Public Scholars and Intellectuals

Yesterday we wrapped up the first Beyond the Academy conference.  It was a terrific meeting of over 40 public scholars from across the country talking about how academics can make their work matter beyond the often narrow confines of academia.  Of course it is worthwhile to advance one’s own field, but this work need not happen without also engaging the larger public. In the meeting we grappled with how to do this work without falling into old hierarchical thinking, how to do research in communities without being imperialistic, and how to make a difference in public policy without losing one’s own soul. I’ll be writing up a report this next week, trying to pull together all the themes.  I can say now, though, that we only scratched the surface of what “public scholarship” as a practice might be.  Our keynote speaker, Dan Kemmis, got us thinking about that.  Is public scholarship a practice in the Aristotelian sense of having internal to it its own ideals and standards? What would those be?

To mull on this, see a piece in a New York Times blog on public intellectuals.