UC Research Explores W.E.B. Du Bois s Contribution to Sociology

University of Cincinnati researcher Earl Wright II, professor of Africana Studies and affiliate faculty of sociology in the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences, is presenting at the 110th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association on his research and provide an explanation for the causes of the sociological marginalization of the contributions of W.E.B. Du Bois and the Atlanta Sociological Laboratory.  

Wright’s research presentation, titled "Why and How the Sociological Canon Excludes W.E.B. Du Bois and the Atlanta Sociological Laboratory," looks at the contributions by W.E.B. Du Bois-led research program at Atlanta University to the discipline of sociology, contributions which have not been fully recognized. 

As a graduate student at the University of Memphis, Wright conducted research on the history of urban sociology in the United States. While completing this research, Wright discovered information suggesting that this area of specialty was first entered into by sociologists at the University of Chicago in 1915. 

However, it was Du Bois’s book, “The Philadelphia Negro,” which set the foundation for the study of urban sociological study in the United States. This work was published in 1899, predating the work conducted in Chicago. Upon realizing this discrepancy, Wright began to question why Du Bois’s work was not recognized while that of the Chicago sociologists was. 

This discovery prompted Wright to begin researching Du Bois’s activities at Atlanta University between 1897-1913. Wright quickly found additional information supporting the notion that Du Bois’s works, not those at Chicago, should be recognized as the first urban sociological studies conducted in the U. S. and that Du Bois’s research laboratory at Atlanta University made additional substantive contributions to sociology, specifically, and the social sciences, in general.    

Through his research, Wright found that the Atlanta Sociological Laboratory, the moniker bestowed on the Du Bois led program of social scientists engaged in sociological inquiry at Atlanta University between 1895-1917, was the first program in the nation to institutionalize use of the “outsider researcher,” the first in the nation to institutionalize the “public acknowledgement of the limitations of one’s research,” and the first program to institutionalize “method triangulation.”


 These are all now commonly accepted practices in sociology and the social sciences. But, Atlanta University scholars are not given credit for ushering in its institutionalization. Additionally, Atlanta University was the first to engage in institutionalized programs of research in the areas of “urban sociology” and “sociology of the south.” Unfortunately, the scholarship conducted by this collection of scholars has yet to receive the recognition it deserves.


Wright hopes that his research may help encourage others to discover the contributions of early and excluded women sociologists, or other early scholars who were marginalized because of sexual orientation or nationality, sociologists whose accomplishments are ignored, as Du Bois’s Atlanta works. 

“Hopefully, this project will encourage others to question the history and origin of the discipline in the United States,” Wright said. “My desire is to see a more holistic and truthful account of the origin of the discipline in this country.” 

A detailed account of the research accomplishments of Du Bois's Atlanta Sociological Laboratory can be found in Wright's forthcoming book, “W.E.B. Du Bois and the Atlanta Sociological Laboratory: The First American School of Sociology,” to be published by Ashgate Publishing Company in spring 2016.

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