Book Theme: Shifting the Paradigm

This section presents challenges to the supposedly stable categories of classical theory by introducing the work of critical race, feminist, and postcolonial scholars, beginning with an essay looking at how the digital divide shapes the knowledge we find on the internet (“Webs of Knowledge in the Digital Divide”). The essay asks readers to consider questions about the social contexts of knowledge creation, and how unequal access to what we know and, more fundamentally, how we know about reality helps perpetuate social inequality and injustice. We set the stage with selections from two foundational scholars of race and feminist theory: W. E. B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk and Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. Additional excerpts include Frantz Fanon’s powerful work on the racial discourses of colonialism, a selection from Edward Said’s groundbreaking Orientalism, Michael Omi and Howard Winant on racial formation in the contemporary United States, Dorothy Smith’s work on feminist standpoint theory, and Patricia Hill Collins’s brilliant work on black feminist epistemology. Each of these contemporary theorists continues to unpack the place of lived experience and oppression in shaping social life and social theory, just as Du Bois and de Beauvoir did decades earlier.


Writing Out Loud

Souls of Black Folk

In The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois examines how it felt to live as a black man in the early twentieth century US. This concept of double-consciousnesscaptures how people experience racism at the interpersonal level. After reading the excerpt, answer the following questions.

Shifting the Paradigm

Second Sex

Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex remains a foundational work of feminist theory. It reads as more philosophical than many of the other classic works of social theory, but, like DuBois’s Souls of Black Folk, the power of the reading comes through in Beauvoir’s reflexive writing about her own experiences. In the introduction to her book included here, Beauvoir describes how being a female and being a woman is not necessarily the same thing. Answer the following questions after completing the reading.

Shifting the Paradigm

Black Skin, White Masks

Frantz Fanon’s two most important works–Black Skin, White Masks and Wretched of the Earth–contain some of the most powerful prose you may ever come across in a social theory class. In Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon looks at the insidious role language plays in the subjugation of the colonized. Answer the following questions after completing the reading.

Shifting the Paradigm


Edward Said’s depiction of how Western literature, art, and scholarship perpetuates a systematic prejudice toward Asia and the Middle East in Orientalism remains a foundational piece of postcolonial theory. The selection in Social Theory Re-Wired is from the introduction to the book, but we recommend picking up the whole text when you get a chance. Ponder the following questions as you move through the excerpt.

Shifting the Paradigm

Conceptual Practices of Power

In The Conceptual Practices of Power, Dorothy Smith turns positivist social theory on its head by introducing the concept of standpoints. As you read the selection, think back to the classical theorists that you have read so far. Do their theories hold up under Smith’s critique? Answer the following questions after completing the reading.

Shifting the Paradigm

Black Feminist Thought

Collins’ powerful work challenges us to rethink what we think we know not just about race and gender, but also about knowledge itself. As you read this selection from Black Feminist Thought, reflect on how Collins is using the lived experience of Black women to challenge the dominant epistemologies of many classical theorists you’ve read, and then answer the following questions.

Shifting the Paradigm

Go’s Postcolonial Thought and Social Theory

Go argues for a subaltern approach to studying the social world--that is, one rooted in the experiences of people who’ve been oppressed and marginalized. After reading through Go’s argument, please respond to the following:

Shifting the Paradigm

Race After Technology

Benjamin examines how technology--which we often think about as inevitably making society better--can actually perpetuate some of the worst aspects of society, including inequality. After completing the reading, please respond to the following questions.

Shifting the Paradigm

Interactive Readings

Supplementary Sources

Test Materials

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