IT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies. This, at least, may seem enough of a truism to pass over without comment. (Noam Chomsky, 1967)[1]


You can see through/Your rose colored glasses / In a world that seems/ Like glamour to you / You’ve got opinions and judgments about / All kind of things / That you don’t know anything about (from Ivory Tower, by Van Morrison)


Intellectuals Who Quest Beyond the Ivory Tower


by Saleem H. Ali and Robert F. Barsky



The Objective


The popularization of academic discourse in recent years has caused much debate about how to disseminate knowledge to the public without sacrificing a dedicated emphasis on research. Tenure systems within universities and academic associations have generally disparaged the involvement of academics in fictional writing, activist media ventures, popular journalism or corporate assignments. Nevertheless, there are still many notable scholars who have either chosen or allowed themselves to become popularizers. This volume is an attempt to relate and analyze the challenges which popular work presents to the academy and to try and tease out the intellectual costs and benefits, both tangible and intangible, of being a “public intellectual.” This raises important questions of social responsibility and professional ethics, which can cloud judgment on either side of the divide. At another level, the debate on popular academics reflects the essential tension between analysis and synthesis which has been phrased in many ways -- intensive versus extensive; reductionist versus holistic; and most recently as disciplinary versus interdisciplinary. Our aim is to approach this relatively intractable topic at various levels.

Beyond the Ivory Tower

 To be a “public intellectual” is to undertake work beyond the “Ivory Tower,” variously construed, a conscious or conscientious effort that has been going on ever since the advent of a line, variously drawn, between an Academy for intellectuals and the rest of society. In Europe and North America, those involved with criticisms of the established order of society have come from a broad array of backgrounds and, inspired by Greek, Roman, Renaissance or Enlightenment thinkers, have imagined themselves spreading ideas and approaches which foster some sense of the common good. As a consequence, many of those who have worked beyond the Ivory Tower have variously identified themselves as Marxists, fascists, feminists, socialists, Utilitarians, Fabians, existentialists, social democrats, libertarians, radicals, anarchists, syndicalists and, in more recent times, civil rights activists, neo-conservatives, neo-liberals, Trotskyites, Maoists and muckrakers, supporting causes ranging the entire “left”-”right” spectrum.[2] Rather than focusing upon how allegiances or resistances to particular programs play out, much of our approach in this volume is to think about responsibilities that intellectuals have as intellectuals, which in some ways leads us to question the very category of the “public intellectual,” because the category of the “intellectual” exists as regards a “public” who supports, admires, respects or expects something from it.

One consequence of this is that intellectuals can be perceived to have, as Howard Zinn suggests, a public responsibility “to earn our keep in this world. Thanks to a gullible public, we have been honored, flattered, even paid, for producing the largest number of inconsequential studies in the history of civilization: tens of thousands of articles, books, monographs, millions of term papers; enough lectures to deafen the gods. Like politicians we have thrived on public innocence, with this difference; the politicians are paid for caring, when they really don’t; we are paid for not caring, when we really do.”[3] This relationship between intellectuals and politicians runs both ways: we rely upon representatives from high-powered intellectual institutions to help us understand and legitimize (say) our government’s policies or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, we look to our outspoken intellectuals “to expose the lies of governments, to analyze actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions.” No matter what side of the political spectrum they speak from, Western intellectuals, according to Chomsky, can have access to the workings of their society on account of their hard-won “political liberty, from access to information and freedom of expression.” For the privileged few who are in this situation, Western democracy “provides the leisure, the facilities, and the training to seek the truth lying hidden behind the veil of distortion and misrepresentation, ideology and class interest, through which the events of current history are presented to us.”[4] Whether or not they choose to do so, and the motivation for their foray beyond their specialization, is a large part of the public intellectual story.


Motivations for Action

The intellectual attempting to contribute something beyond the ivory tower does so with a range of possible justifications or motives, depending upon the issues and the individual’s sense of the knowledge they possess. One approach would be to imagine that ideas have power in themselves, so spreading knowledge beyond one’s own discipline may be “useful” for its own sake. Another would be to consider that the intellectual should act as a kind of commissar whose obligations include the unquestioning support of government policy. Still another would be to suggest that the Ivory Tower grows up from the hard work of those who fund it, and therefore beneficiaries therein have the responsibility to get involved with social issues deemed “pressing” by some higher calling, like “human rights” or “God’s Word,” that is gloriously disconnected from status quo power relations.

When an intellectual chooses or is forced into social engagement, s/he extends herself beyond his or her normal responsibilities, and in doing so can either enhance or endanger his or her reputation inside of the academy; or, in the case of successful social actors, personal risk and personal gain commingle, depending upon the context. In his introduction to his Reith lectures, “Representations of the Intellectual,” Edward Said talks about taking personal risks in the name of moral issues, and about the value of willed disconnection from the realm of political power, to describe the value of true intellectual pursuit: “It involves a sense of the dramatic and of the insurgent, making a great deal of one’s rare opportunities to speak, catching the audience’s attention, being better at wit and debate than one’s opponents. And there is something fundamentally unsettling about intellectuals who have neither offices to protect nor territory to consolidate and guard; self-irony is therefore more frequent than pomposity, directness more than hemming and hawing. But there is no dodging the inescapable reality that such representations by intellectuals will neither make them friends in high places nor win them official honors. It is a lonely condition, yes, but it is always a better one than a gregarious tolerance for the way things are.”[5] Said herein describes himself, perhaps a bit disingenuously given the status he assumed, as willing to forego whatever advantages public fawning of the powerful might procure by baiting or critiquing his own government, as we saw during the lead-up to the recent invasion of Iraq: “It has finally become intolerable to listen to or look at news in this country. I’ve told myself over and over again that one ought to leaf through the daily papers and turn on the TV for the national news every evening, just to find out what “the country” is thinking and planning, but patience and masochism have their limits.” His own responsibility, which is self-imposed, herein meets the limits of his personal abilities, and pushes him outwards to the public domain: “Every one of us must raise our voices, and march in protest, now and again and again. We need creative thinking and bold action to stave off the nightmares planned by a docile, professionalized staff in places like Washington, Beijing or Tel Aviv. For if what they have in mind is what they call “greater security” then words have no meaning at all in the ordinary sense. That Bush and Sharon have contempt for the non-white people of this world is clear. The question is, how long can they keep getting away with it?”[6]

