AskDefine | Define litterateur

Dictionary Definition

litterateur n : a writer of literary works [syn: essayist]

User Contributed Dictionary



litterator, critic


  1. A person engaged in various literary works: literary critic, essayist, writer.

Extensive Definition

An intellectual (involving thought and reason) is one who tries to use his or her intellect to work, study, reflect, speculate, or ask and answer questions about a wide variety of different ideas.
There are, broadly, three modern definitions at work in discussions about intellectuals. First, “intellectuals” as those deeply involved in ideas, books, and the life of the mind. Second, “intellectuals” as a recognizable occupational class consisting of lecturers, professors, lawyers, doctors, engineers, scientists, etc. Third, “cultural intellectuals” are those of notable expertise in culture and the arts, expertise which allows them some cultural authority, which they then use to speak in public on other matters.

'Men of letters'

The expression "man of letters", has been used in many cultures to describe contemporary intellectuals. The term implied a distinction between those "who knew their letters" and those who did not. The distinction thus had great weight when literacy was not widespread. "Men of letters" were also termed literati (from the Latin), as a group; this phrase may also refer to the 'citizens' of the Republic of Letters. Literati survives as a term of abuse and is used in journalism. Literatus, in the singular, is rarely found in English - the English term is litterateur (from the French littérateur). The Republic of Letters grew during the late 1700s in France in salons, many of which were run by women. The term is rarely used to denote "scholars".

Greek usage of the expression

In Greece the expression "Learn your letters" finds widespread use in everyday life, especially by the surviving older generations. Its meaning is equivalent to "Study hard" and "learn an intellectual trade".
Because of the agricultural background of Greece, the term "man of letters" also signifies the opposite of the usual trades of builder and farmer. In this context, these hand-driven trades are often pointed out as examples to be avoided when parents suggest to a young person to "become a man of letters" in order to live an easier life.

19th-century English usage

By the late eighteenth century, literacy was becoming more widespread in countries such as the United Kingdom. The concept of a "man of letters" shifted to a more specialised meaning, as one who made his living by writing about literature - usually not creative writers as such, but rather essayists, journalists and critics. This kind of activity was gradually replaced in the twentieth century by a more academic approach, and the term "man of letters" fell into disuse, to be replaced by the more generic term "intellectual", which first came into common use at the end of the nineteenth century, when it was used as a term for the defenders of Alfred Dreyfus, see below. The rise and fall of the term "man of letters", and indeed of the activity it described, is charted by Gross (1969); see also Pierson (2006).

Modes of 'intellectual class' in nineteenth-century Europe

Samuel Coleridge speculated early in the nineteenth century on the concept of the clerisy, a class rather than a type of individual, and a secular equivalent of the (Anglican) clergy, with a duty of upholding (national) culture. The idea of the intelligentsia, in comparison, dates from roughly the same time, and is based more concretely on the status class of 'mental' or white-collar workers. Alister McGrath in The Twilight of Atheism (2004) comments (p.53) that '[t]he emergence of a socially alienated, theologically literate, antiestablishment lay intelligentsia is one of the more significant phenomena of the social history of Germany in the 1830s', and that '... three or four theological graduates in ten might hope to find employment [in a church post]'.
From that time onwards, in Europe and elsewhere, some variant of the idea of an intellectual class has been important (not least to intellectuals, self-styled). The degrees of actual involvement in art, or politics, journalism and education, of nationalist or internationalist or ethnic sentiment, constituting the 'vocation' of an intellectual, have never become fixed. Some intellectuals have been vehemently anti-academic; at times universities and their faculties have been synonymous with intellectualism, but in other periods and some places the centre of gravity of intellectual life has been elsewhere.
One can notice a sharpening of terms, in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Just as the coinage scientist would come to mean a professional, the man of letters would more often be assumed to be a professional writer, perhaps having the breadth of a journalist or essayist, but not necessarily with the engagement of the intellectual.
The Dreyfus affair in France at the end of the nineteenth century is often indicated as the time of full emergence of the intellectual in public life; particularly as concerns the role of Émile Zola, Octave Mirbeau and Anatole France, in speaking directly on the matter. The term "intellectual" became better known from that time (and the derogatory implication sometimes attached). The use of the term as a noun in French has been attributed to Georges Clemenceau in 1898.

