Theory and Society

, Volume 46, Issue 3, pp 177–199 | Cite as

Professors and politics: Noam Chomsky’s contested reputation in the United States and Canada



There is an extensive literature comparing the politics, sociology and economics of the United States and Canada, but very little work comparing the role that public intellectuals play in the space of public opinion and how their ideas are received in both nations simultaneously. Noam Chomsky provides a theoretically useful example of an established academic and public intellectual whose reputation is deeply contested in both countries. Our comparative case study offers leverage to contribute to debates on the sociology of knowledge, reputations, intellectuals, and the politics of professors using data from six major Canadian and American newspapers from 1995–2009 and an innovative coding of media portrayal. Earlier work has demonstrated that Chomsky is discussed as a public intellectual more prominently in Canada than in the United States (McLaughlin and Townsley in Canadian Review of Sociology, 48(4):341–368, 2011). Here we examine the comparative construction of a “public intellectual” reputation in the context of significant political change. We document small differences between the Canadian and American receptions of Chomsky, show change in the patterns of portrayal and number of publications over time, and offer an analysis of differences between political attacks and consecrations. We demonstrate more engagement with Chomsky’s political view in Canada than in the United States, a rise in Chomsky’s fame post 9/11, and illustrate clear political patterns in attempts to marginalize him.


Contested reputations News media Politics of professors Public intellectuals Public opinion US and Canadian newspapers 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Department of SociologyMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada

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