Theses Doctoral

Beyond the Negro Problem: The Engagement between Literature and Sociology in the Age of the New Negro

Richardson, Erica Nicole

In Beyond the Negro Problem, I explore the engagement between black literature, black expressive culture, and sociology from the 1890s to the 1930s in order to consider the possibilities for imagining black social life that emerge through discoursive innovation during a time period of violent constraint. During this period, which followed Emancipation and the failure of Reconstruction, the struggle for black life or assimilation into American society was consolidated, examined, and contemplated as the so-called Negro problem. The Negro problem was a pervasive reality and metaphor that both black authors and social scientists grappled with. I argue that black leaders and intellectuals use different forms of sociology in their writing to respond directly to narratives of black social pathology and to imagine black life beyond the status of being a problem. In each chapter I explore a different engagement of sociology and literary production and each time find that the formations of black possibility that emerge are predicated on issues of gender and sexuality because the predominating foreclosing narratives about black social life tend to gravitate toward these same issues. Moreover, the racial knowledge about African American culture produced by sociology at the onset of modernity is acutely gendered. As my project details, a major consequence of these authors dismantling that racial knowledge is that they envision gendered possibilities that exceed the Negro problem itself.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Thesis Advisors
Hartman, Saidiya V.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 21, 2018