Skip to main content

Tensions Within the Public Intellectual: Political Interventions from Dreyfus to the New Social Media

Abstract

Drawing loosely on positioning theory, this article proposes two new claims about intellectuals and their public engagement. Firstly, we argue that the modern notion of the intellectual incorporates four core tensions or contradictions. Those four tensions centre round the following axes: hierarchy versus equality, generality versus expertise, passion versus distance, and the individual versus the collective. We show how these four tensions were present at the outset of the modern notion of the intellectual, and have regularly come to the surface in the course of the twentieth and early twenty-first century. Secondly, we contend that the same four tensions have taken on new forms, potentially affecting how intellectuals engage with the public. To develop this point, we focus on recent technological developments that enable novel intellectual interventions in the public sphere, in particular interactive online blogging and micro-blogging platforms.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. This process is similar to the intellectual marketing strategies outlined by Steve Woolgar, in which ideas are reshaped in accordance with the user’s needs. Users too can be reshaped through marketing as a process of “social ordering” (Woolgar 2004, pp. 453–4).

  2. As Felix Salmon put it in an article for Reuters, “[t]he difference between linking and citing is the difference between showing and telling” (Salmon 2012).

  3. Though there is disagreement over the principal reason for this denial (see Goldberg 2006; White 2006).

  4. In a comment on the Cole affair, DeLong wrote that “[a]cademics who blog think more profound thoughts, have a bigger influence on the world—both the academic and the broader worlds—and are happier for it . . . Michigan [Cole’s employer] gains in reputation and mindshare from having a Cole on its faculty. Yale loses from not having an equivalent.” (DeLong 2006)

  5. As may be expected, some of the most prominent intellectuals to do so have careers that relate in some way to the internet—among them were Tim O’Reilly and Cory Doctorow.

  6. Benkler (2006, pp. 220–23) provides another excellent illustration of the speed and fluidity of this process in his description of blogging intellectuals’ campaign against Sinclair Broadcasting before the 2004 presidential election.

  7. Even so, the network of the blogosphere is “skewed”, with only a few bloggers emerging as “focal points” to which a disproportionate number of links point (Drezner and Farrell 2004).

References

  • Aron, R. (1955). L’Opium des intellectuels. Paris: Calmann-Lévy.

    Google Scholar 

  • Baert, P. (2011a). Jean-Paul Sartre’s positioning in Anti-Semite and Jew. Journal of Classical Sociology, 11(4), 378–397.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Baert, P. (2011b). The sudden rise of French existentialism: a case-study in the sociology of intellectual life. Theory and Society, 40(5), 619–644.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Baert, P. (2012) Positioning theory and intellectual interventions. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour. Online 0021–8308.

  • Baert, P., & Shipman, A. (2012). Transforming the intellectual. In F. Dominguez Rubio & P. Baert (Eds.), The politics of knowledge (pp. 179–204). London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Baym, N. K. (2010). Personal connections in the digital age. Cambridge: Polity.

    Google Scholar 

  • Benda, J. (1927). La trahison des clercs. Paris: Grasset.

    Google Scholar 

  • Benkler, Y. (2006). The wealth of networks: how social production transforms markets and freedom. New Haven: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Boltanski, L. (2009). De la critique. Paris: Gallimard.

    Google Scholar 

  • Boltanski, L., & Thévenot, L. (1991). De la justification; Les économies de la grandeur. Paris: Gallimard.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bourdieu, P. (1980). Sartre. London Review of Books, 2(22), 11–12.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bourdieu, P. (1989). The corporatism of the universal: the role of intellectuals in the modern world. Telos, 81, 99–110.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bourdieu, P. (1992). Pour une internationale des intellectuels. Politis, 1, 9–15.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bourdieu, P. (Ed.). (1993). La misère du monde. Paris: Seuil.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bourdieu, P. (1998). Contre-feux: propos pour servir à la résistance contre l’invasion néo-libérale. Paris: Liber, Raisons d’agir.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bourdieu, P. (2001). Contre-feux 2: pour un mouvement social européen. Paris: Liber, Raisons d’agir.

