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GENTILE, Francesca R

Summer 2017, 47.2, pages 131-157

Marketing the Talented Tenth: W.E.B. Du Bois and Public-Intellectual Economies

Abstract: This essay assesses W.E.B. Du Bois’s response to Booker T. Washington based on the economic principles structuring public-intellectual intervention in social crisis. Arguing that public-intellectual work relies on ethos-driven rhetorical engagement that conflates the public intellectual and his conceptual intervention as a single product to be marketed, I recontextualize the debate between the two thinkers in order to account for the intersection of their discursive activities in terms of competing public-intellectual models. While Washington relied on a closed-market model that situated him as the spokesperson for an otherwise silent black community, Du Bois worked to create opportunity for deliberation among a number of black publics, and Du Bois’s more democratically minded rhetorical modeling offers a version of public-intellectual work that resonates with the needs of the current moment.


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