The Prime Function of Intellectuals and New Conditions of Framing Social Imaginary

Friday, July 18, 2014: 10:30 AM
Room: 303
Oral Presentation
Barbara MISZTAL , Sociology, University of Leicester, Leicester, United Kingdom
The paper aims to enrich the existing reflection on the political role of public intellectuals by exploring the impact of the changing nature of the political and  intellectual spheres on their potential to connect with an audience. It argues that the significance of public intellectuals’ influence in the political arena is determined by their ability to imprint themselves on a wider social imaginary through which society is provided with ideas of ordering its political world, with definitions of selfhood and otherness and visions of the past and the future. The paper’s theoretically informed empirical exploration of the intellectuals’ prime function, that is, the  elaboration of these symbolic configurations, focuses on the fate of  East European intellectuals who  assumed the role of the creators of the post-communist state. These dissidents-turned- politicians did best when, instead of trying to prove that they could ‘live in truth’,  approached politics without any illusion.  Yet their most effective performance in politics was not when they were in office but when they were  in opposition. Today, East European intellectuals, like their counter-parts in modern western democracies, are without much chance to be  the practical politicians of tomorrow. The paper argues that the present diminished role  of public intellectuals  is  a result of the new conditions of  forming the collective imaginary. Following discussion of these changes as  indicative of the new complexities and  uncertainties of modern world,  the paper concludes that the public intellectual’s role is  being recalibrated through the proliferation of imageries that do not identify a dominant conception of the present  and underlying structural transformations and  therefore are unable to provide  dependable political and cultural interpretations of the present and a reliable guide  for knowledge of the future.