Media @ McGill

Everett Wilson

Submitted by hive on

Public Intellectuals and Public Communication in Canada

What happens when an intellectual in Canada "goes public?" What happens when he or she hosts a public lecture, fills a spot on the airwaves, claims a column on the broadsheets, offers testimony for a journalistic piece, participates in a documentary film, writes trade non-fiction, sits on a televised panel, or experiments with digital media? What concessions occur in the process of negotiating a voice within (and sometimes against) the conventions and circulatory cultures of each media? What kinds of interventions are possible? In what way does the context of communication shape how intellectuals imagine publics and address their audiences? Finally, what are the broader implications for civil society when intellectuals enter the public sphere? What happens when they intervene and struggle, when they wield power and privilege, when they are forcibly silenced or when they resign to positions of silence and distance vis-à-vis wider constituencies?

I plan to explore these questions through a series of comparable case studies of intellectuals who "went public" at different epochs and conjunctures in the history of modern communications in Canada. I hope that my contribution will illuminate the importance of taking the "problem of communication" seriously in accounts of intellectual culture -- as the central thematic, rather than as an aforethought, which is often the case in related streams of scholarship in the history of ideas, the sociology of knowledge and biographical studies.