Societal role of intellectuals

Intellectuals have been viewed as a distinct social class, often significantly contributing to the formation and phrasing of ideas as both creators and critics of ideology. Intellectuals as a whole may be thought of as upholding the existing order, though some intellectuals specialize in dissent against the establishment, such as U.S. linguist and writer Noam Chomsky.
In many definitions, intellectuals are perceived as impervious to propaganda, indoctrination, and self-deception. Yet problems arise from the response of many intellectuals to the atrocities committed by the Soviet Union, the Third Reich, and by other regimes of authoritarian-totalitarian ideology. The question invited is: How and why can intellectuals be vulnerable to indoctrination despite their intelligence?
The Milgram experiment's inquiry into anti-authoritarian decision-making may offer some explanation. Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram's seminal series of social psychology experiments measured the willingness of people to obey an authority figure instructing them to perform acts conflicting with their personal consciences. Milgram learned that ordinary people can become agents of a destructive process, even when the destructive effects of their work become clear. Despite intelligence or intellectual capacity, when people are asked to effect actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the intellectual-moral resources needed to resist authority.
Another suggested reason for this is the intellectuals' constant criticism of ideological systems in attempting their improvement of them, which often leads to seeking superior alternatives in foreign ideological models, because the foreign models are not seen in action, and, thus, their practicability cannot be accurately gauged before implementation.

The Social Role of a Public Intellectual

The Public Intellectual as detailed above communicates information and 'truths' about issues on a variety of societal issues; however this role is seemingly filled by others so what makes the Public Intellectual something warranting a title? Public Intellectuals usually emerge from the educated elite, McKee (2001) has shown how the bulk of North American writers on public intellectuals assume that they will be academics – people like themselves – if never 'merely' academics, and have therefore a tie to academia and the power (communication) that such a position holds alongside the ability to convey to the wider public their understandings and ideas on via a range of media (books, documentaries, films, talks). It is this converging with the public sphere which separates academics with Public Intellectuals. The dissemination of information, outside the topic of an individual’s specialism, to the general public that allows for an academic to become a Public Intellectual (Bourdieu 1989). The Public Intellectual brings controversial topics (evolution, religion, global warming, genetic modification) in the forefront of public discussion; ‘Intellectuals are not defined according to the jobs they do but the manner in which they act, the way they see themselves, and the values that they uphold' Furedi (2004)
Although today's public intellectuals speaking from their privileged positions have to negotiate how to simultaneously speak and act as an insider/outsider and in ways that make a difference within the moral conscious of the population. This is achieved by the public intellectual’s role of deliberating choice – usually not a particularly fashionable one at the time seeking to provoke debate in wider circles than just academia. They speak in the issues of the day often trying to answer unanswerable questions and acting from a moral necessity more than a career impulse (Clarke, 2003)
Global Scale The growth of globalization and the accessibility of new media technologies means that the audiences for public intellectuals are now are groups from different socio-economic backgrounds, race and are more likely to be larger. The methods of reaching these audiences are more specialized; different media for different people be it books, talks television and radio debates or internet forums, with the more the prominent issues commonly reaching beyond that of national borders. However it should be noted that public intellectuals confront the reality that the contemporary experience of globalization in a way that depicts the worsening of everyday life for many people around the world due to the pressurising forces of capitalist enterprise. Yet the utilisation of the gains from these changes are allowing Public Intellectuals to debate more readily with a wider audience – which is a major component of their role as Public Intellectuals.
Research Verses Politics The role of a Public Intellectual connects scholarly research and public policy. When participating in research social scientists have a responsibility to limit their own political leanings, and pursue their investigations with an interest in broadening the knowledge in their field thus separating themselves from any emotive aspects of their research. However when directly involved in the political arena, social scientists are more likely to take an agenda-specific approach to their work; this is where they act as a go between for academia and politics, bringing the findings and analyses of their respective fields in to the domain of policy. The last stage is where the social scientists enters the realm of public debate on a series of issues, drawing on their expertise in a given field to inform a wider spectrum of the population; fully enacting on the role of a Public Intellectual. Each of these various roles involves relying on a distinct set of practices, with the work of social scientists being greatly enhanced by being overtly aware of these differences, and avoiding the trap of confusing one set with another and effecting the validity of each role. (Gattone 2007)
Sorkin (2007) shows how intellectuals battled to re-establish democracy within the Pinochet regime in Chile and how this transition created new professional opportunities for some social scientists as politicians and consultants; these reflect and/or entail a shift toward the pragmatic in their politics – a step away from the neutrality of academia. The Public Intellectual role of being a social critic and visionary, with their work being based within theory or ideology has been joined by a third category of intellectual, the technocrats who attempt to resolve concrete social problems, but for whom a theoretical framework is not of that much importance – journalistic Public Intellectuals. Whilst, other intellectuals maintained the normal boundaries of professional academia, therefore have lost some of their influence within the powerful in Chilean society.
Quantitive Verses Qualitative Richard Posner's definition of the public intellectual is created by using economic analysis, hard data and checks on prediction. He concentrates his criticism on "academic public intellectuals"; claiming their declarations to be untidy and biased in ways which would not be tolerated in their academic work – which could be argued as the reason for participating in the realm of Public Intellectual writing. Yet he fears that independent public intellectuals are in decline. Where writing on the ‘academic public intellectual’ Posner finds that they are only interested in public policy, not with public philosophy, public ethics or public theology, and not with matters of moral and spiritual outrage – thus removing the emotive, focusing on hard-headed policy questions rather than soft-headed value questions. Where as many see the decline of the Public Intellectuals who can write with clarity and moral passion about public issues Posner sees a decline with their factual inaccuracy, claiming that those from the Arts and Humanities should be kicked out of the Public Intellectual sphere as their work is based not on empirical data and research but on qualitative and therefore more likely to be erroneous.

