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  Jeffrey C. Alexander 
Intellectuals in the Public Sphere

Public intellectual is a role that has become fundamental to the civil repair of modern societies. It is rooted in the first public sphere that emerged in Athens, and in the iconic figure of Socrates.

These secular origins became folded into the Judeo-Christian trope of prophetic judgment. Public intellectuals criticize society on behalf of the putative, and necessarily unrealized, solidarity that underlies the civil-public sphere, and they do so by pronouncements that refer to the power of truth. Being a public intellectual must be understood performatively. It is an expressive figure organized in sub-genres formed by such political traditions as the revolutionary, reformist, conservative, and counter-revolutionary, but it has also expressed itself in the figure of the public psychotherapist initiated by Freud. In real historical time, however, the performance of public intellectual is not as transcendental as it seems. As much denunciation and demonization as idealistic and inspiring, public intellectual discourse engages the binary, bifurcating discourse of civil society. Even while promoting civil repair, public intellectual performance becomes a vehicle for carrying out the excluding and stigmatizing boundary enforcement that also characterizes every civil society.


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