Academics told to push intellectual credentials

April 13, 2007

University staff should play a more prominent public role, experts claim. Rebecca Attwood reports from The British Sociological Association

Academics owe it to society to promote themselves as public intellectuals, according to a sociologist.

Barbara Misztal, whose book Public Intellectuals and the Public Good is due to be published this September, said this week that more academics would be needed to take on the role of public intellectuals in our increasingly complex society.

But Professor Misztal, head of Leicester University's department of sociology, said that while academics should aspire to be public intellectuals, they had to have something worthwhile to say.

Professor Misztal said there was a "growing lament" in the UK that intellectuals' standing, visibility and contribution was declining. But she added that this was a myth that did not reflect the role of intellectuals in Britain.

Academics met to debate the role of the "public intellectual" at the British Sociological Association this week.

Stina Lyon, pro dean of the faculty of arts and human sciences at London South Bank University, who was at the conference, agreed that society needed more public intellectual debate.

But in a paper entitled What Influence? Towards a Typology of Public Intellectuals , the State and Civil Society , Professor Lyon argues that the role of the academic as public intellectual is under "considerable pressure" as universities become more market-driven and academics' teaching and administrative burdens increase.

Professor Lyon told The Times Higher : "The conditions for 'having something to say worth listening to' requires time and space for the development of critical scholarship. It is difficult to see where the financing of 'thinking time' will come from."

But Dennis Hayes, convener of the education forum of the Institute of Ideas, said: "The role of the academic as public intellectual is not under pressure - it has vanished. Increasingly, academics engage in narrow research for a narrow audience of other academics.

"Blaming managerialism, commodification or 'McDonaldisation' as the problem academics face is a facile fatalism that avoids the key issue. That issue is that academics lack ideas with which to engage a wider public."

rebecca.attwood@thes.co.uk

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