Marxism and Intellectuals

Intellectuals are neither owners of capital nor proletarians. Marxists believe they resemble the proletarian by reason of their social position- living by selling their labour and therefore are often exploited by the power of capital, but on the other hand, intellectuals perform mental work, often managerial work, and due to their higher income, they live in a manner comparable to that of the bourgeois. Intellectuals have been neutral instruments in the hands of different social forces. However, Marxists believe that ‘all knowledge is existentially based, and that intellectuals who create and preserve knowledge act as spokesmen for different social groups and articulate particular social interests’. Gramsci has a standpoint that every social class needs its own intelligentsia to shape its ideology, and that intellectuals must choose which social class they are going to become an organic part of. Intellectuals offer their knowledge on the market, Marxists suggest that ‘under modern Western capitalism, the intellectuals make commodities of the ideologies they produce and offer themselves for hire to the real social classes whose ideologies they formulate, whose intelligence they will become’. Marx believed that intellectuals aim to universalise their ideologies ‘then turn about and expose the partiality of those ideologies.’
Yet, for Harding (in Jennings and Kemp-Welch 1997), Marx's theory of the rise of the proletariat was to rely on the intellectuals of that historic time as stated by Gramsci: "A human mass does not 'distinguish itself, does not become independent in it's own right without, in the widest sense, organising itself; and there is no organisation without intellectuals, that is without organisers and leaders, in other words, without...a group of people 'specialised' in conceptual and philosophical elaboration of ideas."(in Jennings and Kemp-Welch, 1997:210) In this situation, as with other areas of society, it is the intellectual, not as the proletariat who is to define the emancipation of the workers. According to Harding (1997), for the creation of any mass consciousness of ideals, intellectuals are essential. Alongside Lukacs he also considers, as a privileged class, it is they, not the workers who can interpret 'totality', giving them the right to be considered leaders. Lenin also maintained that the ideology of socialism was beyond the comprehension of the working classes. The level of 'culture and intellectual sophistication' which was necessary for the development of such ideologies was, according to Lenin, out of the reach of the average worker (in Jennings and Kemp-Welch, 1997).
The intellectual's desire to command the direction of society is often translated into an intense feeling of certain chosen beliefs. Furthermore, as secular ideas have received greater attention in the twentieth century, and as political participation has increased, ideology itself has become a predominant influence in the political world and in intellectual life. The extent to which ideological currents have influenced the twentieth century milieu has caused some observers of intellectual life to make ideology part of the definition of an intellectual. Lewis Feur best expresses this view when he states that 'no scientist or scholar is regarded as an intellectual unless he adheres to or seems to be searching for an ideology'.
Marxists believe that intellectuals talk and communicate in a certain language that is distinctive to other intellectuals and middle-class populations. Alvin Gouldner labels this language 'critical-reflexive discourse'. By this, Gouldner argues that 'intellectuals universally agree that their positions be defended by rational arguments and that the status of the individual making the argument should have no bearing on the outcome'.
A widely held view by Marxists is that intellectuals are alienated and antiestablishment. Although Marx seemed to imply in his reference to intellectuals that they are constantly engaged in an instinctive struggle with established institutions, including the state, 'such a struggle could be carried on within such institutions and in support of established institutions and against change'. Intellectuals tend to be critical of the present by nature because they have a predisposition toward an adversary culture.
Antonio Gramsci, a popular of revived theorists on intellectuals, argued many years ago that 'intellectuals view themselves as autonomous from the ruling class'. He suggests that this conceptualisation originates with intellectuals themselves, not with students of intellectual life'.
The influence the level of economic development has on intellectuals' activities is significant. The most significant social and economic determinants are 'level of education, literacy, distribution of income and employment opportunities'. The growth of the middle class, especially its control over politics and the demand for higher education has contributed to an environment favorable to an expansion in the number of intellectuals. The backgrounds of the intellectuals affect the structure of intellectual leadership and its relationship to the state. In Mexico, for example where all economic and political power is concentrated in the capital, where education is more of an urban phenomena, where a person's background and place of residence determine not only the likelihood of whether he or she will be able to develop educational skills, but, just as important, whether the established intellectual community will actually recognise those skills being portrayed. The status of intellectuals' parents has a decided effect on their environment as children because it determines their access to certain schools and higher education and ultimately their social and political friendships. Peter. H. Smith suggests that 'people from an identifiable social class, for instance, are conditioned by that common experience, and they are inclined to share a set of common assumptions'. With regard to figures, ‘94 per cent come from the middle or upper class...only 6 per cent come from working class backgrounds’.

