U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Scholarship on the Topic of ‘Public Intellectuals’

Yesterday evening Corey Robin asked the following on his Facebook page: “Crowd-sourcing question: What do you think are the best texts — books, essays, journal articles, blog posts, tweets, whatever — on public intellectuals?”

Since I keep a rough file of works on this subject in my Zotero database (given the prominence of the topic here at the blog), I offered a brief list of 9 pieces on the subject. Shortly thereafter Corey’s comment thread exploded. I monitored the contributions and added several works to my file. What follows is a reproduction of my selections from that thread. The works below are first given in publication date order. After that they appear according to the date they were added to my file. Please feel free to add your favorites in the comments!

The Topic of ‘Public Intellectuals’: A Bibliography

1. John Dewey, The Public and Its Problems (Swallow Press, 1927), http://www.amazon.com/The-Public-Problems-John-Dewey/dp/0804002541.
2. Noam Chomsky, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” New York Review of Books, February 23, 1967, http://www.chomsky.info/articles/19670223.htm.
3. Paul Bove, “Intellectuals at War,” SubStance 9, no. 4 (1983): 36–55.
4. Adolph Reed, “‘What Are the Drums Saying, Booker?’: The Current Crisis of the Black Intellectual,” Village Voice, April 1995.
5. Edward W. Said, Representations of the Intellectual: The 1993 Reith Lectures (New York: Vintage, 1996), http://www.amazon.com/Representations-Intellectual-1993-Reith-Lectures/dp/0679761276.
6. Thomas Bender, Intellect and Public Life: Essays on the Social History of Academic Intellectuals in the United States (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), http://books.google.com/books?id=240iKp_jVjoC&dq.
7. David L. Swartz, “From Critical Sociology to Public Intellectual: Pierre Bourdieu and Politics,” Theory and Society 32, no. 5–6 (December 2003): 791–823, http://link.springer.com/article/10.1023%2FB%3ARYSO.0000004956.34253.fb.
8. Kayhan Parsi and Karen Geraghty, “The Bioethicist as Public Intellectual,” The American Journal of Bioethics 4, no. 1 (2004): 17–23, http://phsj.org/wp-content/uploads/2007/10/Bioethicist-as-Public-Intellectual-Kayhan-Parsi.pdf.
9. Terry Eagleton, Figures of Dissent: Reviewing Fish, Spivak, Zizek and Others (New York: Verso Books, 2005), http://www.amazon.com/Figures-Dissent-Reviewing-Spivak-Others/dp/1859843883.
10. George Scialabba, What Are Intellectuals Good For? (Pressed Wafer, 2009), http://www.amazon.com/What-Are-Intellectuals-Good-For/dp/0978515668.
11. Thomas Bender, “Historians in Public,” Transformations of the Public Sphere (SSRC), September 5, 2011, http://publicsphere.ssrc.org/bender-historians-in-public/.
12. Patricia Hill Collins, On Intellectual Activism (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2012), http://www.amazon.com/Intellectual-Activism-Patricia-Hill-Collins/dp/143990961X.
13. LD Burnett, “All That Brilliant Thinking,” U.S. Intellectual History, October 5, 2013, http://s-usih.org/2013/10/all-that-brilliant-thinking.html.
14. Robin Marie Averbeck, “Richard Cloward, Public Intellectual,” U.S. Intellectual History, October 22, 2013, http://s-usih.org/2013/10/richard-cloward-public-intellectual.html.
15. Stanley Aronowitz, Taking It Big: C. Wright Mills and the Making of Political Intellectuals (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014), http://www.amazon.com/Taking-It-Big-Political-Intellectuals/dp/0231135416.
16. John Hansen, “The New American Scholar,” The Pluralist 9, no. 1 (2014): 97–103.
