Refracted Input

Clare O’Farrell’s blog on books, TV, films, Michel Foucault, universities etc. etc.

Daniel W. Drezner, ‘Public Intellectuals 2.0’, Chronicle of Higher Education, v 55 n12, Nov 2008, p. B5
My rating: ***

Link to article (word doc)

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.

2 thoughts on “‘Public Intellectuals 2.0’ (2008)

  1. Megan says:

    Hi Clare,

    This article is very interesting. Axel Bruns has been arguing that blogging, particularly political blogging, in Australia represents the re-emergence of the public intellectual. Australia has always had public intellectuals but they haven’t always been looked on favourably. As the publishing industry changes to meet the changes brought by the Internet and by the relaxation of parallel importation regulations, maybe blogging will gain greater acceptance as a method of intellectual activity.


  2. Clare says:

    Hi Megan,

    There have long being complaints about the long standing anti-intellectual climate in Australia and how difficult it has been to exist as a public intellectual as a result.

    A particular advantage of blogging is that bloggers have a potentially global readership which has considerably assisted bloggers in countries with difficult local conditions on the political front such as Iran and China. I think this global exposure is also of help in the Australian setting for other reasons.

    The relaxation of parrallel importation rules is a real problem in terms of the livelihood of Australian writers. It would be a disgrace if it was no longer possible for Australian writers who rely on income from their royalties to support themselves. The money would all be going to overseas publishers and none to the author. Not to mention the Americanisation of local language once the books get into the hands of American publishers.


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