Research into the sociology of intellectual life reveals numerous appeals to the public conscience of intellectuals. The way in which concepts such as ‘the public intellectual’ or ‘intellectual life’ are discussed, however, conceals a long history of biased thinking about thinking as an elite endeavour with prohibitive requirements for entry. This article argues that this tendency prioritizes the intellectual realm over the public sphere, and betrays any claims to public relevance unless a broader definition of what counts as intellectual life is introduced. By calling for a shift from the notion of public intellectuals to Jane Jacobs’ (1961) idea of the ‘public character’, a publicly situated and affect-laden conception of intellectual life is articulated with the aim of redefining intellectual life as an ordinary, collective pursuit, rather than the prerogative of a few extraordinary individuals, as well as restoring the role of the senses in theoretical discussions on the life of the mind. The theoretical scope of this article therefore is to cast the net wider in the search for meanings of what public intellectual life is, can or may be in a larger context than ‘intellectualist’ discussions currently allow.
- public intellectuals
- public sphere
- social theory
- sociology of intellectual life
- sociology of the senses