The personal background of public intellectuals

It would appear that in the history of public intellectualism, more success has been found in the sphere of the upper-middle and upper classes. Wealth and its consequent cultural capital have been identified as an advantage to those entering the public intellectual field, and antithetically, poverty and its resulting low cultural capital is seen as a disadvantage. Cultural capital ‘confers power and status'. Steve Fuller points this out in his book ‘The Intellectual’, where he writes that in order to be a credible intellectual you need to have an increased sense of autonomy; “It is relatively easy to demonstrate autonomy if you come from a wealthy or aristocratic background. You simply need to disown your status and champion the poor and downtrodden” (Fuller, 2005: 113). He then goes on to write; “Autonomy is much harder to demonstrate if you come from a poor or proletarian background... calls to join the wealthy in common cause appear to betray one’s class origins” (Fuller, 2005: 114). These comments focus on the social relations to one’s socio-economic class when entering or attempting to enter the intellectual environment, but there is more than this to the argument.
Economic factors have to be taken into consideration. It is clear that many of the worlds intellectuals as viewed by the public, have graduated from elite schools and universities such as Oxford and Cambridge, therefore being taught by the preceding generation of intellectuals themselves. Take three of the top rated intellectuals at the moment; Noam Chomsky, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens,3604,1594654,00.html. Chomsky has ties with MIT, Dawkins with Oxford and Hitchens with Cambridge.
There have however been some exceptions to this, but only because of the amount of cultural capital acquired by these persons. Harold Pinter, for example, originated from a ‘low middle-class background’ and is now a very successful playwright, screenwriter, actor, director, poet, and political activist. It is through this accumulation of activities that he has been regarded a public intellectual. Because of his status acquired through being a playwright originally and then consequent skills, he obtained the cultural capital to be politically active. This concept is shown more clearly by Émile Zola. Zola was crucial to the freedom of Captain Dreyfus in the Dreyfus Affair, and it was because he was a “leading French thinker, [that] his letter formed a major turning-point in the affair”. It was because of the cultural capital that he had gained from his intellectual status as a writer that allowed him to help Dreyfus without being ignored and although he was put on trial for his part in the affair, he had the financial independence to leave the country in order to escape his legal situation. Again finance is seen as important.
These issues are just some arising when the cultural background of public intellectuals is brought into question.

