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Communication Dans Un Congrès Année : 2012

Returning home: intellectuals in (web)salons


The increasing invisibility of intellectuals in the contemporary public sphere, among other factors, is intertwined with cultural, commercial, and technological changes in the media landscape. In the last decades, the media have suffered a significant cultural transformation, from a rational and civic enlightening sphere (Jespers 1998) - structured on a formal relationship, hierarchized and built into distance between specialists and the audience - to an entertainment and demotic space (Turner 2009), by centering itself around ordinary citizens, valuing him/her and legitimizing his/her ways of expression and interests. Entertainment programs, such as Big Brother or Idols, illustrate well the media demotic turn; but nowadays, ordinary people have also turned themselves into 'mass self-communication' (Castells 2009) broadcasters with the helps of network technology. For instance, demotic journalism - a form of journalism involving ordinary people in journalistic routines and valuing the citizens' everyday life experience as a kind of expertise - has been flourishing through network technology. Blogs, vlogs, streaming, and other forms of online interactive communication, have been allowing people to participate actively in the news making process, pushing journalists to accommodate user-generated content, but also to building their own news agendas as well. Hence, by being a means of interactive communication, the Internet is promoting a horizontal network of communication built around people's initiative, interests, and perspectives. For this reason, interactive communication is highly self-generated in content, self-directed in emission, and self-selected in reception by many who communicate with many. While doing so, it is also reconfiguring and bypassing traditional hierarchies and relations of communicative power (Deuze 2008). Thus, the media's demotic turn and the new media have been reshaping the public sphere, a cultural matrix that had previously been related to enlightened perspectives and public opinion formation by intellectuals and specialists (Habermas 1991), characterized by knowledge and erudite culture, critical spirit, and public intervention through the media (Jacoby 2000; Posner 2004). But, because of the confluence of all factors mentioned above, people started speaking in its own right refusing intellectuals to act as its spokespersons, thus, thinkers have begun to lose relevance in the public sphere. 'Symbolic capital' (status, reputation, the right to be listened to) and 'cultural capital' (education, competencies, skills) (Bourdieu 1991) were no longer a prerequisite to access realms that used to be exclusive for intellectuals, and, for instance, for journalists as well. In an era of 'do it yourself' technologies and the media demotic turn, this paper focus on how intellectuals are coping with this apparently hostile cultural environment, by analyzing their presence on the Internet. In this framework, one may ask: If anyone, regardless of his or her knowledge, can generate and broadcast their thoughts, what place is reserved for the specialist and intellectual knowledge? What kind of relationship is the Internet offering to intellectuals and their audience? And compared to television, is the Internet restricting or enlarging the intellectuals' audience? Against a background of dominant narratives on the decline or disappearance of intellectuals (Jacoby 2000; Posner 2004; Furedi 2005), and on the Internet as the scapegoat for the loss of the authority of erudite culture (Keen 2007; Lipovetsky 2009), I would argue that one of the central institutions where the identity of intellectuals was cemented, the eighteenth century salon, is being reenacted today, precisely on the internet. Through the net, many intellectuals are exercising their authority and reinforcing the twenty-first century intellectual community. Illustrating the topic with European and Anglo-American examples, as representatives of the Western trend, this ongoing research shows that there are web-places where intellectuals are expressing themselves, spreading their message and fulfilling their public role. And by means of the communication tools available, intellectuals are mobilized those interested, but also reaching inadvertent audiences, like intellectuals did in the past when there were only one to three national television channels in most European countries, by sharing texts with their Facebook contacts, by tweeting it, stumbling it, emailing it or recommending it. Through these connected nodes, anyone can be reached and, indeed, many people are, as indicated by various access statistics. Thus, the internet today is providing a place for intellectuals to express themselves, to be read and have their authority exerted; it also allows for the intellectual community - experts, lay experts and non-specialists - to keep up with each other and construct meaning around a particular set of interests. In this context, common concerns and interests work as principles of inclusiveness, linking dispersed people with common interests, just like correspondence did it for the intellectual community during the Enlightenment period (Goodman 1994). Much like eighteenth century salons, concrete loci for the Republic of Letters - a territory not defined territorially -, in the Internet all connections together form clusters, which combined to form small worlds. In conclusion, when the public sphere of the Enlightenment expanded to include everwidening circles of cultural consumers and producers in late eighteenth century, les salons seem not to survive the tensions between old and new perceptions of authorities of knowledge and became a thing of the past (Melton 2001). In late twentieth century, when the commercialization of the public sphere and the media's demotic turn expanded, the fear of decline and disappearance of intellectuals returned; but as this paper endeavors to show, (web)salons may have played a central role in breaking that cycle. By supplying technological resources for the socialization of the projects of each intellectual in a network of similar subjects, the liquid internet, as a privileged set for new authorities of knowledge to express and expand themselves, became not (just) a cause of disintegration, but (also) a powerful social (re)construction tool for intellectual community.
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Dates et versions

hal-00840648 , version 1 (02-07-2013)


  • HAL Id : hal-00840648 , version 1


Rita Figueiras. Returning home: intellectuals in (web)salons. Communiquer dans un monde de normes. L'information et la communication dans les enjeux contemporains de la " mondialisation "., Mar 2012, France. ⟨hal-00840648⟩


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