Learning and organising for social transformation: Lessons from WEB Du Bois and Jane Addams

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This article examines the potential for critical theories to contribute towards social transformation through a process of popular education that supports learning and organising. Theory can create a platform of understanding across different communities that are resisting social injustice. This can enhance opportunities for translocal learning to catalyse social transformation at scale. Too often, however, academic theories remain disconnected from contemporary struggles for social justice – and as a result their contribution to social transformation is diminished. Therefore, we must reconsider how critical theories develop. Pragmatism is a philosophical tradition that builds theory through social action. It can guide a methodological infrastructure through which to best develop practice-led theory. I will explain how a critical pragmatist approach, anchored in participatory research, is more likely to generate theories that are both resonant to conditions of injustice and relevant for social transformation. The methodological innovations of early 20th century scholars WEB Du Bois and Jane Addams illustrate the key dimensions necessary for a critical pragmatist approach. Du Bois’ contestation of structural problems and Addams’ commitment to participatory experimentalism can inform an effective approach to these issues. In so doing, the article outlines key foundations for a philosophy of social inquiry to support learning and organising about social transformation. The ideas presented in this paper also contribute to debates about how to re-imagine the civic purpose of the academy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)353–362
Number of pages10
JournalMethodological Innovations
Issue number3
Early online date11 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2022


  • Jane Addams
  • Social transformation
  • WEB Du Bois
  • critical theories
  • pragmatism


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