Academics and public intellectuals

In some contexts, especially journalistic speech, intellectual refers to academics, generally in the humanities, especially philosophy, who speak about various issues of social or political import. These are so-called public intellectuals — in effect communicators. Academics generally stick to their own area of expertise or research whereas intellectuals 'have access to and advance a cultural fund of knowledge which does not derive solely from their direct personal experience'. An intellectual's breadth of knowledge gives them the necessary ability to spot new ideas in many disciplines. 'One might consider an intellectual a person who takes a wide range of abstract symbols and ideas seriously, and does so in relation to a wide range of topics outside his immediate field of professional specialisation'.
The term masks an assumption or several, in particular on academia, for example that intellectual work goes on generally in private, and there is a gap to society that requires bridging. In general practice, 'intellectual' as a label is more consistently applied to fields related to culture, the arts and social sciences than it is to working disciplines in the natural sciences, applied sciences, mathematics or engineering. Critics argue that intellectuals in these fields may remain as susceptible to indoctrination, self-deception, and propaganda as the general public because they suffer from the same human prejudices and weaknesses.
The public intellectual has always taken up a role of controversy, conflict and contradiction since their rising/creation during the Dreyfus affair.
Whilst generally the term intellectual has negative connotations, such as, in the Netherlands as having ‘unrealistic visions of the World,’ and Hungary as being ‘too clever’ or an ‘egg-head’ to the Czech Republic as discredited and an almost shameful term relating to being cut off from the reality of things, (Collini, 2006) Collini also states that this is not the full representation of the term, as in the ‘ of English usage, positive, neutral and pejorative uses can easily co-exist,’ (Collini, 2006: 205) and Havel, as an example, ‘ many outside observers [became] a favoured instance of the intellectual as national icon,’ (Collini, 2006: 205) within the Czech Republic. These conflicting views and opinions of the intellectual set the groundwork for the public intellectual’s role in society. Although some intellectuals may attempt to gain acceptance and recognition in contemporary society, according to Edward Said this has been virtually impossible, as the ‘...real or “true” intellectual is therefore always an outsider, living in self-imposed exile and on the margins of society,’ (Jennings and Kemp Welch, 1997: 1-2)
Norman Stone states that intellectuals are, a class, if not the class that got things badly wrong, (Jennings and Kemp Welch, 1997), a person doomed to error and stupidity. Further support came in the form of Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 until 1990, who in her memoirs described the French Revolution as ‘...a Utopian attempt to overthrow a traditional order [...] in the name of abstract ideas, formulated by vain intellectuals,’ (Thatcher, 1993: 753). Thatcher, whom so consciously during her tenure ensured she was surrounded by academics due to her realisation of the importance of ideas remained steadfast in her view of the intellectual as un-British and anti-British, as many journals such as The Spectator and The Sunday Telegraph supported (Jennings and Kemp-Welch, 1997).
Although views of the links between politics and intellectuals were tenuous, there was also a strong presence of contradiction, as many intellectuals could be seen as having a close relationship to certain political regimes, such as the relationship between, the scholar, academic and intellectual, Anthony Giddens to Tony Blair’s Labour Government, and the ideas of ‘The Third Way’. (McLennan, 2004)
Vaclav Havel claims that politics and intellectuals can be linked but also states that responsibility to their ideas, even if presented by a political leader, lies with the intellectual and therefore he claims that Utopian intellectuals should be avoided as they offer what they deem to be universal insights that can and have potentially harmed society (Jennings and Kemp-Welch, 1997). Instead, he argues that attention should be granted to those who are mindful of the ties that are created through their thoughts, ideas and words. It is these intellectuals that Havel contends should be, ‘“...listened to with the greatest attention, regardless of whether they work as independent critics, holding up a much needed mirror to politics and power, or are directly involved in politics”,’ (Jennings and Kemp-Welch, 1997: 13).
However, despite these positive views in favour of the serious intellectual who is concerned about responsibility of ideas, whether this is positive, or as Fuller contends can often be ‘negative responsibility,’ (Fuller, 2005) the links between the intellectual and the political realm have been conflicting and quite contradictory. Whilst Havel believes that their influence in the political world can be positive, enlightening and progressive, many view it as ‘selling out’, as a relationship that conceals censorship, and as a generally negative link. Although many believe that the intellectual should be free to make judgements and comments about politics, they don’t agree with an intricate and intimate link between the two.
Bourdieu has argued that intellectual autonomy is at risk through the relationship between the intellectual and the world of politics. He has argued that this must be looked at in regards to a wider pattern of conflict that exists, between intellectuals and the organisational pressures that they encounter on a regular basis. Bourdieu himself a ‘labelled’ intellectual states that politics is a world of censorship as ‘...the efforts of powerful political groups seek(ing) to rein in the ideas of intellectuals and keep them within a circumscribed set of boundaries,’ (Gattone, 2006: 112). The employment of intellectuals by the state to Bourdieu is a negative position, as the state then becomes influential in the espoused words of the intellectual, as though their conditions of employment they are prevented from ‘...stepping too far outside the limitations considered appropriate by the dominant classes,’ (Gattone, 2006: 112).
