Who gets to be a public intellectual?

The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a reasonable piece on a group of young, smart, writers associated with high-end literary and political magazines, under the rubric: “The New Public Intellectuals.” I don’t think the causality – these folks went public due to lack of jobs – is at all proven. But writers need hooks, so I am not arguing there. Here’s what I am arguing:

I am routinely struck by how the term “public intellectual,” alas, is used to valorize certain kinds of behavior (writing) and thus demean others (activism) as approvable public activity for scholars. We need to change that, and below you’ll find a long series of tweets on the topic. Community artists, agricultural advisors, activists, and yes, writers like me or the fancy folks below, all are public intellectuals. Any work emerging from one’s scholarly expertise and aimed at an extramural audience is the work of the public intellectual.

And then there’s the flip side, which is using public intellectuals to denigrate specialized intramural or intradiscipline scholarship. This is not a zero sum game. My CNN essays do not mean that my university press monograph is less important. I want us to open our minds – and our tenure/promotion standards – to more kinds of rigorous scholarly activity in more contexts, not substitute one mode of prestige economy for another.

A few key tweets, then the storify.

I am really angry at Moyn. Those of us who don’t work at Harvard need you to promote the idea that scholarship matters for its own sake.

Here’s the entire rant, or just click here to see it on storify.

[View the story “Public Intellectuals: Not just fancy writers (though also fancy writers!)” on Storify]

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