author(s): Frank M. Kirkland
Publication: Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
Date: 11/11/2011
URL: http://

Associated Products

Democracy's Reconstruction: Thinking Politically with W. E. B. Du Bois (Book)
Title: Democracy's Reconstruction: Thinking Politically with W. E. B. Du Bois
Author: Lawrie Balfour
Abstract: DEMOCRACY'S RECONSTRUCTION: THINKING POLITICALLY WITH W. E. B. DU BOIS considers how Du Bois’s treatment of the relationship between slavery and the prospects for American democracy speaks to contemporary political dilemmas. Over the arc of his career, Du Bois strove to understand the meanings of freedom, equality, leadership, citizenship, and democracy with the slave trade, slavery, and colonial conquest in sight. Consigning these aspects of the past to oblivion, he demonstrates, goes hand in hand with consigning the relatively powerless to a kind of civic death. I explore Du Bois’s efforts to counter such a fate by crafting a usable past from unspeakable loss. My interpretation of Du Bois's political thought highlights three interconnected themes: Du Bois’s idea of a present-past, his explorations of black exemplarity, and the global reach of his political imagination. Each chapter highlights one of these themes and focuses on a central text or texts from Du Bois's corpus to suggest why and how revisiting Du Bois’s work makes a particular kind of political critique possible in the present.
Year: 2011
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: In Democracy's Reconstruction, Lawrie Balfour challenges a longstanding tendency in political theory: the disciplinary division that separates political theory proper from the study of black politics. Political theory rarely engages with black political thinkers, despite the fact that the problem of racial inequality is central to the entire enterprise of American political theory. To address this lacuna, she focuses on the political thought of W.E.B. Du Bois, particularly his longstanding concern with the relationship between slavery's legacy and the prospects for democracy in the era he lived in. Balfour approaches Du Bois as an intellectual resource, applying his method of addressing current problems via the historical prism of slavery to address some of the fundamental racial divides and inequalities in contemporary America.
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: SBN13: 9780195