It has been stated that intellectuals have retreated back into the ‘Ivory Tower’ not just of Universities, but also to their homes. Perhaps the censorship they are experiencing as they challenge dominant views is the reason why, as Bourdieu argues, that intellectuals now only come out of the ‘Ivory Tower’ when backed into a corner (Gattone, 2006).
Public intellectuals are primarily concerned with ideas and knowledge. Their social role means that they must be responsive and reactive to societal issues and problems, providing a voice for others who may not have the skills, time or opportunity to do so. They should be prepared to listen to a multitude of differing opinions and beliefs, and to construct their own conclusions taking these into account. Intellectuals also involve themselves with issues not specifically related to their area of expertise. Thus, Bauman (1987: 2) states that intellectuals ‘rise above the partial preoccupation of one’s own profession [...] and engage with the global issues of truth, judgement and taste of the time’ (Furedi, 2004: 32). The ability to work within many different forms of media such as an Internet blog, a lecture or forum, radio, printed media i.e. newspapers and journals also widens their mass appeal and coverage so that they appeal to the most people possible.
There is debate as to whether professional academics can and should become public intellectuals. There has for many years been a widespread belief that too many academics are preoccupied with protecting their work from scrutiny outside of their enclosed academic field. This distinct reluctance for academics to share their work with the world originates from the argument that this would leave their work open to public criticism and contestation. Thomas Bender for example, states that academics ‘orient themselves nonetheless almost exclusively to professional structures and contexts, jealously defending their autonomy’ (Bender, 1993: 141-142), and would rather contest and debate with fellow academics rather than with the wider public population, which shows their disinterest with civic affairs.
Michael Burawoy, a leading exponent of ‘public sociology’ criticises ‘professional sociology’ for failing to give sufficient attention to socially important subject matter, blaming academics for losing sight of important public events and issues. Burawoy’s aim in supporting ‘public sociology’ is the transformation of the public by providing them with access to academic research. This process necessitates a dialogue between those in the academic sphere and the public, meant to bridge the wide gap which still exists between the rigorous world of professional academia and the diverse nature of the public sphere.
Another influential thinker who believed that academics must become more aware of the world around them was the American political activist, C. Wright Mills. In one of Mill’s most celebrated works, The Sociological Imagination, he argued that, more often that not, journalists are ‘more politically alert and knowledgeable than sociologists, economists, and especially [...] political scientists’ (Mills, 1959: 99), which shows how some academics lack the possession of the transferable skills needed to command an audience publicly. He goes on to criticize the American university system, which, like many around the world, has become increasingly privatized and bureaucratic, for failing to teach ‘how to gauge what is going on in the general struggle for power in modern society’ (ibid: 99). In fact, the American philosopher Richard Rorty has been extremely critical of the ‘civic irresponsibility of intellect, especially academic intellect’ (Bender, T, 1993: 142).
However, we would be wrong to assume that professional academics should be criticised for operating solely within the academic arena, because this may be beneficial for everyone in society. For instance, whilst the concept of academic freedom, the license to write and discuss about a topic or issue regardless of how controversial it is, is a positive function in that it protects academic inquiry, I believe that, to grant the general public similar levels of freedom which extend beyond mere free speech, would have a detrimental effect on public life. For example, radical and controversial beliefs presented in the academic sphere would need to pass through rigorous theoretical examination before they would be deemed true or proper due to the need for verification. However, such beliefs may be dispersed and circulated publicly without such substantiation, which may lead to distortion and misrepresentation of the issue and therefore possible offense to certain members of the public. The ethical problems enmeshed within this are obvious.
Even thousands of years ago, scholasticism was promoted as the primary form of knowledge production. Socrates disliked the Sophist’s idea that one could ‘buy and sell’ ideas in the public domain. Instead, Socrates advocated a monopoly of knowledge. Thus, ‘those who sought a more penetrating and rigorous intellectual life rejected and withdrew from the general culture of the city in order to embrace a new model of professionalism’ (Bender, T, 1993: 12). Furthermore, Edwards A. Park once said “we do wrong to our own minds when we carry out scientific difficulties down to the arena of popular dissension” (Bender, T, 1993: 12). In this, Park wanted ‘to separate the serious technical role of professionals from their responsibility of supplying usable philosophies for the general public’ (Bender, T, 1003: 12). This does not suggest that one should solely keep academic work from the public eye, but that academic professionals should engage with the public sphere only when the content is suitable for general public consumption, creating a private/public knowledge dichotomy. As such, Bender differentiates between ‘civic culture’ and ‘professional culture’ (Bender, T, 1993: 3) to describe the different spheres in which academics can operate.
Professional academics have been criticized for their inability or reluctance to engage with the wider public consciousness. For instance, ‘academic careerism has dealt a serious body blow to the continued vitality of intellectual life’ (Furedi, 2004: 38), for constraining the effectiveness of public intellectualism in their reluctance to support their aims and methods, and to contribute to it sufficiently. However, some academics institutions do enter the public sphere. For example, attempts have been made to create programs and initiatives in which public intellectualism can be taught, namely at the Florida Atlantic University. One final point to note is that, surely academics permeate the public arena in that their students, who are members of the public, are their primary audience?