Said employed his intellect to achieve professional success, his resulting reputation to gain access to the media, and his institutionally-sanctioned power as a Professor at Columbia University to protect himself as he waged an often unpopular battle for the rights of Palestinians. In a 1999 Boston Globe interview he explained this approach but suggesting that “I’ve always felt that if someone was a person of privilege . . . the least you could do was help those who were not as fortunate as you. I’ve always thought that Palestine was a service . . . not something about political parties or positions or organizations, but rather an individual commitment. Which I don’t regret at all.”[7] Indeed, the regret would have kicked-in had Said said nothing, because he would feel not only the ability, but indeed the responsibility to speak out on contemporary issues. But what was this “ability” that he felt compelled to employ? More specifically, can his professional work actually contribute something to contemporary debates on political, legal or social issues? He thinks it can, so in Orientalism[8] he tries to “use humanistic critique to open up the fields of struggle, to introduce a longer sequence of thought and analysis to replace the short bursts of polemical, thought-stopping fury that so imprison us in labels and antagonistic debate whose goal is a belligerent collective identity rather than understanding and intellectual exchange” (xxii). This version of “humanism” challenges “Blake’s mind-forg’d manacles so as to be able to use one’s mind historically and rationally for the purposes of reflective understanding and genuine disclosure” (ibid). This brings him beyond the ivory tower within which literary criticism often operates, in part because his humanistic endeavors is “sustained by a sense of community with other interpreters and other societies and periods” (xxiii). But he remains steadfastly within his own discipline because of his conscientious insistence upon using the critical tools of history, philology and language studies to assess Rudyard Kipling, on the one hand, and Condoleezza Rice, on the other. Said wants to claim that literature and classical philology are fraught with political significance but also have political power in their own right, in part because “the general liberal consensus that ‘true’ knowledge is fundamentally non-political (and conversely, that overtly political knowledge is not ‘true’ knowledge) obscures the highly if obscurely organized political circumstances obtaining when knowledge is produced.” For Said, in short, “we are of the connections, not outside and beyond them. And it behooves us as intellectuals and humanist and secular critics to understand United States in the world of nations and power from within the actuality, as participants in it, not detached outside observes who, like Oliver Goldsmith, in Yeats’s perfect phrase, deliberately sip at the honeypots of our minds” (xxiii). Jim Merod follows up on this approach in thinking about the social responsibility of the (literary) critic,[9] in which he provocatively ask how humanists can “turn the rather elegant and complicated readings of cherished texts into politically productive knowledge for a society immersed in consumer junk and drowning in images of false liberation.” If this is the goal, then one of the many challenges is to on the one hand to uphold the sometimes obscure project of criticism in the humanities, while on the other extending its worth to useful work, which in some ways demands that it be transformed at least in its language to perform this redemptive function: “In all its forms, the question is how criticism can become practical without losing clarity and analytic skill, become democratic (or democratically useful) and not evasive” (89).

Truman Nelson, in “On Creating Revolutionary Art and Going Out of Print”,[10] would suggest that intellectuals like Edward Said have overstated their own originality, and that revolutionary morality runs through the American fabric “with a greater purity and continuity than anywhere else.” The real problem is that these “honeypots” have apparently become more seductive or powerful in the current era. “Why were our heroic personalities, the carriers and reinforcers of the lifeline to a future beyond the chaos of greedy and irrational society, so denigrated, so deprincipled that they could no longer fortify the hope that we can establish a rational world of peace and beauty?” For Nelson, “the great names,” such Sumner, Theodore Parker, Garrison, John Brown, Wendell Phillips, Frederick Douglass, Atgeld, Debs, “have been exorcised because they understood and dramatized those crises which came at the peak of the flowering of a young and vigorous capitalist democracy, dramatized them in ways which led to the unmasking and sharpening of the very contradictions which will cause this bloom to fade and flower into yet higher social forms”( 93).

Despite the obvious advantages of having intellectuals play a strong role in the moral or political fabric of society, Nelson reminds us that intellectuals are both observers and actors in the social realm and as such they themselves can derive symbolic and material capital for their work. Consistent with this approach, Edward Herman notes, for example, that Dinesh D’Souza, the Thernstroms, Christina Hoff Sommers, Shelby Steele and Heather MacDonald are often funded by organizations such as American Enterprise, Manhattan Institutes, Heritage Foundation, or the Hoover Institution which allows them very privileged access to media and therefore providing them the wherewithal to work as “power intellectuals.” He also looks to respected writers such as Alan Wolfe, Charles Murray, Paul Krugman, Robert Kaplan, David Rieff and Michael Ignatieff who, through their writings, have on the one hand secured the prestige to have voice, and on the other “can be relied on to say what the establishment wants said on the topics of the day: ‘civility,’ ‘political correctness,’ race, free trade, and ‘humanitarian intervention’ and the civilizing mission of the United States and West.”[11]

In short, “intellectuals” from prestigious universities or “think tanks” can be politically useful or dangerous, depending upon their opinions, and therefore can either be touted as being either “experts” or, by similar criteria, as “out of touch” liberals who live with their heads in the proverbial clouds. This ambivalence is shared by large portions of the population in the US, who on the one hand hope to educate their children at Harvard or Yale or Vanderbilt, but on the other feel a kind of class scorn for the liberal humanism that might occasionally leak out from faculty therein. This contrast, captured by the distinction between the vision of the “intellectual” versus the person who is “studying” at a “prestigious place”, whereby the former is deemed to be out of touch, the latter subjected to lauding and envy. What counts in the latter, though, is the label Yale, Harvard or Vanderbilt, and not the content of the thoughts, which are of secondary importance in light of the symbolic capital of the institution.


“On the Ground”

The question of speaking on behalf of a segment of the population begs questions about who can represent whose “actuality,” or who speaks for those “on the ground,” and on what basis. This has been a crucial area for African Americans, for example, for whom the late Ray Charles, W.E.B Dubois, Ralph Ellison, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, represent both icons and particular political approaches. And contemporary intellectuals such as Kwame Anthony Appiah, Stephen Carter, Henry Louis Gates, Stuart Hall, Bell Hooks, Leroi Jones, Toni Morrison, Shelby Steele, Alice Walker, Patricia Williams or Cornell West set the tenor of ongoing work by engaging on a whole range of fronts the crucial intellectual and public challenges of the African American experience. The actuality for them is the discrimination they underwent throughout their lives and now, as they occupy positions of privilege in academic institutions, they have set out to define responsible work within and beyond their respective disciplines. This means that the African American intellectual task demands a specific range of institutional and public obligations: re-defining the canon, and contributing to it; re-thinking the university, and erecting or contributing to new programs within it; (re-)building ties between the community and the ivory tower, and then serving themselves as bridges; and at every turn attempting to raise the consciousness that “traditional” methods aren’t always the right ones, even though demonstrating that they can thrive, and transform, institutions as staid and traditional as the Ivy League university. Notice that these obligations are specifically directed to the African American and that in this case, it would perhaps be unproductive, or even counter-productive, if a Caucasian would be on the vanguard of such efforts on behalf of African Americans, no matter what his or her views.

