Read Jeffrey Alexander’s latest publication, “Dramatic Intellectuals,” from the International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society.
Abstract: Challenging reductionistic approaches to intellectuals that emphasize the so-called social origins of their ideas—the sociology OF culture approach—this essay proposes a cultural sociological approach that puts the search for meaning front and center. Intellectuals code their times in terms of sacred-good and profane-evil, and they provide narratives of salvation by temporalizing good and evil as protagonists in a master story of social transformation. Among the universe of significant intellectuals, however, one finds only a tiny subset whose ideas have actually been deployed to make things happen in the social world. To conceptualize this process, the theory of cultural pragmatics must be brought into play: Ideas must be socially performed, by carrier groups with access to the means of symbolic production, in propitious social settings, vis-a-vis potentially receptive audiences. After considering Marx, Freud, Keynes, and Sartre, this discussion is devoted to case studies of Ayn Rand and Frantz Fanon.