Women and Public Intellectual Life

Some view that in comparison to their male counterparts, women have faced a much harder time in being accredited the title of public intellectual.
David Herman, writer and television producer asks, is it a result of institutional sexism in the media and Universities? David Goodhart, editor of ‘Prospect’ argues that ‘ [...] still dominate our intellectual and cultural lives,’ (Barton, 2004). However, as much as this contention may strike a chord with feminists, perhaps this has an element of truth. It isn’t the case that there are not female intellectuals out there, but merely that for a variety of reasons they are perhaps overlooked as their male counterparts take on the esteemed title instead. Goodhart also claims that the majority of public intellectuals are of an older age due to the fact that they have to have established themselves as an expert within their own field before they can continue into other areas of debate and interest (Barton, 2004). This line of thought allows for the claim that it is structural problems that have led to women’s absence from the public intellectual realm, as it is only in more recent decades that women have been able to advance themselves into academia in a sense that would entitle them with the attribution of being recognized as a specialist or expert, the ‘apparent’ pre-requisite to being a public intellectual.
Until the later twentieth century women were barred in regards to ‘...advanced educations, lucrative fellowships, and prized teaching and editorial positions,’ (Allen, 2005). This systematic discrimination has meant that where men of the same age developed their knowledge during these years to take the positions of public intellectuals in later life, women at the same stage, and age were already put in a position whereby they would be unable to achieve. It is only in the later stages of the twenty-first century that these women were given the access that is necessary in order to make advances into higher academic life, and the fruits to this labour can be seen at present times, as more women now hold higher positions in academic institutions than ever before, and more female public intellectuals are coming forward in the public world (Morley and Walsh, 1996).
One such infamous female public intellectual, was that of Susan Sontag, a woman considered to be the leading female public intellectual in the United States. Her death in 2005 raised many questions, including, is there anyone to take her place? And where are all the female intellectuals? (Allen, 2005).
Male intellectuals such as Stephen Pinker, Darwin, Einstein, Richard Dawkins and Richard Posner, to name just a few can be seen as inhabiting a large part of the public intellectual space, leaving the absence of women as remarkably evident. However, this is not the case, many female intellectuals are out there and are present in the public debates occurring, and can even be considered to be that of ‘household names’, including; Germaine Greer, Barbara Ehrenreich, Susan Faludi, Iris Murdoch, Hannah Arendt and infamously Simone De Beauvoir, to name but a few. On inspection of these names, it appears as though reading a list of scholarly feminists who rarely expend themselves outside of their feminist fields of knowledge, however, these women are often in the public eye, arguing in debates on culture and politics, so one can (when viewing what appears to be a lesser spotlight for these female intellectuals) wonder why they should they not be able to acclaim the same title and reverence given to their fellow intellectuals? Especially as it is in the light of feminism that many of these women would have been allowed education to the degree that they gained it, and so is not surprising that they would front such a movement and study.
Feminist intellectuals, however, may find that both resentment and worship are symptoms of the feelings that they must endure from the public, such as many of the intellectual First Ladies of America do, namely, Hillary Clinton, Eleanor Roosevelt and Betty Ford, to name just a few. It is no wonder that such women may find comfort in the private realm from the hostility faced in the public world, but is this not also symptomatic of the male public intellectual whom returns to the safety and comfort of the ‘ivory tower’ when under pressure of hostility and aggression? (Showalter, 2001). Steve Fuller states, that the failing of female public intellectuals does not rest on them as individuals so much as it does on them as a collective. He asserts that male intellectuals, use each others works, they cite them and use them as support. Fuller claims that this ‘network of support’ is not apparent in female intellectuals works and that they don’t use each other in the manner that they should, a manner that would advance their cause immeasurably (Fuller, 2007 cited in Barton, 2004).
Although few female public intellectuals are recognized by the public, the Guardian did in the wake of its list of male public intellectuals also compose a list of the top 101 overlooked women intellectuals.