The challenge for the female public intellectual is, perhaps, less clearly defined even if there’s an overlap with some of the issues set out thus far. Speaking within the female actuality is to represent a massive diversity of voiced, which would lead one to suspect that there would be a roughly equivalent split between male and female intellectuals engaged beyond the Ivory Tower; for what they’re worth, two studies have amassed, on varying criteria, lists of public intellectuals in the United Kingdom and the United States, and neither puts women beyond 15% of the overall count of public intellectuals. In the case of the Prospect Magazine list of the “100 worthies,” there are only 12 women: religious historian Karen Armstrong, critic, essayist and novelist A.S. Byatt, historian Linda Colley, pharmacologist and director of the Royal Institute Susan Greenfield, writer and academic Germaine Greer, historian Lisa Jardine, moral philosopher Mary Midgley, philosopher Onora O’Neill, author and columnist Melanie Phillips, biographer Gitta Sereny, philosopher and public ethicist Mary Warnock and novelist Jeanette Winterson. Pondering the list’s absences, David Herman wonders, “Is this the result of institutional ... sexism in the media and universities? Or is it rather an acknowledgement that the big battles have been won, that sexism [is] no longer [one of the] key fault lines in our intellectual culture?” A Guardian article entitled “Here’s a few you missed” [12] suggests that Herman’s query “rather supposes that we would only see a large number of women on such a list if women’s rights were still contentious -- if we were still entitled to a sympathy vote. And if the good fight is over, then we ought to get back to the kitchen.” It then goes on to cite Steve Fuller, professor of sociology at Warwick University and author of How to be an Intellectual, who suggests “that male intellectuals tend to reinforce each other more than women do. The old boy network permeates the intelligentsia just as much as any other aspect of British society.” Furthermore, he has found that female public intellectuals aren’t regarded with the same respect as the male, and is scrutinized more severely, and on different grounds, including “Susan Greenfield’s mini skirts, or the personal life of Germaine Greer. ‘Women intellectuals certainly appear on enough pages,’ says Fuller, but often this can slightly devalue their intelligence in the public’s perception. Men, by comparison, ‘don’t get hurt by being around a lot.’ It seems that even in the intellectual world there are slags and there are studs.” The Guardian adds a list of its own 101 who are “missing” from the pantheon, including Elaine Showalter, literary critic, Gillian Beer, academic, Vanessa Redgrave, actor and campaigner, Doris Lessing, author, Juliet Mitchell, psychoanalyst and author, Naomi Klein, author, Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, Lisa Appignanesi, television producer, author, member of the ICA council, Bonnie Greer, broadcaster and author, Lady Amos, leader of the House of Lords, Mary Kay Wilmers, editor of the London Review of Books, Sheila Lawlor, director of think-tank Politeia and author.

As part of his own effort to document the public intellectual, Richard Posner also offers a list, this time of 607 Public intellectuals.[13] Slightly more complete and systematic, Posner includes as categories of description of each candidate, including whether they are female, Black, Jewish, academically affiliated (and in which domain), government affiliated, scholarly citations, and the number of web hits their names draw. A survey of this list includes a relatively small number of female public intellectuals including Renata Adler, Hannah Arendt, Martha Bayles, Simone de Beauvoir, Ruth Benedict, Sissela Bok, Judith Butler, Rachel Carson, Lynn Chaney, Anne Coulter, Laura D’Andrea Tyson, Angela Davis, Midge Decter, Andrea Dworkin, Barbara Ehrenreich, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Barbara Epstein, Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, Susan Estrich, Susan Faludi, Frances Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Betty Frieden, Carol Gilligan, Mary Ann Glendon, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Linda Greenhouse, Lani Guinier, Amy Gutmann, Elizabeth Hardwick, Vicki Hearne, Carolyn Heilbrun, Lillian Hellman, Gertrude Himmelfarb, bell hooks, Ada Louise Huxtable, Carol Iannone, Pauline Kael, Mary Lefkowitz, Catharine MacKinnon, Janet Malcolm, Mary McCarthy, Deirdre McCloskey, Margaret Mead, Kate Millett, Martha Minnow, Jessica Mitford, Toni Morrison, Martha Nussbaum, Joyce Carol Oates, Cynthia Ozick, Camille Paglia, Virginia Postrel, Francine Prose, Hilary Putnam (!), Ayn Rand, Diane Ravitch, Adrienne Rich, Elaine Scarry, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Nancy Sherman, Judith Sklar, Elaine Showalter, Theda Skocpol, Christina Hoff Sommers, Susan Sontag, Gloria Steinem, Kathleen Sullivan, Abigail Thernstrom, Diana Trilling, Barbara Tuchman, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Rebecca West, Patricia Williams, Ellen Willis, Roberta Wohlstetter, Naomi Wolf. Notice that of these 78, 13 are dead and one (Hilary Putnam) is a man. This means that of the 604 public intellectuals in Posner’s pantheon, only 10% or so are women who are still alive, a number that is consistent with the Prospect Magazine effort.

A sense of how one might act in the face of such power dynamics and the institutional apparatuses that mirror them is captured very nicely in the work of Camille Paglia,[14] who in a talk at MIT invokes her situation and her sex as she performs a combination of a stand-up comedy routine and a provocative feminist-informed attack on the elite scientific institution: “Now, speaking here at M.I.T. confronted me with a dilemma. I asked myself, should I try to act like a lady? I can do it. It’s hard, it takes a lot out of me. I can do it for a few hours. But then I thought, naw. These people, both my friends and my enemies who are here, aren’t coming to see me act like a lady. So I thought I’d just be myself -- which is, you know, abrasive, strident, and obnoxious. So then you all can go outside and say “What a bitch!” (250). This is fun, and it follows both the idea of the catalyst, you have the right to your own thoughts and who cares what authority thinks, and nurturing, in that you have to grow and work in your own way, informed but independent: “Now, the reason I’m getting so much attention: I think it’s pretty obvious that we’re in a time where there’s a kind of impasse in contemporary thinking. And what I represent is independent thought. What I represent is the essence of the Sixties, which is free thought and free speech. And a lot of people don’t like it. A lot of people who are well-meaning on both sides of the political spectrum want to shut down free speech. And my mission is to be absolutely as painful as possible in every situation” (250). Her primary goal here is to denounce rather than uphold some kind of social program, and she does so, typically, by challenging the authoritative voices who would claim to speak on behalf of the audience.

One particularly humorous example, of what she’s talking about, and notice the role of humor in this type of approach, is in her discussion about multiculturalism’s rise as an à la mode subject, suddenly preached by those least likely to recognize its implications. “Whereas people like, um Stanley Fish -- whom I call ‘a totalitarian Tinkerbell’ -- that’s what I call him. Uh-huh. Okay? How dare he? What a hypocrite! People at Duke telling us about multiculturalism -- those people who have never had anyone outside of a prep school in their classes. It’s unbelievable -- the preaching! That whole bunch of people at Duke -- all of them in flight from their ethnicity -- everyone of them -- trying to tell us about the problem of the old establishment was that it was WASP. So what’s the answer to that? Be ethnic! Okay? Every one of them -- every one of them -- look a the style that they write -- this kind of gameplaying, slick, cerebral style. Those people have an identity problem!” (255). To separate herself off from these people involves her acknowledging the soil in which she was raised, which brings her gardening into public view: “I’m probably the only major voice right now in academe who’s actually taught factory workers. As opposed to these people who are the Marxists [makes prancing, dancing, hair-preening gestures], oh yes, these Marxists, like Terry Eagleton at Oxford. Do you know what he makes? Do you know the salary that man makes? Oh, it just disgusts me. This is why he has to wear blue jeans, to show “Oh, no, I don’t have the money.” These people are hypocrites! They really are. It’s all a literary game. There’s no authentic self-sacrifice, no direct actual experience of workers or working-class people. It’s appalling, the situation. It’s everywhere, it’s everywhere in the Ivy League” (255). The tensions and contradictions herein abound, and Paglia herself, guru, self-fashioned populist, writer, Yale graduate, on a podium at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in front of a hoard of adoring fans, embodies whole realms of them. From a more social perspective, those who work from this perspective recall Herbert Marcuse’s or Howard Zinn’s ideas that intellectuals need, to use Zellig Harris’s term, “de-fool” the population in part by offering the humor required to save us from drowning in the media and popular culture sea of misrepresentation.


