Marianne Gullestad and How to be a public intellectual
She was a public intellectual. She often took part in public debates and sometimes after she had published an article in a scientific journal, she sent a short version of her paper to a local or national newspaper. It must be because of her (and a few others later) that most people in Norway know what anthropology is or have a better understanding of it than in many other countries.
One of the speakers was Richard Jenkins (University of Sheffield). Later in the discusson, he made interesting points about being a public intellectual. He actually questioned the term “public intellectual". For is there something like a “private intellectual"?
You can also be a public intellectual in the classroom - it might even be a more lasting contribution to the society than writing articles in newspapers, he said:
The term public intellectual presumes that during the rest of the academic work we’re doing something else, that we are private intellectuals. The point is that we are communicating to the public. We are teaching or we are writing. Sometimes we forget how many people who are reading our papers and books around the world, including students.
Being in the public sphere is not just writing for newspapers and being on television. Being a public intellectual is actually a core part of our practice.
We systematically neglect that responsibility, partly by virtue of the way many of us write. We write as if we are writing to a very small circle of people who can understand sentences that are 26 lines long. We have the responsibility to write in a different way when we are doing our academic work. We should not make this distinction between writing for the public and writing academically.
We have a responsibility for intellectual democracy. It does not mean that we have to simplify what we say. One of the many nice things about Marianne Gullestad is that she did not make this distinction. She wrote always in a very clear and straight format, and she did it in both Norwegian and English. This is a responsibility that many of us not take seriously. We should take Marianne Gullestad as an example.
The role of the intellectual doesn’t stop when you walk into the lecture room. It starts there. And it is probably a more lasting contribution to the society out there than writing articles in newspapers.
(edited quote, based on my low quality recording)
For more information on Marianne Gullestad including links to her papers online, see my earlier posts: Marianne Gullestad has passed away and Marianne Gullestad: The Five Major Challenges for Anthropology.