Bioethics and public intellectualism

It has been suggested by Parsi that public intellectuals bridge the gap between the academic elite and the educated public, particularly when concerning issues in the natural sciences like genetics and bioethics. There are distinct differences between academics in the traditional sense and public intellectuals. Academics are typically confined to their academy or university and tend to concentrate on their chosen academic discipline. This is usually specific to western academia following large scale investment into higher education after the Cold War and growth in the number of academic institutions. This in turn has led to Hyperspecialisation within academic life- the specialization of particular disciplines and confining it to the classroom. This has become known as "the acadamisation of intellectual life". A public intellectual, although often starting out in academia, is not confined to a specific discipline or to traditional boundaries. Public Intellectuals should not be confused with experts, who are people who have mastery over one specific field of interest. This development has encouraged a gap between academics and the public. Public Intellectuals convey information through multiple mediums, often appearing on television, radio and in popular literature. As Richard Posner states "a public intellectual expresses himself in a way that is accessible to the public". They synthesize academic ideas and relate them to wider socio- political issues.
There has been a general call for natural scientists and bio ethicists to play more of a role in public intellectualism as their disciplines have such relevance to civil society. Scientists and bio ethicists already play major roles in review boards, government commissions and ethics committees, it is easy to see how their research can have public relevance. Since academia is hidden away, it has been argued that scientists, and bio ethicists in particular should realise their duty to society by assuming the role of a public intellectual. This would mean taking their relevant research and communicating it through mass media to the wider concerns of the public. Increased public interest in bioethics has increased the responsibility for bio ethicists to become more engaged in the public domain- not in an expert role, but as instigators of public discourse. Bioethics has massive public interest, despite the fact that it is an academic specialisation. It provokes debate on an array of socially important issues like medicine, technology, genetic research etc. Key examples of scientists that have occupied a unique role in public intellectualism are Richard Dawkins with his work on evolution and Charles Darwin.

Outside the West

In ancient China literati referred to the government officials who formed the ruling class in China for over two thousand years. These scholar-bureaucrats were a status group of educated laymen, not ordained priests. They were not a hereditary group as their position depended on their knowledge of writing and literature. After 200 B.C. the system of selection of candidates was influenced by Confucianism and established its ethic among the literati. The Hundred Flowers Campaign in China was largely based on the government's wish for a mobilization of intellectuals; with very sour consequences later.


  • Bender, T., (1993), Intellect and Public Life, The John Hopkins University Press.
  • Camp, Roderic (1985) Intellectuals and the State in Twentieth-Century Mexico, Austin: University of Texas Press
  • Collini, Stefan (2006) Absent Minds: Intellectuals In Britain, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • de Huszar, George B., ed., 1960 The Intellectuals: A Controversial Portrait. Glencoe, Illinois: The Free Press. Anthology with many contributors).
  • Fuller, Steve, 2005, The Intellectual: The Positive Power of Negative Thinking, Icon.
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  • Furedi, F. (2004), Where have all the Intellectuals gone?, Continuum Press.
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  • Gross, John, 1969 The rise and fall of the man of letters. (Pelican edition, 1973).
  • Jennings, Jeremy and Kemp-Welch, Anthony, eds. (1997), Intellectuals in Politics: From the Dreyfus Affair to Salman Rushdie.
Konrad, George et al (1979) The Intellectuals On The Road To Class Power, Sussex: Harvester Press

Further reading

External links

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Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

academician, advertising writer, annalist, art critic, author, authoress, belletrist, bibliographer, bookman, classicist, clerk, coauthor, collaborator, colossus of knowledge, columnist, compiler, composer, copywriter, creative writer, critic, dance critic, diarist, drama critic, dramatist, encyclopedist, essayist, free lance, free-lance writer, genius, ghost, ghostwriter, giant of learning, humanist, humorist, inditer, learned clerk, learned man, literary artist, literary craftsman, literary critic, literary man, logographer, lover of learning, magazine writer, man of learning, man of letters, mastermind, mine of information, monographer, music critic, newspaperman, novelettist, novelist, pamphleteer, penwoman, philologist, philologue, philomath, philosophe, philosopher, poet, polyhistor, polymath, prose writer, pundit, reviewer, savant, scenario writer, scenarist, scholar, scholastic, schoolman, scribe, scriptwriter, short-story writer, storyteller, student, technical writer, walking encyclopedia, word painter, wordsmith, writer
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