Date: 20 Sep 2012

Public Intellectuals, Online Media, and Public Spheres: Current Realignments

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Abstract

The phenomenon of public intellectuals (PIs) continue to be debated, as their status and significance evolve under changing historical circumstances. I suggest PIs still play an important role in democracies, despite alterations in their circumstances, activities, and practices. While most of the familiar questions remain, it is important to take into account a number of changes that impact on PIs, their situation, and their activities. I explore the contingencies that make possible, as well as delimit and alter, the phenomenon of PIs in contemporary democratic societies. The discussion is organised around three sets of evolving circumstances in which PIs are inexorably embedded: the structural setting of mediated public spheres, with a particular emphasis on the online sector; the dynamic realm of practices associate with online civic participation more broadly; and lastly, the cultural and political climate of democratic societies confronted by serious dilemmas. The interface of these circumstances is ushering PIs into a new historical phase, where the web obviously looms large yet where the contours are still taking shape. These circumstances put new demands on PIs.