“The Role of Intellectuals in the Modern World” by Pierre Bourdieu (excerpt)

Here is an excerpt from the text “Universal Corporatism: The Role of Intellectuals in the Modern World” by Pierre Bourdieu.

It will be necessary today to invent forms of organization which would give voice to a great collective intellectual, combining the qualifications and talents of all specific intellectuals. Great historical precedents for this can be found (I am thinking, for instance, of the “philosophes” of the Encyclopedie). It is only a question of inventing a model of organization which, by turning to account the modern means of communication, would allow all competent intellectuals to give their symbolic support to public interventions, elaborated in each specific case by those among them most competent to address the given problem. The tension between central planning and spontaneous individual action could be resolved by constructing a true international network whose circumference (to adapt Nicholas de Cusa’s formula) would be everywhere and whose center would be nowhere. This network, endowed with its own organs of expression, could mobilize resistance to encroachments on the autonomy of the intellectual world, and especially to all forms of cultural imperialism; it could work to establish the grounds of a true cultural internationalism, aiming at the abolition of all patterns of protectionism and particularism, while seeing to it that the specific achievements of each national tradition accede to universality.

But there is no overlooking the obstacles to such a collective mobilization. In order to raise intellectuals’ consciousness of their common interests, it would be necessary to neutralize the propensity to division and particularism which is inherent in the very logic of the field. Nothing is more difficult than to make intellectuals understand that their struggles, even those for purely corporate ends and aiming only at defending autonomy, have to be collective because so many of the powers to which they are subject (such as that of journalism) succeed as well as they do only because the opposition to them is scattered and divided against itself. Oddly enough, since the logic of competition which sets them against one another means, in the most radical cases, that producers’ best customers are also their fiercest rivals, intellectuals are undoubtedly one of the groups least able to discover the common interests that unite them (and these interests need to be directly threatened, for instance, in England today, for intellectuals to be able to see the forest for the trees, i.e., that their rivals’ enemies are their own enemies as well).

Link to full article: Universal Corporatism: The Role of Intellectuals in the Modern World

Internal links
A philosopher’s guide to Pierre Bourdieu
Internet Revolution, attentionalism and slow-thinking, with Alexander Bard and Pierre Bourdieu
Internet Revolution pt.3: How the non-attentionalistic can prevail over the attentionalistic


About Dandre

Former student of philosophy, maths and literature. Now studying master program in sociology. Some thinkers of central interest include Ludwig Wittgenstein, C. G. Jung and Pierre Bourdieu.
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2 Responses to “The Role of Intellectuals in the Modern World” by Pierre Bourdieu (excerpt)

  1. Steve Evans says:

    This seems to regard intellectuals as somehow outside history and outside society, while at the same time inside them.

    • Dandre says:

      I’m not sure if I understand what you mean. But regarding other parts of the text, Bourdieu is making perhaps similar point, claiming that the intellectuals in certain sense have to be paradoxical, bidimensional beings:

      The intellectual is a paradoxical being. One can only conceive of him as such on the condition that one calls into question the classical alternative of pure culture and political engagement. He was histori- cally constituted in and by the overstepping of this opposition: French writers, artists, and scientists asserted themselves as intellectuals when, at the moment of the “Affaire Dreyfus,” they interfered in political life as intellectuals, that is, with a specific authority grounded on their belonging to the relatively autonomous world of art, science, and literature and on all the values that are associated with this autonomy- virtue, disinterestedness, competence, and so on.

      The intellectual is a bidimensional being. To be entitled to the name of intellectual, a cultural producer must fulfill two conditions: on the one hand, he must belong to an autonomous intellectual world (a field), that is, independent from religious, political, and economic powers (and so on), and must respect its specific laws; on the other hand, he must invest the competence and authority he has acquired in the intellectual field in a political action, which is in any case carried out outside the intellectual field proper.

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