U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Categories of Intellectuals by Carol Boyce Davies

I recently read this categorization of intellectuals by Carol Boyce Davies in her biography of black Communist Claudia Jones and thought you might be interested.

The Gramscian binary of the traditional intellectual and the organic intellectual is expanded by three descriptions: ‘the co-opted liberal intellectual’ posture, which never sees knowledge as moving into transforming action; ‘the accommodationist-reformist’ intellectual, who aligns her/himself with popular struggles but cannot communicate with people the ideas of the academy; and the ‘guerrilla intellectual’ in the tradition of Walter Rodney, whose scholarship, life, and activism were all organized for transformative intent.

Our contemporary U.S.-based realities reveal that two other categories are perhaps appropriate. I would add (1) the commoditized intellectual, whose entire exercise of academic production is hyper-market-driven and in the benefit of the state; and (2) the radically transformative intellectual, whose entire praxis is organized around the production of knowledge directed at transforming the social contexts in which we live and operate in and out of the academy. This latter position comes out of not seeing the Walter Rodney position in idealistic terms, because, at its most extreme, it requires a certain martyrdom in order to be activated.

4 Thoughts on this Post

  1. This categorization dismisses all intellectual production that does not advance change agendas and equates such production with commodification and service to the state or, alternatively, hegemonic culture. So much for most intellectual history.

  2. If you dump the Marxist framework and assumptions does any of this stand, or is the Marxist framework and assumptions the whole of it? I suspect the latter, in which case this scheme is pretty much malarkey, to use a term enjoying a newfound vogue.

  3. I agree with all these observations. The categories are so starkly biased toward one conclusion. The sentiment sounds like 1930’s Soviet realism. The “co-opted intellectual” read paid off, corrupt; for the “accommodationist intellectual” read weak willed, spineless; for the “radically transformative” read heroic. The whole passage sounds triumphilist and dated.

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