Center for Interdisziplinary Research

The Intellectuals on their Way into Knowledge Society

Cultural Standardization and Disciplinary Shifts

Date: January 19 - 21, 2006
Organizers: Martin Carrier, Bettina Heintz, Johannes Roggenhofer (alle Bielefeld)

The history of the intellectual as a philosopher or writer who publicly criticizes and takes a stance on behalf of universal values is generally taken to begin with Emile Zola's "J'accuse!" at the end of the 19th Century. This 'classic' type of the intellectual remains important throughout the 20th Century; it becomes manifest, for instance, in Jean-Paul Sartre, Noam Chomsky, Susan Sontag, Jürgen Habermas, or more recently Paul Nolte. The workshop showed in various examples that this type of intellectual, however, is on the recess. Partially the recess was criticized and supplemented with an appeal to a renewal of the political engagement of writer-philosophers. Yet, this change in the role and function of the intellectual was also analyzed as being the result of two major disciplinary or cultural tendencies, namely, the rise of 'expert intellectuals' and of 'organizational intellectuality'.
Intellectuals can be characterized, in general, by the following five features: (1) Intellectuals figure in matters of public interest. (2) Intellectuals appeal to the general public; they are visible in the mass media. (3) Intellectuals take a stance. (4) They adopt a universal perspective, decided, but not biased. (5) Intellectual comments are advanced intellectually; they display sound reasoning or rhetoric brilliance. One of the claims entertained on the workshop was that these five features are sufficient for characterizing intellectuals, and that they refer not only to classic intellectuals, but extend to further interesting types of intellectual activity.
Expert intellectuals base their engagement on science. They are natural or social scientists who take a stand in a public debate. They are rooted in their scholarly expertise, but their comments go beyond what can be maintained by scholarly argument alone. Examples for this type can be found in the public debates on neurodeterminism and free will, or on global climate change. Expert intellectuals feed scientific knowledge into the public debate, but they also pronounce a moral or practical point of view. It remained undecided whether practical engagement is a necessary condition for intellectual activities, thus disqualifying as intellectual all attempts for merely broadening the understanding of human nature and culture.
Another new type emerged during the Conference, namely organizational intellectuality, which is legitimized by global social movements as, e. g., ATTAC. Such movements assume the role of critical admonition and intellectual engagement. Such collective forms of intellectuality can show a high level of argumentation for the pursuit of universal values and global human progress. In this case, they can be taken as a functional equivalent for the former individual intellectual engagement.
It is still controversial whether the three types have enough in common to form a single significant notion of the intellectual, but there is no doubt about the importance of the corresponding engagement. Intellectuality integrates dispersed Information particles and ties together interests which would otherwise remain implicit and diffuse. Its manifestations are changing, but its social function as focus and correction is retained. It can be expected that the more recent constructive and pragmatic forms of intellectualism will even grow in comparison to radical criticism and sceptical distance characteristic of the classic intellectual.

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