problems in the sociology of intellectuals
Here are some empirical issues in the study of intellectuals that sociologists should think harder about:
1. Intellectuals and authoritarianism: Are intellectuals any more or less likely than average folks to gravitate toward authoritarian politics? Case in point: intellectuals and the Soviets. I can easily see a college professor cheering on the Communist Party in 1910, but to do so during the era of Stalin is simply crazy. Why did that happen? Update: I’m asking about Western intellectuals who loved Stalin. Of course, folks in Russia didn’t have much choice.
2. Influence and Personality: Neil Gross’ book on Rorty made a simple point that biography can profoundly shape intellectual output. Here’s the broader question – is personality or biography the main predictor of why people produce their type of scholarship? Or is there a real impact of mentoring/exposure? Of course, we exempt technical areas (e.g., you need to go to medical school or produce medical research), but it seems important in the humanities and social sciences.
3. Anti-intellectualism and politics: Which political groups love or hate intellectuals? For example, populists, especially those of conservative bent, hate intellectuals. Libertarians love their philosophers and economists, and socialists enjoy high theory. Why?
4. Networks and Ability: Are networks and scientific ability endogenous? A common finding is that high achieving intellectuals have ties to high achieving mentors. Is this “scouting” – smart people can spot other smart folks? Or does the collaboration and contact add value to the career?
5. Autonomy and Repressive States: How do intellectuals retain their autonomy in coercive institutions? For example, when most of Soviet science went down hill, the mathematical and physical sciences remained outstanding. How did that happen? Is anything similar happening in China? What about states that hate intellectuals, like Cambodia during the Khemr Rouge era?