Scholars Believing in Scholarship: A Counter Culture

Experts provide an important service, they provide expertise. Kathleen Hall Jamieson has argued that these experts serve as agents of “knowledge-certifying institutions.” In public interaction, scholars are expected to provide key insights into what has been established through the best methods and strongest arguments in their fields.  When you are invited to a public forum, you are tasked with serving in the knowledge-certifying role. 

The role of knowledge-certifying experts will only grow more important and more difficult in the coming years. Expertise is under constant scrutiny. Public culture in the United States emphasizes individuality and skepticism to the point that they have become ends in themselves: a smart person believes nothing. Scholars run counter to this skeptical impulse: they believe something. 

Please bear with the following extended form sports metaphor: the hot-stove story. People talking about baseball news in the winter would gather around the hot-stove of fresh baseball news talk about winter meetings and soon-to-arrive spring training. These stories help fans prepare for the coming season by thinking about the game. Academic blogs, micropublishing platforms, and boutique magazines have a role today — they are the hot-stove of media theorizing. These are quick stories that can provide important insights that keep the collective train of thought moving, but we should be careful to distinguish our provisional thinking out loud or public explainers from our finished peer-reviewed research. When you take on the role of the knowledge-certifier, you are being asked for an expert opinion informed by a deep well of confirmed findings and coherent methods. 

Data scraping and analysis tools are increasingly available and user-friendly. Quantitative and computational approaches are increasingly accessible. The boundary between public and professional will no longer be technical sophistication or production value. Scholars add value in this new blended environment by playing the role of the serious believer of the research in their area. In this sense, the scholar approaches the public from a counter-cultural position. In practical terms: read your journals, know the answers to frequently asked questions across your domain of specialty, and be ready to show your work - in this skeptical time scholars need to believe in scholarship and to explain how they know what they know. 


Works Cited

Jamieson, Kathleen Hall. “Implications of the Demise of ‘Fact’ in Political Discourse.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 159, no. 1 (March 2015): 66–84.


The end quote of your post resonated with me: "read your journals, know the answers to frequently asked questions across your domain of specialty, and be ready to show your work - in this skeptical time scholars need to believe in scholarship and to explain how they know what they know." Lately I've heard a lot more scoffing at 'liberal academia' and the 'educated elite', especially in context of political conversations. It is as if research and academia are villainized for having the audacity to investigate issues as opposed to developing an opinion based on emotion and individual perception. In this polarized political climate, having facts to support a claim doesn't seem to matter much as people tend to hold on to their beliefs more ardently in the face of information that negates it. I listened to a podcast today called "The backfire effect" where people's political ideologies were challenged by fact based information while they were being monitored by an MRI. Researchers found that subjects "reacted with the same brain regions that would come online if they were responding to a physical threat." It made me wonder about the process of changing minds and how that can be accomplished if we respond to information so primitively when challenged with alternative information that has been researched and proven. While I am in total agreement that scholarships should "stay the course", so to speak, I am also interested in understanding how to use the information in a way that promotes change.

It’s interesting, Gramsci wrote about “organic intellectuals”— everyday people who are not deemed by society to be an intellectual or knowledge expert — and how they have knowledge value and speak the “truth” more so than those holding positions of “knowledge expert.” I really gravitated toward that idea with the advent of social media and how it gives voice to those organic intellectuals who create “real” content and have greater participatory parity with the media and intellectual elite in creating a more robust and accurate national discourse. With every video shared on social media about the injustices happening in our society, I felt those organic intellectuals were getting closer and closer to holding real power in influencing change for a better society. For instance, the Black Lives Matter movement’s success in influencing discourse was due to content that told the real story of what was/is happening to many Black Americans. Once people saw the injustices being served, there wasn’t much debate—as a whole, the elite intellectuals verified that content to be “true.” But now, an interesting phenomenon is happening in America. Previously-deemed knowledge experts are being devalued by those in political power and “counter organic intellectuals” are scoffing at verifiable content or facts. They are elevating a perspective that values belief systems above fact. We seem to be approaching a Fahrenheit 451 moment in history, where all prior knowledge and rational, critical thought is burned to the ground.


Jones, Steve. Antonio Gramsci. n.p.: London ; New York : Routledge, c2006., 2006.

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