17. Ta-Nehisi Coates, “What It Means to Be a Public Intellectual,” The Atlantic, January 8, 2014, http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/01/what-it-means-to-be-a-public-intellectual/282907/.
18. Nicholas Kristof, “Smart Minds, Slim Impact,” The New York Times, February 16, 2014, New York edition, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/16/opinion/sunday/kristof-professors-we-need-you.html.
19. Brad Baranowski, “Marketing the Intellectual, Selling the Public,” U.S. Intellectual History Blog, April 9, 2014, http://s-usih.org/2014/04/marketing-the-intellectual-selling-the-public.html.
20. Christophe Charle, The Birth of Intellectuals (Polity Press, n.d.).
21. Steven Feierman, Peasant Intellectuals, n.d.
22. Russell Jacoby, Last Intelletuals, n.d.
23. Rafael Khachaturian, “Social Criticism and the Academy,” Contrivers’ Review, accessed June 25, 2015, http://www.contrivers.org/articles/3/.
24. Richard Posner, Public Intellectuals, n.d.
25. ? Sartre on Intellectualism – YouTube, accessed June 25, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_g8JVK4Fppw.
26. “BLACK STUDIES’ NEW STAR – Henry Louis Gates Jr. – NYTimes.com,” accessed June 10, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/1990/04/01/magazine/black-studies-new-star-henry-louis-gates-jr.html?smid=fb-share&pagewanted=5.
27. “Comedians Are Not Public Intellectuals II — Eight Hundred Words,” accessed June 8, 2015, http://www.eight-hundred-words.net/blog/2015/6/7/comedians?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+eight-hundred-words-blog+%28eight+hundred+words+blog%29.
28. “Confessions of a Community College Dean: What’s a Thought Leader?,” accessed March 19, 2014, http://suburbdad.blogspot.com/2014/03/whats-thought-leader.html.
29. “From Amy Schumer to John Oliver, How Comedians Became Public Intellectuals – The Atlantic,” accessed May 28, 2015, http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/05/how-comedians-became-public-intellectuals/394277/?utm_source=SFFB.
30. “Further Reflections on ‘Academostars’ – Innovations – Blogs – The Chronicle of Higher Education,” accessed June 10, 2015, http://chronicle.com/blogs/innovations/further-reflections-on-academostars/30584.
31. “IASC: The Hedgehog Review – Volume 9, No. 1 (Spring 2007) – Intellectuals and Public Responsibility,” accessed June 25, 2015, http://www.iasc-culture.org/THR/hedgehog_review_2007-Spring.php.
32. “Intellectuals and Their Publics — Eight Hundred Words,” accessed May 28, 2015, http://www.eight-hundred-words.net/blog/2015/5/28/public-intellectuals.
33. “Look Who Nick Kristof’s Saving Now | Corey Robin,” accessed February 16, 2014, http://coreyrobin.com/2014/02/16/look-who-nick-kristofs-saving-now/.
34. “Melissa Harris-Perry’s ‘public Intellectual’ Status Brings out the Nasty Trolls – Salon.com,” accessed January 7, 2014, http://www.salon.com/2014/01/07/melissa_harris_perrys_public_intellectual_status_brings_out_the_nasty_trolls/.
35. “The Decline of the Public Intellectual? – NYTimes.com,” accessed February 19, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/19/opinion/the-decline-of-the-public-intellectual.html?_r=0.
36. “The War on Black Intellectuals: What (mostly) White Men Keep Getting Wrong about Public Scholarship – Salon.com,” accessed March 11, 2014, http://www.salon.com/2014/03/11/the_war_on_black_intellectuals_what_mostly_white_men_keep_getting_wrong_about_public_scholarship/.
37. “Tim’s Light Reading (10-20-2011): War Powers, Catholicism, OWS, Academostars, and More | s-usih.dev,” accessed June 10, 2015, http://s-usih.org/2011/10/tims-light-reading-10-20-2011-war.html.
38. “What’s Wrong With Public Intellectuals? – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education,” accessed May 26, 2015, http://chronicle.com/article/article-content/189921/.