The Intellectual Lifebuoy

The constant problem for intellectuals revolves around the “translation” of their ideas, and their dense prose, into something that is deemed useful beyond the ivory tower. On the one hand, such work in venues such as literary criticism, can be very powerful. Carolyn Dever, in Skeptical Feminism: Activist Theory, Activist Practice recalls in her discussion of Adrienne Rich, for example, that “by the early 1980s, literary criticism was ground zero in what was previously a grassroots political movement, as academic work, especially in the humanities, was increasingly claimed as a form of activist intervention.”[15] But for many “activists,” the “academic” side of things can sometimes cause as many problems as it addresses, and there is a long history of writers and scholars making lucid pleas for sensible and productive scholarship instead of self-serving obliquely undecipherable “political” obfuscation and metacriticism. Citing Orwell, in a discussion about literary theory and the professionalization of textual analysis, Noam Chomsky has found that although there is some “important and insightful” work done in the frameworks of literary and cultural theory, it is nevertheless “hard to figure out” because one has to “labor to try to tease the simple, interesting points out.” This in his opinion is a consequence of the simple fact that “it’s extremely hard to have good ideas. There are very few of them around. If you’re in the sciences, you know you can sometimes come up with something that’s pretty startling and it’s usually something that’s small in comparison with what’s known and you’re really excited about it. Outside the natural sciences it’s extremely hard to do even that. There just isn’t that much that’s complicated that’s at all understood outside of pretty much the core natural sciences. Everything else is either too hard for us to understand or pretty easy.” This of course makes life rather complicated for academics in the humanities or social sciences because “You’ve got to have a reason for your existence. The result is that simple ideas are dressed up in extremely complex terminology and frameworks. In part, it’s just careerism, or maybe an effort to build self-respect.” (  

Russell Jacoby finds in his nostalgic book The Last Intellectuals that the problem is not so much in the obscurity of the language as in the fact that the modern university takes the soul out of the intellectual; laboring for a “discovery” for which they will receive recompense, contemporary academics find their work becoming narrower, their quest more single-minded, and their ends more bureaucratic. In his 2001 study entitled Public Intellectuals, the US Court of Appeals judge and famously prodigious Richard Posner is equally critical of the university, but he has no desire to return to an era of committed intellectuals who fought the good fight, favoring instead a more utilitarian approach that actually lauds the assessment that ideas are commodities fighting it out on the open market and favoring those ideas which can be “put to work” for liberal purposes over more “utopian”-style analyses.[16] So to Pierre Bourdieu’s idea that discourse is bought and sold on a symbolic marketplace of ideas as commodities comes Posner’s advocating this as desirable.

The problem with Posner’s approach is that there is no “level playing field,” even in an “open” marketplace of ideas such as the university; indeed, a number of studies have pointed to nefarious connections between so-called rarefied university quarters and the more hard-nosed business practices, such as the trade in arms,[17] and it’s obvious looking at the number of PhDs and former professors who people current government office, and the number of high-placed government officials in important university offices, that the tower isn’t so separate from other high places. Bill Readings goes further in the University in Ruins,[18] in which he claims that the “ideal community” in the university no longer “provides a model of the rational community, a microcosm of the pure form of the public sphere;” indeed, Readings claims that the Humboldt-inspired University has lost “its privileged status as the model of society,” and it has not regained it “by becoming the model of the absence of models.” Instead, the University “becomes one site among others where the question of being-together is raised, raised with an urgency that proceeds from the absence of the institutional forms (such as the nation-state), which have historically served to mask that question for the past three centuries or so” (20).

No matter what the university has become, writers such as Homi Bhabha or Gayatri Spivak still draw from the privilege they procure within their respective universities to speak on behalf of the downtrodden, and their oftentimes contradictory mission, of speaking from within the university and using the complex theory they teach therein to do so, is sometimes attacked on its own terms. Sonia Shah’s Znet article entitled “Our Deeply Twisted Understanding of the World” represents this perspective: “Right now, people are dying from western capitalism; they’re getting poisoned by industrial chemicals and flooded out of their homes by mega-dams. Women are being forced to service an international sex industry, work in sweatshops, and undergo painful mutilations. We don’t need to know a lot about how these people live because the question right now is survival itself ... It’s too important to leave to the lofty intellectuals in their ivory towers.” [19] Since it’s too important to leave it to the “lofty intellectuals,” but it’s also beyond the interests of most people to start “deconstructing” misinformation, the only hope is to bring scholars work to bear upon contemporary issues in ways which are mindful and self-aware. In her Political Theory and Feminist Social Criticism,[20] Brooke Ackerly makes a case for an actionable, coherent and self-reflective “social criticism” which “requires the examination of seemingly shared values, practices and norms. Political theory might guide us in determining the ends of social criticism; but in this book I focus on the process of social criticism. For this purpose I take the end of social criticism to be the ongoing process of bringing about incrementally a more informed, collective and uncoerced process of social change. Although they may not always be successful, the everyday critics… practice social criticism that has been successful in this regard” (14).

Approaches, like the one described by Ackerly, which rely upon conscientious efforts at situating social action, are intimately tied to the specific place and time of engagement. This in some ways recalls and expands Jean-Paul Sartre’s approach which, in the wake of his experience in the French Resistance, demanded constant engagement in contemporary issues: “Since the writer has no way of escaping, we want him to embrace his era -- tightly. It is his only chance; it was made for him and he was made for it” (252).[21] This idea challenges many of the practices of the ivory tower, at least in its effort to shelter or validate work deemed obscure or disconnected, unless it is accompanied by some version of social engagement. The writer, therefore, isn’t some New Critical construct, a gloriously disconnected “genius” who owes nothing to his time or his surroundings: “The writer is situated in his time; every word he utters has reverberations. As does his silence. I hold Flaubert and the Goncourts responsible for the repression that followed the Commune because they didn’t write a line to prevent it. Some will object that this wasn’t their business. But was the Calas trial Voltaire’s business? Was Dreyfus’s sentence Zola’s business? Was the administration of the Congo Gide’s business? Each of those authors, at a particular time in his life, took stock of his responsibility as a writer. The Occupation taught us ours. Since we act upon our time by virtue of our very existence, we decide that our action will be voluntary” (252-3).  

