Gitlin's Intellectuals and Social Movements
After hearing Gitlin speak this week, I am somewhat perplexed on his ideal for â€śpublic intellectualsâ€? or even the necessity of a social movement given todayâ€™s â€śdemocracy.â€? To recap his lecture and the â€śnecessityâ€? of public intellectuals, it almost seems like â€śintellectualsâ€? have not been public for awhile and his remedy still doesnâ€™t make them â€śpublicâ€?. To not simplify things too much, hereâ€™s the basic premise of his argument (and in part what is in a chapter of his latest book):
1. We used to have true public intellectuals. Those folks like C. Wright Mills who were true generalists, who had a theory of the social in which their intellectual endeavors stemmed. Intellectuals who were not contained within a discipline or even university wallsâ€”they could live, write, become â€śvoicesâ€? for movements and give reason and power to the social. But, this â€śbohemianâ€? lifestyle could not be maintained so they had to put themselves in universities to get earn a living.
2. Universities (and knowledge produced) become more specialized and departmentalized. There are really no more true public intellectuals. Profs write for academic journals or really other academicsâ€”not for pure public good or public audiences.
3. There is no longer â€śreasonâ€? in society. He has another argument based in how media has made this possible, but in terms of intellectuals and movements, it is rooted in education not being rooted in teaching a canon or argumentation.
So what does he propose in the end? We need public intellectualsâ€”intellectuals who purposefully try not to â€śspecializeâ€? in their fields, who write for both public and academic audiences, and who teach the canon and argumentation.
At the same time, he acknowledges that there is a constraint on academics today to publish in academic journals and even if they do get to write for popular presses, there is still a definite â€śnonpublicnessâ€? about writing for the New Yorker vs. the Star Tribune. AND, although he isnâ€™t necessarily writing about movements, he had opportunity to address this issue in the Q&Aâ€”and didnâ€™t. Change was all rooted in teaching the canon, teaching argument and reason. This, to say the least, is unsettling for our understanding of movements. This â€śpublicâ€? intellectual isnâ€™t one that gets to leave the university or whose necessity is rooted in material social changeâ€”just working at a discursive level (ie Bushâ€™s Administration uses no logic or reason, thus, we must promote reason thinking).
Setting aside some of the critiques against the elitism and exclusion that critical-rational (argument) is known for and assumingâ€”which I do in partâ€”that argumentation and reason is the path to democracy, then it would hold that intellectuals are in that path to democracy and we have come to see in this class that social movements are another means to democracy and change. But here is the tensionâ€”even though many movements (some of the case studies in the pink book included) have had their public intellectuals to help lead the way Michael Warner similarly advocates that public intellectuals help the â€śpublicâ€? make sense of the world which in turn mobilizes them for creating changeâ€”but not necessarily rooted in argumentation. As we have probably seen in our own movements, argumentation is probably not the means to creating social change and that intellectuals have acted in another way. Where am I headed here (the bigger questions we might want to think about):
1. Is the purpose for social movements to help create democracy? If so, then do we accept Gitlinâ€™s vision of reason in this democracy (or at least â€śreasonâ€? through argument)? Why isnâ€™t Gitlin addressing movements here?
2. Where is the role of intellectuals in movements? Are they more in the grassroots part of the movmentâ€”writing about the movement, giving legitimacy to the movement by writing and speaking in public OR do intellectuals remain in the university to teach the canon and hope that they can publish for multiple audiences?
3. Lastly, is â€ścollectiveâ€? movements and â€śCollectiveâ€? identity gained in an argument culture overall? My sense is that Gitlinâ€™s overall move here is a very individualized effortâ€”we teach individual students to reason. He suggests that teaching the canon does give a sense that students are part of a collective, a group because of shared knowledge. Can we deny that students of his day with their copies of C. Wright Mills didnâ€™t see themselves as part of a larger project or group? But at the same time, given what we have been reading in terms of collective identity in movements, is our education enough? And given that not everyone will be taught the canonâ€¦where does that leave us with democracy?