Contexts of Cultural Diffusion: A Case Study of "Public Intellectual" Debates in English Canada

By McLaughlin, Neil; Townsley, Eleanor | Canadian Review of Sociology, November 2011 | Go to article overview

Contexts of Cultural Diffusion: A Case Study of "Public Intellectual" Debates in English Canada


McLaughlin, Neil, Townsley, Eleanor, Canadian Review of Sociology


Controversy over the "decline" and "death" of the public intellectual came to Canada in the years after it entered the discourse of the U.S. public sphere in reviews of Russell Jacoby's now famous book The Last Intellectuals (1987). Jacoby's argument was that intellectual life in the contemporary United States had become distorted by rising academic professionalism and specialization. From the perspective of this story of decline, the old fashioned but admirably civic-minded generalist intellectuals of the past had been replaced, since the 1960s, by specialized scholars who wrote about narrow technical matters in tortured prose. Starting in the late 1980s, this narrative found a receptive audience in the United States where it was adopted widely by journalists, academics, and think tank celebrities. In 2001, Richard Posner's book Public Intellectuals also made a splash, this time by pillorying public intellectuals as lightweight media celebrities who avoid peer review and produce shoddy scholarship (Posner 2001). From the early twenty-first century, the public intellectual debate had gone global and came to shape elite discourse about the role of ideas and scholarship in Australia, Great Britain, the European Union, and beyond.

Our analysis of public intellectual debates in Canada follows earlier research on the elite public sphere of the United States that analyzed intellectual attributions of public intellectual status (Townsley 2006). By downplaying the question of "who really is an intellectual" in favor of asking "who attributes intellectual status to whom and why?" that work identified the stakes at issue for different kinds of U.S. intellectuals in these debates. Underlying this analysis was a focus on cultural fields (Bourdieu 1990, 1998, 2005; Bourdieu and Passeron 1979), and especially the difference between the academic, political, and journalistic fields in structuring the reception and circulation of discourse about public intellectuals. This case study builds on this earlier research to examine the diffusion of public intellectual debates since the late 1980s through a detailed case study of English Canada.

THE COMPLEX GEOGRAPHY OF PUBLIC INTELLECTUAL DEBATES: RESEARCH QUESTIONS

Cultural diffusion can be defined as "the transmission, adoption, and eventual acculturation of an innovation by a recipient population" (Kaufman and Patterson 2005:83). At one level, this is the story of how the idea of the "public intellectual" diffused to Canada from the United States. At a second level, however, the idea of the "public intellectual" cannot be strictly defined as a new innovation in Canada, since it draws heavily on existing traditions associated with the universal intellectual in Western politics and culture (Eyerman 1994) and long-standing Canadian intellectual traditions both in Quebec and the Rest of Canada (ROC) (Brooks and Gagnon 1988; Brym and Myles 1988; Massolin 2001). For practical reasons, we will focus on the debate in English Canada and leave a discussion of "public intellectuals" in Quebec for another analysis, since a preliminary empirical excursion suggests the term is not used in the same way in French language journalism. (1)

The diffusion of public intellectual debates from the United States to English Canada is complicated by the shared heritage of the two countries. There are deep cultural affinities and dense overlapping intellectual networks between Canada and the United States. At the same time, there are also pronounced political differences and lingering cultural anxieties that mark the relationship. Rather than a sharp distinction between a foreign source of cultural innovation and a "recipient population" then, it is probably more accurate to say that in the 1980s and 1990s, the idea of the "public intellectual" diffused in a variety of ways across unevenly globalized cultural fields in Canada (Appadurai 1996; Connell, Wood, and Crawford 2005; Jacobs and Townsley 2008, 2011).

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Contexts of Cultural Diffusion: A Case Study of "Public Intellectual" Debates in English Canada
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.