So for Sartre, there is a real obligation to write to the issues of the day, and it is indeed incumbent upon the academic to leave the Ivory Tower lest s/he bear the consequences, if only through his or her silence, of actions taken outside of it. Many who have written on the social responsibility of the academic hold to this idea, often taking for granted that the issues are fundamentally economic and, in many cases, solvable only through some kind of profound upheaval. This is certainly the case for writers like Cornelius Castoriadis, who bemoans intellectualism without true intellectual engagement.[22] One example he provides is that so many “Marxist” and “leftist” intellectuals “continue to spend their time and energy writing on and on about the relation between Volume 1 and Volume 3 of Das Kapital, commenting on and reinterpreting this or that comment on Marx by this or that interpreter of Marx, heaping glosses on glosses of books”, rather than addressing “actual history, the effective creation of forms and meanings in and through the activity of people” (255). One side of this is clearly professional, as Paul Street suggests in his 2002 piece “Defending Civilization and the Myth of Radical Academia”:

As one genuinely radical teaching-centered history professor told me years ago, his colleagues “spend most of their time writing long love letters to each other.” The “love letters” referred, of course, to the academics’ parade of specialized self-refereed and self-referential books and articles. These long and involved life works that rarely attain anything but the most select insider readership. They excel mainly at enabling their authors to gain tenure and promotions and at gathering dust on the shelves of university libraries. Meanwhile, those professors who focus on teaching, on communicating with and inspiring the thousands of students out in their classrooms and lecture halls, the children of people who pay professors’ salaries, are ridiculed for not knowing who the real audience is. At the same time, the radical potential of academia is badly diluted by the profoundly anti-intellectual super-specialization and subdivision of knowledge and labor across diverse academic departments and programs. The modern university’s artificial separation (reflected in an academic lecture I once heard on “Marx the sociologist, Marx the political scientist, Marx the economist, Marx the historian, and Marx the anthropologist”) of thought makes it difficult for academics and students to make the connections essential for meaningful intellectual work and radical criticism. The few who rise above it to are often denounced for speaking outside their little assigned corner of academic expertise.[23]


Howard Zinn has made the same comment about the projects of historians in “Historian as Citizen,”[24] but rather than considering professional advancement he does so in regards to personal responsibility: “I am suggesting that blame in history be based on the future and not the past. It is an old and useless game among historians to decide whether Caesar was good or bad. Napoleon progressive or reactionary, Roosevelt a reformer or a revolutionist. True, certain of these questions are pertinent to present concerns; for instance, was Socrates right in submitting to Athens? But in a recounting of past crimes, the proper question to ask is not ‘Who was guilty then?’ unless it leads directly to: ‘What is our responsibility now?’” (513). The idea for each of these approaches, each in its own way associated with revolutionary thinking, is to distinguish between lived history and the “history of ideas”, narrowly construed, because history is not just the array of historical “facts,” it is the interpretation of facts. From this vantage point, academics have a responsibility, but they are not necessarily to be trusted to carry out their role adequately, and they shouldn’t expect that they can serve as anything more than catalysts.[25] Herbert Marcuse’s 1967 lecture “Liberation from the Affluent Society[26] makes the point succinctly: “Can we say that the intelligentsia is the agent of historical change? Can we say that the intelligentsia today is a revolutionary class? The answer I would give is: No, we cannot say that. But we can say, and I think we must say, that the intelligentsia has a decisive preparatory function, not more; and I suggest that this is plenty. By itself it is not and cannot be a revolutionary class, but it can become the catalyst, and it has a preparatory function -- certainly not for the first time; that is in fact the way all revolution starts -- but more, perhaps, today than ever before. Because -- and for this too we have a very material and very concrete basis -- it is from this group that the holders of decisive positions in the productive process will be recruited, in the future even more than hitherto.”

To carry out this role, intellectuals must be engaged, but in so doing they can come to be seduced, or “bewitched” by ideologies which in their implications can be murderous even if their ambitions seem lofty. In his controversial The Opium of the Intellectuals, Paul Aron berated those who mercilessly attack the failings of contemporary democracies while providing intellectual asylum for those who support the “proper” doctrines, no matter how murderous. His target was often Marxism, of course, but it’s the intoxicated intellectual who seems most guilty of upholding, legitimizing and promoting ideologies versus his own humanist-inspired “commonsense” approach to contemporary concerns.


Outside of the “Real” Realm

Sometimes intellectual engagement takes the form of simple denunciation of programs or ideas that seem nefarious, rather than the proposal for novel solutions, novel or otherwise. Marc Angenot suggests that the intellectual, like the fiction writer, can serve as the “troublemaker” who simply says that this idea, this social program, this proposal, “doesn’t make any sense, this is not the whole story, there is not just that,” or in Hamlet’s words, “there are more things on Heaven and Earth” or, to recall Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, ”it ain’t necessarily so….”[27] In this respect, the fiction writer, like Shakespeare, or Zola or Orwell, can play this “intellectual” because their work is protected from being connected to day-to-day life; indeed, the power Émile Zola wielded as a journalist in his article J’Accuse was in some ways derived from his authority as a creator of literature, which Angenot describes as “deviance and subversion that is tolerated, ostentatious language expenditures, a satire that is protected by the Powers that be.” For this reason, a writer who sticks to fiction, like Charles Dickens did, can suggest realistic solutions for social ills in “realist” but nevertheless fictional books like Hard Times. This disconnection that allows Dickens to speak forcefully from the sidelines cam also be used to the opposite ends, justifying the intellectual’s disconnection from the real world. A fictionalized commentary on this tendency can be found in the hilarious scene in Kingsley Amis’s novel Lucky Jim, in which Dixon is asked to recall the title of the scholarly article he had submitted for review: “It was a perfect title, in that it crystallized the article’s niggling mindlessness, its funereal parade of yawn-enforcing facts, the pseudo light it threw upon non-problems. Dixon had read, or begun to read, dozens like it, but his own seemed worse than most in its air of being convinced of its own usefulness and significance. ‘In considering this strangely neglected topic,’ it began. This what neglected topic? This strangely what topic? This strangely neglected what? His thinking all this without having defiled and set fire to the typescript only made him appear to himself as more of a hypocrite and fool.”[28]

The same ambiguous situation exists in the realm of literary criticism, or among those associated therewith, as we’ve seen in the example of Edward Said, or Jean-Paul Sartre, because on the one hand they can speak from the privilege of the margins, but on the other hand want to be socially engaged. Edward Said is particularly interesting in this regard because he specifically sets for himself the task to work as an intellectual, in part via his analysis of fiction: “At bottom,” writes Said, “the intellectual in my sense of the word, is neither a pacifier nor a consensus builder, but someone whose whole being is staked on a critical sense, a sense of being unwilling to accept easy formulas, or ready made clichés, or the smooth ever-so -accommodating confirmations of what the powerful or conventional have to say, and what they do. Not just passively unwilling, but actively willing to say so in public.” Jim Merod suggests that North American literary critics can play a positive role because they “have amassed the knowledge to move beyond positive and negative assessments of literary study (and the role of knowledge in promoting social change). Critical awareness has achieved sufficient intellectual sophistication to undo its professional self-encasement by constructing both the conceptual and the institutional means for evaluating the ways in which research of every kind gains legitimacy, mainly in the university, to enforce its technical or professional authority within society as a whole” (25). Merod, otherwise deeply inspired by Chomsky, does suggest that the literary realm carries within it special knowledge, if only in this sphere of “critical awareness.” How this awareness is defined, or the uses to which it can and has been placed, is be far more difficult to pin down.