    Google Scholar 

  • Burawoy, M. (2005). For public sociology. American Sociological Review, 70, 4–28.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Charle, C. (1990). Naissance des “intellectuels” 1880–1990. Paris: Minuit.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cole, J. (2006). Yale affair I am not going to talk. Informed Comment, June 9. http://www.juancole.com/2006/06/yale-affair-i-am-not-going-to-talk.html. Accessed 26 Aug 2012.

  • Collini, S. (2006). Absent minds: intellectuals in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Cowen, T. (2009). Scott Sumner is now blogging. http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2009/02/scott-sumner-is-now-blogging.html. Accessed 26 Aug 2012.

  • DeLong, B. (2006). The invisible college. Contribution to ‘Can blogging derail your career?’. The Chronicle of Higher Education: The Chronicle Review, July 28. http://chronicle.com/article/The-Invisible-College/28939. Accessed 26 Aug 2012.

  • Drezner, D. (2008a). Are authoritative public intellectuals extinct? Foreign Policy, May 23. http://drezner.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2008/05/23/are_authoritative_public_intellectuals_extinct. Accessed 26 Aug 2012.

  • Drezner, D. (2008b). Am I defining public intellectuals down? Foreign Policy, June 12. http://drezner.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2008/06/12/am_i_defining_public_intellectuals_down. Accessed 26 Aug 2012.

  • Drezner, D. and Farrell, H. (2004). Web of influence. Foreign Policy, November 1. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2004/11/01/web_of_influence. Accessed 26 Aug 2012.

  • Drezner, D., & Farrell, H. (2008). Introduction: blogs, politics and power: a special issue of Public Choice. Public Choice, 134, 1–13.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Durkheim, E. (1898). L’Individualisme et les intellectuels. Revue Bleu, 4(10), 7–13.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dutton, W. H., & Loader, B. (2002). Digital academe: the new media and institutions of higher education and learning. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Elwitt, S. (1982). Education and social questions: the Universités Populaires in late nineteenth century. History of Education Quarterly, 22(1), 55–72.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Farrell, H. (2004). Who are the bloggers in your neighborhood? Crooked Timber. http://crookedtimber.org/2004/07/02/who-are-the-bloggers-in-your-neighborhood/. Accessed 26 Aug 2012.

  • Farrell, H., & Drezner, D. (2008). The power and politics of blogs. Public Choice, 134, 15–30.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Farrell, H. & Quiggin, J. (2012). Consensus, dissensus and economic Ideas: the rise and fall of Keynesianism during the economic crisis. Working Paper. http://www.henryfarrell.net/Keynes.pdf. Accessed 26 Aug 2012.

  • Farrell, H. & Sides, J. (2010). Building a political science public sphere with blogs. The Forum, 8 (3), Article 10.

    Google Scholar 

  • Foucault, M. (1994). Dits et Écrits IV. Paris: Gallimard.

    Google Scholar 

  • Freese, J. (2009). Blogs and the attention market for public intellectuals. Society, 46(1), 45–48.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Giddens, A. (1998). The third way; the renewal of social democracy. Cambridge: Polity.

    Google Scholar 

  • Giddens, A. (Ed.). (2001). The global third way debate. Cambridge: Polity.

    Google Scholar 

  • Goldberg, R. (2006). Univ. denies Cole tenure. yaledailynews.com. June 10. http://web.archive.org/web/20060820112025/http://www.yaledailynews.com/Article.aspx?ArticleID=32950. Accessed 26 Aug 2012.

  • Gramsci, A. (1998). Prison notebooks. London: Lawrence & Wishart.

    Google Scholar 

  • Graves, L. (2007). The affordances of blogging: a case study in culture and technological effects. Journal of Communication Inquiry, 31, 331–346.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Harris, R. (2010). The man on Devil’s Island: Alfred Dreyfus and the affair that divided France. London: Allen Lane.

