Intellectuals and Cultural Trauma

  • Ron EyermanEmail author
Part of the Cultural Sociology book series (CULTSOC)


In this chapter, I contrast the intellectuals with both the intelligentsia and the professionals. I argue that the intellectual is best thought of as the performer of a social role that involves the articulation of ideas communicated to a broad audience. This claim implies two distinct ways of analyzing the intellectual. The first is to look at the way various social actors take on the task of articulating ideas in public discourses. The second is to study how particular persons aspire to be intellectuals, a role whose meaning they inherit as part of a tradition that must be interpreted and reinvented. Through an examination of six assassinations, I show how intellectuals can act as carrier groups during a cultural trauma, the public discourse in which the foundations of collective identity are brought up for reflection. I conclude with reflections on the changing nature and position of the intellectual in contemporary society in light of the prevalence of the media and the new digital age.


  1. Alexander, Jeffrey. 2004. Toward a Theory of Cultural Trauma. In Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity, ed. Jeffrey Alexander, Ronald Eyerman, Bernhard Giesen, Neil Smelser, and Piotr Sztompka. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  2. Alexander, Jeffrey. 2006. The Civil Sphere. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Alexander, Jeffrey, Ronald Eyerman, Bernhard Giesen, Neil Smelser, and Piotr Sztompka (eds.). 2004. Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  4. Arendt, Hannah. 1953. The Human Condition. New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  5. Baert, Patrick, and Alan Shipman. 2011. Transforming the Intellectual. In The Politics of Knowledge, ed. Fernando Rubio Dominguez and Patrick Baert. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  6. Dayan, Daniel, and Elihu Katz. 1992. Media Events. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Debray, Regis. 1981. Teachers, Writers, Celebrities. London: New Left Books.Google Scholar
  8. Diggens, John Patrick. 2003. The Changing Role of the Public Intellectual in American History. In The Public Intellectuali, ed. Richard M. Zinman, Jerry Weinberger, and Arthur M. Melzer. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  9. Evans, Mary. 2009. Can Women Be Intellectuals? In Intellectuals and Their Publics, ed. Christian Fleck, Andreas Hess, and E. Stina Lyon. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  10. Eyerman, Ronald. 1994. Between Culture and Politics: Intellectuals in Modern Society. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  11. Eyerman, Ronald. 2008. The Assassination of Theo van Gogh: From Social Drama to Cultural Trauma. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Eyerman, Ronald. 2011. The Cultural Sociology of Political Assassination New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  13. Eyerman, Ronald, Jeffrey Alexander, and Elizabeth Breese (eds.). 2011. Narrating Trauma: On the Impact of Collective Suffering. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.Google Scholar
  14. Felman, Shoshana, and Thomas E. Donnelley. 2002. The Juridical Unconscious: Trials and Traumas in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Gerstein, Linda. 1974. Ivanov-Razumnik: The Remembrance of Things Past. Canadian-American Slavic Studies 8 (4): 532–538.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Goldthorpe, John. 1982. On the Service Class, Its Formation and Future. In Social Class and the Division of Labour, ed. Anthony Giddens and Gavin Mackenzie. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Gouldner, Alvin. 1979. The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class. New York: Seabury.Google Scholar
  18. Habermas, Jurgen. 1989. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  19. Hofstadter, Richard. 1962. Anti-Intellectualism in American Lifei. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  20. Jacobs, Ronald, and Eleanor Townsley. 2004. Media Intellectuals and Public Sociology: The Case of Op-Eds in the New York Times. Paper Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association. Available at
  21. Konrad, Gyorgy, and Ivan Szelenyi. 1979. Intellectuals on the Road to Class Power. London: Harvester Press.Google Scholar
  22. Melzer, Arthur M., Jerry Weinberger, and M. Richard Zinman (eds.). 2003. The Public Intellectual. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. Google Scholar
  23. Norton, Matthew. 2018. A Structural Hermeneutics of The O’Reilly Factor. Theory and Society 40 (3): 315–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Pantti, Mervi. 2005. Masculine Tears, Feminine Tears, and Crocodile Tears: Mourning Olof Palme and Anna Lindh in Finnish Newspapers. Journalism 6 (3): 357–377.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Pantti, Mervi, and Wieten Jan. 2005. Mourning Becomes the Nation: Television Coverage of the Murder of Pim Fortuyn. Journalism Studies 6 (3): 301–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Richard, Posner A. 2001. Public Intellectuals. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Sherman, G. 2010. Chasing Fox. New York Times, October 11.Google Scholar
  28. Smelser, Neil. 2004. Psychological Trauma and Cultural Trauma. In Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity, ed. Jeffrey Alexander, Ronald Eyerman, Bernhard Giesen, Neil Smelser, and Piotr Sztompka. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  29. Wald, Alan M. 1987. The New York Intellectuals: The Rise and Decline of the Anti-Stalinist Left from the 1930s to the 1980s. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Yale UniversityNew HavenUSA

Personalised recommendations