Others are more skeptical about the value of their “professional” knowledge, to judge from a recent collection of work about the uses of sociology beyond the classroom, but at least one, Charles Derber, finds that, if nothing else, their professional work and their profession provide them with an audience of students around the country: “Professional sociology seeks a restricted, credentialed audience, for the essence of professionalism is to monopolize knowledge and create a knowledge base inaccessible to the uninitiated. In contrast, the essence of public sociology is the quest for knowledge accessible to the public.”[29] The assumption here is that if the objective is to create a “public knowledge base,” rather than to appeal to particular categories of knowledge of expertise, then the whole idea of the profession breaks down: “Marx, Weber, and Durkheim -- the most important public sociologists -- practiced an intellectual craft spanning the contemporary fields of history, politics, sociology and economics, challenging today’s narrow professional segmentation of knowledge. Public sociology is really public intellectualism that is not only inter-disciplinary, but anti-disciplinary.”[30] This suggests that the power resides in words rather than in the prestige of the disciplines, or that the words of the respected writer are more significant than those of the institution or even of the government. This is Carlos Fuentes view, that writers can even unseat illegitimate power: “Today, for the first time, the writer’s valid words prove that the words of power are invalid. The credibility gap that pursued Lyndon Johnson, until he was forced to forgo a second chance at the presidency for the sake of maintaining the system, had no other meaning.” Thinking back to the Vietnam era, Fuentes optimistically reminds us “that the head of the most powerful nation in the world was run out of his post by the students, intellectuals, journalists, writers, by men with no other weapon than words. And it is because words today do not fit within the perpetuated and renewed foundation order of the United States.” As such, “words have become the enemy of Power: Norman Mailer, William Styron, Arthur Miller, Susan Sontag, Robert Lowell, Joan Baez….”[31] All of this suggests that public intellectuals bear the arms of reason or common sense, and need only to seek out appropriate battlegrounds and valuable motivations for action.



It’s difficult to come down on one side or another of these debates without realizing that each position one takes is fraught with potential pitfalls, and that one’s own work can be misread and come to support a side in the debate that the author had overtly, or not, hoped to discredit, particularly with the evolution of a political situation or series of events. As such, the status of Solzhenitsyn’s corpus has been variously vilified and revived, as have seminal texts such as George Orwell’s 1984, which seem either predictive or contiguous with status quo thinking. One way out of this conundrum is to recall the previous idea of working to catalyze useful action, rather than dictating its direction. Another, often favored by libertarian thinkers or those associated with certain veins of anarchist thought, focus on the creative and nurturing function that the intellectual can play.

Herbert Marcuse’s opening lines in “Liberation from the Affluent Society” begin with the words that: “I am very happy to see so many flowers here and that is why I want to remind you that flowers, by themselves, have no power whatsoever, other than the power of men and women who protect them and take care of them against aggression and destruction.” (276). Sartre as well finds that “a politically active individual has no need to forge human nature; it is enough for him to eliminate the obstacles that might prevent him from blossoming.” (257). This idea of individuals as seedlings which simply need decent soil and adequate sunlight in order to flourish in their own way is scattered throughout the literature, and is often linked to the idea of promoting individual creativity. From this perspective, the contradictions of contemporary society lead to suppression and manipulation in affluent society, which must according to Marcuse in that same essay be challenged, not by new programs, but by a higher level of sensitivity induced by creative work: “The mutilated consciousness and the mutilated instincts must be broken. The sensitivity and the awareness of the new transcending, antagonistic values -- they are there. And they are there, they are here, precisely among the still nonintegrated social groups and among those who, by virtue of their privileged position, can pierce the ideological and material veil of mass communication and indoctrination -- namely, the intelligentsia” (284).

 Chomsky recalls in “Toward a Humanistic Conception of Education” that “Bertrand Russell had quite a number of things to say on educational topics that are no less important today than when he first discussed them. He regularly took up -- not only discussed but also tried to carry out -- very interesting ad provocative ideas in the field of educational theory and practice”[32] The principal idea that Chomsky takes from Russell is that “the primary goal of education is to elicit and fortify whatever creative impulse a man may possess.” Russell, like John Dewey,[33] finds a relationship between the role of the intellectual and appropriate pedagogical tools through this idea of nurturing. He suggests, for example, that education within and beyond the ivory tower should exist to give a sense of the value of things other than domination, to help create wise citizens of a free community, to encourage a combination of citizenship with liberty, individual creativeness, a ‘humanistic conception’, “which regards a child as a gardener regards a young tree, as something with an intrinsic nature which will develop into an admirable form given proper soil and air and light.” This organic and yet cultivated metaphor is based on the idea that “the soil and the freedom required for a man’s growth are immeasurably more difficult to discover and to obtain…. And the full growth which may be hoped for cannot be defined or demonstrated; it is subtle and complex, it can only be felt by a delicate intuition and dimly apprehended by imagination and respect” (204). What is clear from these descriptions is that the child is perceived to possess a human nature which is characterized by its individuality, its creativity and, in line with Russell’s humanism, its preciousness, which means that it is incumbent upon the educator to foster and protect, to revere and nourish, to put forth possibilities and to respect. Chomsky sums this up nicely when he suggests, again consistent with his ideas about the role of the intellectual, that “the goal of education should be to provide the soil and the freedom required for the growth of this creative impulse; to provide, in other words, a complex and challenging environment that the child can imaginatively explore and, in this way, quicken his intrinsic creative impulse and so enrich his life that may be quite varied and unique” (205).

The issue that is raised by this idea of nurturing concerns the relation between the seed and the soil, to further our earlier metaphor, and the approach we find articulated in Humboldt, Russell or Chomsky is that environment and genetics are assessed in terms of a dialectic. For them, the human being clearly has a “human nature”, which is individual but also species-specific, but this nature is best developed in a non-authoritarian setting in which the nature is given not only the space to grow and develop, but also the setting and challenges appropriate to the development of the wide range of abilities that is naturally contained within each individual. At the very center of this ability is the capacity, and the will, to create, and therefore the role of the intellectual, beyond specific engagement, is to encourage this tendency. Where we have landed up, therefore, is with a humanistic conception of intellectual work, in which we find “the idea that education is not to be viewed as something like filling a vessel with water, but rather assisting a flower to grow in its own way. It’s an eighteenth-century view which they revived, in other words providing the circumstances in which the normal creative patterns will flourish” (Chomsky 205). So the intellectual must work within, and, moreover, beyond the ivory tower, to offer the assistance needed to nourish the flower, but, to continue the metaphor, s/he must rally against those who would, say, block its access to light, or poison it, or attempt to transplant it. And he proposes to do this work with as much knowledge of the nature of the flower, the human brain, as possible so as to work within the biological and genetic constraints of the being in question.

All of this helps explain why those who work beyond the ivory tower need to spend a lot of time thinking about the limitations of their work, and the role that powerful interests play in forming public opinion. For this reason, intellectuals must draw from strengths and experience, they must foster a nurturing environment in the society to which they address their work, they must act as catalysts to awaken that which is existent in the human brain, and they must be midwives for creativity. But they must also face up to the obstacles, and counteract the multitude of attempts to mis-educate us for other agendas, particularly today when this effort is so pervasive, and so well-funded. In short, there is no single version of the ivory tower, any more than there is one way in which scholars work beyond its walls, so one purpose of this collection is to provide a sense of the public intellectual by assessing the work of some of the most famous representatives thereof, against a backdrop of how the very idea of working beyond the ivory tower has been considered historically and, moreover, in the 20th Century, when the urgency and the range of such work expanded considerably. The task of identifying characteristics of those who work within and beyond the ivory tower is therefore informed by reference to towering examples from past eras, but the challenge of adequately representing the various faces of the ensconced intellectual is also to acknowledge present trends in university life.