    Google Scholar 

  • Heilbron, J. (2010). Practical foundations of theorizing in sociology: the case of Pierre Bourdieu. In C. Camic, N. Gross, & M. Lamont (Eds.), Social knowledge in the making (pp. 181–205). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Henri-Lévy, B. (1977). La barbarie à visage humain. Paris: Grasset.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hesse, C. (1997). Books in time. In G. Nunberg (Ed.), The future of the book (pp. 21–36). Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hevern, V. (2004). Threaded identity in cyberspace: weblogs & positioning in the dialogical self. Identity: An International Journal of Theory and Research, 4(4), 321–335.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jacoby, R. (2000). The last intellectuals: American culture in the age of academy. London: Basic.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kellner, D. (1998). Intellectuals, the new public sphere, and technopolitics. In C. Toulouse & T. W. Luke (Eds.), The politics of cyberspace: a new political science reader (pp. 167–186). New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lukes, S. (1969). Durkheim’s “Individualism and the intellectuals”. Political Studies, 17(1), 14–30.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ory, P., & Sirinelli, J.-F. (1992). Les Intellectuels en France; de l’affaire Dreyfus à nos jours. Paris: Armand Colin.

    Google Scholar 

  • Osborne, T. (2006). On mediators: intellectuals and the ideas trade in the knowledge society. Economy and Society, 33(4), 430–447.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Park, D. W. (2009). Blogging with authority: strategic positioning in political blogs. International Journal of Communication, 3, 250–273.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rorty, R. (1979). Philosophy and the mirror of nature. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rorty, R. (1982). Consequences of pragmatism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rorty, R. (2000). Philosophy and social hope. London: Penguin.

    Google Scholar 

  • Salmon, F. (2012). ‘Why journalists need to link’. Reuters US: Opinion, February 27. http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2012/02/27/why-journalists-need-to-link/. Accessed 26 Aug 2012.

  • Sapiro, G. (2005). Forms of politicization in the French literary field. Theory and Society, 32(5/6), 633–652.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sapiro, G. (2009). Modèles d’intervention politique des intellectuels; le cas français. Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales, 176–177, 8–31.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sartre, J.-P. (1947). Qu’est-ce que la litérature. Paris: Gallimard.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sartre, J.-P. (1954). Réflexions sur la question juive. Paris: Gallimard.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sartre, J.-P. (1964). Les Mots. Paris: Gallimard.

    Google Scholar 

  • Shirky, C. (2008). Here comes everybody: the power of organizing without organizations. London: Penguin.

    Google Scholar 

  • The Economist. (2011a). A less dismal debate. December 31. http://www.economist.com/node/21542193. Accessed 26 Aug 2012.

  • The Economist. (2011b). Marginal revolutionaries. December 31. http://www.economist.com/node/21542174. Accessed 26 Aug 2012.

  • The Economist. (2012). Marginal revolutionaries. The Economist: Free Exchange, January 4. http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2012/01/blogs. Accessed 26 Aug 2012.

  • Watson, D. R. (1966). The politics of educational reform in France during the Third Republic 1900–1940. Past and Present, 34, 81–99.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • White, D. (2006). Juan Cole and Yale: the inside story. Real Clear Politics, August 3. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2006/08/juan_cole_and_yale_the_inside.html. Accessed 26 Aug 2012.

  • Woolgar, S. (2004). Marketing ideas. Economy and Society, 33(4), 448–462.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Patrick Baert.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Baert, P., Booth, J. Tensions Within the Public Intellectual: Political Interventions from Dreyfus to the New Social Media. Int J Polit Cult Soc 25, 111–126 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10767-012-9123-6

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10767-012-9123-6

Keywords

  • Intellectuals
  • Public intellectuals
  • Dreyfusard intellectuals
  • Social media
  • Blogging
  • Positioning theory