Digital Scholarship, Higher Education and the Future of the Public Intellectual

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 15:30
Oral Presentation
Mark MURPHY, University of Glasgow, United Kingdom
Cristina COSTA, University of Strathclyde, United Kingdom
Since its heyday, the role of the public intellectual as traditionally understood has waned considerably, with less visibility accorded figures who assume this mantle in contemporary world affairs. This may be down to the fact that the modern notion of the intellectual embodies a set of social contradictions, contradictions that become magnified in a world of open access, social media and accelerated knowledge production. It may also have something to do with a decline in public sentiment for the sage on the stage figure, part of a broader decline in the legitimacy of academic knowledge more generally.

Another source of contradiction can be found in the fact that, in tandem with this general decline in public intellectualism, many universities have adopted an explicit concern with achieving societal impact via its intellectual activities. These universities are increasingly involved in knowledge exchange activities as a strategic response to calls for greater public accountability, and also as a method of ensuring the institution’s financial sustainability.

Given this current situation in which notions of engagement and knowledge transfer have taken centre stage in the search for impact, it is important to ask: what does the future hold for the public intellectual? And what is the role of the university when it comes to sustaining and enriching a broader intellectual culture in the public sphere? This paper explores these questions, particularly in the context of the spread of digital scholarship in the academy. This form of web-based academic scholarship, which valorises openness and public engagement, has the potential to change the shape and substance of public intellectualism. The paper explores this potential in detail, while at the same time outlining some of the challenges faced by the digital scholarship movement and its efforts to further ‘publicise’ intellectual life.