The Present Volume

In order to pick up on and contribute to the complexity of these issues, we begin by presenting in this volume a macroscopic view of the phenomenon that is being termed “popular academics.” Implicit in this term is a belief that academia generally prefers to distance itself from the public eye, and that popularizers are currently an exception rather than the norm. However, the aim here is not to necessarily disparage academic aloofness and applaud all public intellectuals. While in the past, the distancing of intellectuals from the public has been a result of class differentiation and elitism, this is often not the case in contemporary establishments. Indeed, there may be very worthwhile reasons for not getting too involved in popular endeavors. Instead of presenting a unified argument or a couplet of for-and-against responses, Part 1 aims is to survey the conceptual quandaries and the professional dilemmas which arise in trying to popularize academic discourse. We present disciplinary perspectives from the most categorizeable academic trinity: the social sciences, the natural sciences and humanities respectively. For each segment there is a conceptual chapter which surveys the literature and presents various dimensions of popular activity in that area. This is coupled with a chapter that analyses the work of a notable public intellectual in that area.

In the first chapter Toby Huff lays out the groundwork for discussing this topic from a sociological perspective. The social sciences are a “natural” starting point for our discussion since the phenomenon of public intellectualism is a manifestation of societal needs and aspirations. Contemporary discussions of popular academics must also recognize the supreme appeal of the electronic media and their critical role in revolutionizing the role of the public intellectual. Therefore this chapter is coupled with a chapter about a doyen of popular academic discourse, and among the first sociologists to use the electronic media as tool and a subject of study. Marshall McLuhan was among the first intellectuals to address the impact of the electronic media on academic discourse. His love-hate relationship with the media and how the academic community reacted to his involvement in media ventures are analyzed with some reverence by James Morrison. McLuhan was also a firm forecaster of academic fortunes. This chapter thus sets the stage, both chronologically and spatially, for the enactment of the professional lives of other public intellectuals.

We next move to the natural sciences with a detailed exposition of both non-fictional and fictional literature in the natural sciences. The natural sciences have come to embody a kind of credibility touchstone for academic knowledge in general. Hence the delineation of non-fiction and fiction within natural scientific discourse is in order. Indeed the genre of science fiction has assumed an important place in popular literature on its own. This chapter is coupled with the life of natural scientist who traversed both non-fictional and fictional paths with distinctive aplomb. The life of Carl Sagan is perhaps emblematic of the challenges which contemporary popularizers must face if they are affiliated with an academic institution. Sagan’s accomplishments as a professional academic and also his success as a popularizer of science extraordinaire deserve special attention. How many academic institutions first dismissed him as a grandstander and then later embraced him as a messiah of science reflects the changing attitudes of the academy. Sagan’s story also reveals how popular writings and media ventures are considered an appropriate icing on a cake rather than the cake itself. In other words, popular writings are often given more respect or at least indifference among intellectuals once a researcher has established a reputation of doing “pure” research. In conversations with some notable public intellectuals such as E.O. Wilson and S.J. Gould, it is evident that they became popular writers after securing tenure through technical writings, while others seem to have thrived on the public persona they create.

This leads us to explore yet another important dimension of the popularizers dilemma. Once recognition is achieved in one field, what are the responsibilities of the intellectual to use the acquired fame and respect to advance an understanding (or misunderstanding) of other unrelated issues and to become a commentator on the human condition. This propensity is specially prevalent in the humanities and perhaps most well-suited in this area as well. Carol Flynn offers us a provocative view of how fame -- or infamy -- can be achieved within the humanities and its consequences for the academy. This chapter is coupled with Robert Barsky’s work on Noam Chomsky, who is often used as an example of how celebrity status in one field and an academic cache can be used in an activist mode by intellectuals. This chapter highlights Chomsky’s struggles and the political repercussions of being associated with a particular opinion, as exemplified by the Faurisson affair. The episode also reveals some of the differences in how public intellectuals are perceived on either side of the Atlantic.

It may be useful for the reader to keep in mind that intellectual credentials for the purposes of this volume are by no means confined to a university. Nevertheless, there has been a tremendous appropriation of academic capital by institutions and freelance academics are an increasingly rare breed. Referring to Russell Jacoby’s book The Last Intellectuals, an editorial in the Wilson Quarterly (Spring, 1999) pointed out that many would-be public intellectuals, in the mold of Lewis Mumford or Edmund Wilson, are “lost in universities, caught in the tender trap of tenure, overspecialization and comfortable irrelevance.” Thus inexorably our discussions will tend to revolve around university settings.

The recognition of popular academics as a discernible phenomenon is becoming increasingly visible. UNESCO has annually awarded the Kalinga Prize[34] for the popularization of science since 1952 (some contributors to this volume are recipients of the award), and an interesting institutional recognition of the realm has been made with a new program at the Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton which is offering a Ph.D. for “public intellectuals.” The establishment of this program may also signal an evolution in how academic qualifications are perceived. A doctorate has traditionally been a research degree to be used primarily for procuring professorial appointments, so a doctoral program for public intellectuals by this measure may almost seem an oxymoron. Dr. Teresa Brennan, who developed the curriculum for the program has articulated its objectives as follows:


The Latin word docere originally meant not simply to teach, but to lead. This dual meaning underpins this Ph.D. program. It is for those who want to change the social order as well as understand it. The pursuit of higher education can provide the space to identify that thing or area in which one excels, but this space is more and more restricted by the pressure of finding one’s own niche in the academic market. This space is also congested, because people who would once have gone into public life no longer do: the academy now seems a more attractive choice than a public life in which persecution by the less thoughtful media is all too common. Now, it takes a great deal of courage to sustain any visionary public ideals. The loss to public well-being of those who once would have been public intellectuals is great. We propose to try and return to public life some of its intellectual ballast by instituting a degree program which is precisely not geared to the specialized market and which leaves space to think.[35]


The information revolution has perhaps made it a necessity, alongside the global aspirations for a well-educated public. Such developments are gratifying to us insofar that they make the publication of this book timely.

Many questions remain unanswered about the motivation and efficacy of popular academic communication. Bruce Lewenstein, editor of the journal Public Understanding and a professor of journalism at Cornell, recently stated in an interview for The Economist (May 9, 1998) that when he asks students to review a popular science book, it is clear from their reviews that even those with a degree in a science subject often don’t understand it, but that nevertheless popular publications often give “the authors the credibility to appear on television or in the newspapers in order to explain the big, news-making issues to the wider public.” This raises the important issue of whether public intellectuals are in fact becoming “publicity intellectuals.” There are indeed some scholars who are actively courting the media, often at the cost of neglecting their teaching obligations. How should universities, students and the public at large confront such issues?