18 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Bracketing my own deep misgivings of the “public intellectual” category for the moment, Collini’s _Absent Minds_ should be on the above list.

    • Thanks! Perhaps it’s been neglected here since it focuses on British intellectuals and intellectuals in Britain? In any case, I’ve added it to my own database. – TL

  2. Part I of Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks, or just really the entire book + Stuart Hall’s masterpiece “Gramsci’s Relevance for the Study of Race and Ethnicity”

  3. Tim, this is superb. Forgive me if I am reduplicating anything on your extremely useful list. I would also include:

    Mary Furner, Advocacy and Objectivity.
    Dan Geary on C. Wright Mills and Carey McWilliams
    Wixson on Jack Conroy

  4. • There is relevant material in the later chapters of Rudolf Bahro’s The Alternative in Eastern Europe (English tr., NLB, 1978)
    • Sartre’s lectures were delivered in Tokyo and Kyoto in 1965 and published as “A Plea for Intellectuals,” in Jean-Paul Sartre (John Mathews, tr.), Between Existentialism and Marxism. New York: Morrow Quill, 1979 (NLB, 1974, and in French, Editions Gallimard, 1972).
    • Kagarlitsky, Boris. The Thinking Reed: Intellectuals and the Soviet State from 1917 to the Present (Verso, revised ed., 1989)
    • Robbins, Bruce. Intellectuals, Professionalism, Culture (Verso, 1993)
    • Although not about “public intellectuals” as such, Aijaz Ahmad’s In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures (Verso, 1992) is about a “type” of intellectual that emerged in the aftermath of decolonization and should be essential reading.

  5. For the lovers of French structuralism and poststructuralism:

    Foucault, Michel. “Intellectuals and Power: A Conversation Between Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze”. Language, Counter-Memory, Practice. Cornell: Cornell University Press, 1977. 205-17.

    Bourdieu, Pierre. “Fourth Lecture. Universal Corporatism: The Role of Intellectuals in the Modern World.” Poetics Today Vol. 12, No. 4 (Winter, 1991), pp. 655-669.

    A Latin American oldie that can still iluminate about the relationship between the state and the intellectual is Angel Rama’s The Lettered City.

  6. Through a history of two magazines, Black Orpheus and Transition, Peter Benson “captures…the childhood, adolescence, and troubled maturity of Africa’s first generation of independent anglophone Africa’s first generation of creative intellectuals” in Black Orpheus, Transition, and Modern Cultural Awakening in Africa (University of California Press, 1986).

  7. Tim —

    I’d add Walter Lippmann’s The Phantom Public, which was the book Dewey was especially responding to when he wrote The Public and Its Problems. Lippmann’s Public Opinion is good too, but The Phantom Public offers a really fascinating argument about the role of expertise in shaping public life. The whole question of the expert, the technocrat, in relation to the public intellectual (how they are different, how expertise functions in each case) is important, it seems to me.

    A more recent article that I found extremely provocative was Axel Honneth’s “Idiosyncrasy as a Tool of Knowledge: Social Criticism in the Age of the Normalized Intellectual,” which distinguishes between the public intellectual as a figure reduced to a talking head or pundit—a kind of celebrity figure—as compared to the concept of practicing social criticism.

    I’ve always wondered if to steer away from the slippage of the public intellectual into celebrity figure, to work against the star system that exists everywhere, including intellectual life, we should turn things into action rather than identity: social criticism, not the social critic; public intellectualism, not the public intellectual. Then it becomes about what we do—all of us, organic and inorganic intellectuals alike (thanks Gramsci)—rather than the status of who we get to be.

    Always one up for a bibliography!

  8. I’ve also always admired Kevin Mattson’s Intellectuals in Action: The Origins of the New Left and Radical Liberalism, 1945-1970 as an intellectual history that explores the political dimensions of public intellectual activity in a particular time period: C. Wright Mills vs. Paul Goodman; William Appleman Williams; and the underappreciated Arnold Kaufman…some really nice close-up explorations in that study. – Michael

  9. Can’t believe that no one has suggested Christopher Lasch, The New Radicalism: The Intellectual as a Social Type. Classic work from the mid-20th c. on the sociology of intellectuals includes lots of Edward Shils’s writings–he has at least three books on the sociology of the intellectual. And, of course, Harold Cruse, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual. The question of the “public” in public intellectual is, of course, a more recent concern, so maybe these earlier works are less relevant.

  10. Moving a comment over from Facebook, at Andrew’s request; this was prompted by Andrew’s question: “What would you like discussed during this plenary session [On Jacoby’s book and the topic of “public intellectuals”] at the upcoming S-USIH Conference?”

    Me: “Perhaps controversially, I’d like a conversation about moving beyond the concept of the “public intellectual,” which I think has limited uses beyond the hermeneutic. I’d suggest, further, that the impulse to talk about public intellectuals is often (perhaps even “usually”) tied to the desire for scholarly life to perform a range of activist or norm-setting tasks in public life. So it might be very worthwhile to frame a conversation around the desirability (or undesirability) of such an approach. Happy to say more.”

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