Saturday, April 29, 2006

Techno-Politics, New Technologies, and the New Public Spheres

The category of the intellectual, like everything else these days, is highly contested and up for grabs. Zygmunt Bauman contrasts intellectuals as legislators who wish to legislate universal values, usually in the service of state institutions, with intellectuals as interpreters, who merely interpret texts, public events, and other artifacts, deploying their specialized knowledge to explain or interpret things for publics (1987; 1992). He claims that there is a shift from modern intellectuals as legislators of universal values who legitimated the new modern social order to postmodern intellectuals as interpreters of social meanings, and thus theorizes a depoliticalization of the role of intellectuals in social life.

In contrast, I want to distinguish between "functional intellectuals", who serve to reproduce and legitimate the values of existing societies, contrasted to "critical-oppositional public intellectuals" who oppose the existing order and militate for progressive social change. Functional intellectuals were earlier the classical ideologues, whereas today they tend to be functionaries of parties or interest groups, or mere technicians who devise more efficient means to obtain certain ends. Technical-functional intellectuals apply their skills to increase technical knowledge in various specialized domains (medicine, physics, history, etc.) without questioning the ends, goals, or values that they are serving, or the social utility or disutility of their activities, while functional ideologues construct discourses to legitimate existing social relations, institutions, and practices.

Today, in an expanding global information economy, intellectuals are more important than ever in every aspect of human life. The concept of the intellectual traditionally involved workers in the sphere of mental labor, who produced ideas, wrote texts, and developed and transmitted intellectual abilities, as opposed to manual workers who produced goods and worked with their hands in the realms of manufacture, heavy industry, agriculture, and other fields that primarily depended on manual labor. The distinction between intellectual and manual labor was always an ideal type, was never absolute, and was itself subject to change and historical mutation. It is my argument that today the concept of the intellectual is undergoing significant mutations and must be rethought in relationship to new technologies and the new global economy and culture.


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2 comments:

ivan said...

salam kenal

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