In this volume we are also graced with the personal perspectives of some notable popularizers who share their trials and triumphs along the way. David Suzuki has established himself as a well-respected geneticist in his own right, while rising to fame as the host of the award-winning television series The Nature of Things. Suzuki’s story reveals an almost accidental inclination towards popularization. On the other hand Alan Chartock’s story reveals a much more concerted attempt to institutionally communicate to the public at large by establishing a network of radio stations alongside his academic job. These personal narratives reveal some of the particular characteristics which popularizers often possess and may be essential prerequisites for success in the eyes of the public.

The chapters by Gerald Early and Margaret Mead highlight the significance of broader societal issues in the rise of public intellectuals. Gerald Early discusses how the politics of race relations figure prominently in academic discourse and how they have influenced his own work and that of other notable African-American intellectuals. The development of Africana as an area of great public interest, and how the evolution of American culture is influenced by this field is often not underappreciated. As the process of racial healing continues, not only across America but, in the post-colonial era more generally, Earlys comments are particularly prescient.

The compilation of Margaret Mead’s narrative [awaiting copyright permission] was undertaken particularly for two reasons. First, Mead was a unique public intellectual who spanned media, subjects, institutions and peoples in her intellectual activity and was active at a time when human society was truly at the most dynamic stage of technological development and societal emancipation. Second, Mead’s story brings out the unique challenges which women academics have faced in scaling the ivory tower. Indeed, in the list of UNESCO’s Kalinga Prizes for the popularization of science since 1952, there are only 3 women thus far (Mead being the first woman to receive the prize in 1970). Therefore, even though she is not among us, and her academic work has been challenged time and again, her presence as a public intellectual extraordinaire remains unimpeachable in the halls of academe.

 In the final chapter William Calvin, inductively uses the example of an important interdisciplinary field -- cognitive neuroscience and presents a “niche theory” for how academic discourse may find a public audience. As a prominent public intellectual himself, Calvin acts as synthesizer of narratives and his chapter concludes with a series of quotations which is perhaps analogous to a series of credits at the end of a movie. And finally, the epilogue presents the encapsulation of some critical themes in this volume through the words of two public intellectuals at MIT, Alan Lightman and Steven Pinker, who participated in a colloquium to discuss the role of the public intellectual in the academy and in society.

The Ivory Tower may be under pressure in certain quarters to end or limit its isolation, and the ubiquitous allure of the popular media has the potential to dazzle as well as truly enlighten society. How the academic community at large and individual academics in particular decide to communicate and inform the public, and to what extent they professionalize their discourse will have long-term implications for society in general. Knowledge has been the most indispensable capital for human civilization and this book is fundamentally about exploring ways of optimally managing knowledge for individuals and for society. The chapters and the narrative may at times be discursive and are by necessity eclectic in their coverage and approach. However, we hope that in the end this volume will provide broadly applicable insights about the academy and will be of interest to those who are within, and those who are “outside” the academy. Our ultimate aim is to help bring about a sense of collective ownership of human learning so that even in spite of its sometimes rarefied status it will (continue to) be a source and a purveyor of powerful and original work, whether of manifest social value or, in the case of more speculative engagement, not.

[1] Noam Chomsky, “A Special Supplement: The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” NYRB, February 23, 1967.

[2] Much of this list breaks down by country, since national traditions often dictate the form and style of work within and beyond the ivory tower, just as there exists a huge variation in different conceptions of what it means to be an intellectual who is “engagé”, or politically active in specific regions of the world. An indication of this spectrum can be found in the contrast between the history of American muckraking in two different “gilded ages” (Exposés and Excess: Muckraking in America 1900/2000, by Cecilia Tichi, Philadelphia, U of Pennsylvania P, 2005) and, say, Zeev Sternhell’s explosive book about the French Intellectual tradition entitled Neither Right Nor Left: Fascist Ideology in France, Princeton UP, 1996).

[3] Howard Zinn, “The Uses of Scholarship”, Saturday Review, October 18, 1969, cited in The Zinn Reader, Seven Stories Press, 1997, 499-500.

[4] Chomsky op. cit.

[5] NY, Vintage, 1996, xviii.

[6] “A Monument to Hypocrisy” Al Ahram, February 14, 2003,

[8] NY, Vintage, 1994.

[9] Jim Merod, The Political Responsibility of the Critic, Ithaca, Cornell UP, 1987.

[10] George Abbott White and Charles Newman, eds., Literature in Revolution, NY, Holt, Winehart and Winston, 1972.

[12] See “Here’s a Few You Missed,” Friday July 2, 2004, in the Guardian Unlimited.,11812,1252410,00.html

[13] Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline, Cambridge, Harvard UP, 2002.

[14] Sex, Art and American Culture, Camille Paglia, NY, Vintage Books, 1992.

[15] Minneapolis, U of Minnesota P, 2004, p. 149.

[16] Posner’s approach to such things is well-illustrated in his recent listing of the 607 public intellectuals in America, on-line at .

[17] See for example Jonathan Feldman’s Universities in the Business of Repression, Boston, South End Press, 1989.

[18] Cambridge, MA, Harvard UP, 1996.

[19] Sonia Shah, November 21, 1999, Z Magazine.

[20] Cambridge UP, 2000.

[21] Jean-Paul Sartre, “Introducing Les Temps modernes, ” originally published in October 1, 1945, reproduced in What is Literature and Other Essays, intro by Steven Ungar, Cambridge, Harvard UP, 1988.

[22] Cornelius Castoriadis, Political and Social Writings, volume 3, translated and edited by David Ames Curtis, Minneapolis, U of Minnesota P, 1993.

[23] Defending Civilization And The Myth Of Radical Academia, July 15, 2002.

[24] Howard Zinn, “Historian as Citizen”, New York Times, September 25, 1966, reprinted in the Zinn Reader.

[25] This position is articulated by Marcuse in The Dialectics of Liberation, Pelican Books, 1968.

[27] See Robert F. Barsky, ed., Marc Angenot and the Scandal of History, Yale Journal of Criticism,

[28] London, Penguin, 1976, 14-15.

[29] Charles Derber, “Public Sociology as a Vocation,” Social Problems, February 2004, 119.

[30] Ibid 120.

[31] Carlos Fuentes, “The Enemy: Words,” in George Abbott White and Charles Newman, eds., Literature in Revolution. Northwestern UP, 1972, 114.

[32] This is a contribution to the 1975 collection edited by Walter Feinberg and Henry Rosemont, Jr., called Work, Technology and Education: Dissenting Essays in the intellectual Foundations of American Education Urbana; Chicago; London: University of Illinois Press, 1975.

[33] See Dewey on Education: Selections, introduction and notes by Martin S. Dworkin, NY, Bureau of Publications, Teachers College, Columbia University, 1959. For related discussions, see Robert F. Westbrook’s John Dewey and American Democracy, Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991.

[34] The Kalinga Prize was endowed by Mr. B Patnaik from the state of Orissa in India in 1952. The

ancient name of Orissa was Kalinga. The four-member jury plus Director General represent various continents. Every member nation of UNESCO may nominate one candidate every year. Normally, one prize is awarded every year; exceptionally the prize is split ex aequo or not awarded at all. The prize consists of the Diploma and silver medal of Albert Einstein or Niels Bohr plus the sum of 1,000 British pounds. The Prize is given to the laureate[s] in Delhi, India in the year following the announcement of the award.

[35] From the Web site of the Public Intellectuals Program.