This year marks several honors for UC Press author and distinguished sociologist, Aldon Morris—including recognition as the incoming 2021 ASA President and the W.E.B. Du Bois Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award. Yet these honors are no exception to Morris’ prolific and prestigious career, from winning the ASA’s Distinguished Scholarly Book Award in 1986 for The Origins of the Modern Civil Rights to publishing his masterful The Scholar Denied, which won several “best book” prizes and awards for scholarship. The recent short documentary about his life, Aldon Morris: The Scholar Affirmed, provides a better account of his accomplishments than we can here.
As an experienced activist and race scholar, Morris has also contributed to the recent public conversations on systemic racism, with this op-ed in Scientific American.
We’re honored to call Morris a UC Press author. For the virtual ASA 2020 conference, we reached out to ask Morris about his recent honors, the public conversations around BLM and racial justice, and the important role of activism in sociology.
UC Press: You’ve written the widely-acclaimed book The Scholar Denied and fought to have W.E.B Du Bois’ intellectual contributions, which were historically marginalized, recognized as foundational to the field of Sociology. How did it feel to receive the W.E.B. Du Bois Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award and be recognized as part of his legacy?
Aldon Morris: When I led the successful movement to change the name of the American Sociological Association most distinguished award to the W.E.B. Du Bois Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award, I had no expectation that I would one day win the award. That possibility was simply out the question for me. Naturally, it gives me great pride to have won the Du Bois award for an outstanding career of scholarship. The award definitely represents a high point in my career. The Du Bois award is a confirmation that Du Bois’ work constitutes scholarly excellence of the first rank. Thus, having written The Scholar Denied gives me great pleasure. I am elated over the scholarly impact my book is having in sociology, the social sciences, and the humanities. It was very important to me personally and professionally that Du Bois’ work be elevated to canonical status in sociology because it is foundational and needs to be examined today for what it can teach us during one of the most challenging and troublesome times in human history. I am honored to be a part of the great Du Boisian legacy and to play a role in extending it.
UC Press: As an award-winning scholar who has contributed vital work to the sociological study of social movements, politics, and race, what does the recent mainstream public attention to and support for the Black Lives Matter movement say to you? How do these public conversations around racial justice and equity parallel (and potentially impact) Sociology as a discipline?
Aldon Morris: The Black Lives Matter movement demonstrates that relatively powerless people can initiate social change by organizing and participating in socially disruptive grassroot social movements. The Black Lives Matter movement has shifted mainstream public attention to the deep-seated racial inequalities in America and around the world. It has led masses of people to demand racial change and we are witnessing some change occurring, especially at the cultural level. Discussions are underway about how to achieve systemic change at the structural level as well. This is astounding given that just a few months ago, most Americans did not consider race to be a crucially important issue. Sociology is the branch of the social sciences that has studied social movements and revealed their potential to generate social transformation. The current movements provide new opportunities for sociology to continue its quest to illuminate how social movements constitute a distinct power that under certain conditions can overthrow oppression and liberate humanity.
UC Press: You have a long history as an activist. What is the role of activism in sociology?
Aldon Morris: The role of activism in sociology should be an emancipatory one. To be relevant and a great social science, sociology must study and unravel the very logic of systems of domination and how they can be dismantled so human freedom can become reality. Sociology was born for the purpose of understanding modernity and how it both threatened humanity and provided it with new productive material and cultural resources capable of nourishing the drive for people to be free and able to pursue their greatest and creative potential. If sociology is to be great, it must embrace and project this classic mission.
UC Press: What book is on your nightstand right now?
Aldon Morris: Jose Itzigsohn and Karida L. Brown’s The Sociology of W. E. B. Du Bois: Racialized Modernity and the Global Color Line and Christopher A. McAuley’s Max Weber, W. E. B. Du Bois and the Politics of Scholarship The Spirit vs. the Souls.