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Public intellectuals in the age of academe: the inside opportunities for outsider specialists

Marinetto, Michael John Paul ORCID: 2009. Public intellectuals in the age of academe: the inside opportunities for outsider specialists. Presented at: 2nd Global Conference on Intellectuals: Knowledge, Power, Ideas,, Budapest, Hungary, 8-10 May 2009. pp. 460-474.

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Public intellectuals are relics: they belong to the past and are not evident in the present-day firmament. So has been the argument of several both left and right wing commentators writing since the 1980s. They lament a professed, rather than empirically tested, decline of independent thinkers, outsiders even, who communicate with a general audience and who seek to undermine the status quo through their ideas. The supposed disappearance of intellectuals from public life is attributed, in part, to the development of modern universities in the post-war era. As universities expanded, so did the opportunities for academic career progress and such professional advancement is largely peer-controlled in universities. Hence, academics write not to be generally read but to build academic empires. And the best way of creating such empires – based as they are on the quantity of publications – is create highly specialised disciplinary fields and rely on jargon-laden prose, which can only be appreciated (or deciphered) by those of like-mind and standing. The argument that public intellectuals have been in decline seems to resonate with the times. Yet, there are grounds for a more sanguine reading of the public intellectual’s fate. The paper does not rely on a naïve Pollyanish optimism that glosses over the institutional pressures facing professional academics today. At the same time, it does not retreat into Spenglerian gloominess about the long-term prospects for public intellectuals. The paper will consider how academics can, and do, create a public niche. This may come at a cost, that of being professionally marginalised, but for any self-respecting intellectual such outsider status should be embraced. An example of the professional outsider in academe is the German sociologist Georg Simmel – whose professional life is a model lesson to all university academic with intellectual aspirations. In addition, the type of public intellectual that operates within university institutions is less the universal intellectual, as represented by the likes of Jean Paul Sartre, than the specific intellectual. A good example of this type of specific intellectual is Slavoj Žižek – the renowned Slovenian philosopher and cultural analyst. Žižek operates within a specialist academic field (Lacanian studies) and appeals to a select audience (the middle-class intelligentsia). Yet, he is still committed to public engagement and the transformation of capitalism.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Business (Including Economics)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Last Modified: 19 Oct 2022 09:55

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