Daniel W. Drezner, ‘Public Intellectuals 2.0’, Chronicle of Higher Education, v 55 n12, Nov 2008, p. B5
My rating: ***
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in the USA and has run his own blog for about seven years. His interesting and well referenced article lists some of the objections to academic blogging and systematically refutes them.
The first section is a brief history of public intellectuals in the United States. What I find interesting about (North) American discussions on this subject is that they rarely refer to intellectuals outside the United States and the effect is much like that curious phenomenon of American World Series baseball which imperiously seeks to render the local global.
This criticism aside, the second section on the blogosphere (although still American in its focus) as a new arena for intellectuals and for academics is an interesting read.
Drezner notes for example:
For academics aspiring to be public intellectuals, weblogs allow networks to develop that cross the disciplinary and hierarchical strictures of the academy – and expand beyond the academy. Rebecca Goetz observes, “Because I blog I now have contacts, online and offline, with a variety of scholars inside and outside my field. They don’t particularly care that my dissertation is not yet done; the typical hierarchies of the ivory tower break down in the blogosphere so that even graduate students can be public intellectuals of a kind.” Brad DeLong characterizes scholar-blogging as creating an “invisible college” that includes, “people whose views and opinions I can react to, and who will react to my reasoned and well-thought-out opinions, and to my unreasoned and off-the-cuff ones as well.” Provided one can write jargon-free prose, a blog can attract readers from all walks of life – including, most importantly, people beyond the ivory tower. Indeed, citizens will tend to view academic bloggers that they encounter online as more accessible than would be the case in a face-to-face interaction. Similarly, survey evidence also suggests that academics view blogs as a form of public service and political activism. This increases the likelihood of fruitful interaction and exchange of views about culture, criticism and politics with individuals that academics might not have otherwise met.
I might add here that intellectual activity in the public media outside the traditional circuits of academic publishing has long been regarded with more than a little ambivalence by universities. This is quite evident in France for example, which has a long and sometimes acrimonious history of a split between university academics and intellectuals active in the public media dating back to at least the eighteenth century. The blogosphere is perhaps the latest chapter in that struggle over the ownership and dissemination of knowledge and what counts as truth. And also, not to put too fine a point upon it, over modes of intellectual fame and reputation.