Blogging & the Role of Public Intellectuals

Writing Politics Specialization

(PSC 79003 — 3 credits, 30864 CRN)

(revised Feb 12, 2016)*

Professor O’Brien;


This is an online course, though during the latter part of the semester, the instructor will meet with students on a tutorial basis to help them design ways to amplify their voice as a public intellectual or as an academic during her chat room office hour 5:30 to 6:30 on Tuesdays that the seminar meets.**


This is the third course in the Writing Politics Specialization sequence. It explores the unique role that academics can play as public intellectuals in the global social sphere of blogging, as well as in other types of social media that help create political change, so widely construed as to effect global social change. To do this, the online seminar examines previous cases of public intellectuals’ media impact as a means of looking to the future.


This online course is divided into two parts. The first part requires critical thinking and the writing of micro-papers, while the second part consists of ways to magnify students’ academic voice and find their unique blogging style in order to be heard as a public intellectual in a crowded online environment.


Students will make use of specific documents and adopt a unique set of resources and methodologies, depending upon their topic. A student blogging about American politics, for instance, will bring a different set of documents and interpretations to the table than one working on International Relations and human rights. The question of what to make public or how to develop a voice that will be significant and singular requires individual exploration with the instructor. Students will practice blogging that seeks to have “idea impact,” or to constitute what the wider social world of entrepreneurs calls “thought leadership.”


The critical-thinking part of the seminar asks, first, who is a public intellectual, and whether the standard wisdom about the less-effective role of political, legal, and/or literary thinkers is accurate. Second, the seminar explores whether there is a vacuum in onlinepolitical commentary, and if so, whether this has created a place for journalists or academics. What do some successful journalisticexposés say about how timing affects the ideas that shape political discourse? Do academics have a blogging advantage, being independent of editors who rely on advertising revenue? Or are there hidden problems with academics blogging, given how higher education (public and private) is under political attack? Does the increasing role that private industry plays in higher education — funding whole departments in so-called innovative schemes that bring industry into the heart of the university — have an impact on the freedom of speech that is essential for blogging? And third, the course analyzes several overlapping themes within American political thought, including the rise of the Right, the role of religion, and the decline of the ivory-tower conception of a university, and examines how blogging can help turn some of these trends around. For this part of the online seminar, students will complete a set of readings (sharing notes online with their peers) about the role of the public intellectual in the social sphere.


Blogging may be a recent medium, and a hot one (more like radio than television), but high-impact opinion journalism in print is as old as our nation, starting with the Federalist Papers and even before. To that purpose, the course also offers recommended texts in American political thought by Alexis de Tocqueville, John Dewey, W. E. B. DuBois, and Allan Bloom that serve the additional purpose of helping students interested in American political thought prepare for the first comprehensive examination.




Need experience with computers (software & hardware) and remote access via the internet.



Your grade for this class is derived from writing assignments.  Five blogs will constitute 50 percent of your grade (due at the final); and one micro-paper (2,000 word) and one blogging précis (rewritten during tutorial) count for 20 percent. Finally, notes on the reading make up 30 percent.

Blogs are from 150 to 500 words each (portfolio due at final). The micro paper explains why either Charles Murray’s 1994 book The Bell Curveresonated.  Or, why and how Upton Sinclair’s, The Jungle and/or and Eric Schlosser’s, Fast Food Nation hit a political chord, yet did not fully reflect their intent or primary public purpose.   This is due March 8.  The notes are due at the end of each seminar with required reading.

Incompletes are given out only for illness or very special personal circumstances.



Most articles can be downloaded from Blackboard. The few articles that are not on Blackboard can be found on the Project Muse search engine or Lexus-Nexus. (Tip: If you have trouble finding by author with the advanced search function, search under publications.)

Books for possible purchase are:

Richard Posner, Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline (Harvard University Press, 2000);

Upton Sinclair, The Jungle (Bantam classic with introduction by Morris Dickstein);

Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation (Perennial, 2002);

Cornel West, Race Matters (Vintage, 1994);

John Dewey, The Public and Its Problems (any edition).

The videos are also downloaded from Blackboard, and paired with the individual seminar sessions by number.


Recommended books for further reading

Alexis De Tocqueville, Democracy in America Volume 2, Book 1, Part I, X, XII, XIV-XVIII, Part 2 I, II, V-VI, X, Book II, Part I-V.

Jennifer Washburn, University, Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of American Higher Education (Basic Books, 2005).

Allan Bloom, The Closing of American Mind (Simon & Schuster, 1987).

Archive of 6 presidents


SEMINAR TOPICS (mini lectures in 10-15 minute segments for the first half of the seminar; and online discussion on Blackboard via Adobe Connect in the chat room, or in office tutorials during my office hour 5:30 to 6:30 arranged via email. The meeting room will announced on Blackboard and emailed to you directly. I can also arrange individual  telephone calls via email with students individually at other times.  Turn in notes by email to


SEMINAR I (Tues Feb 1) Introduction


(No seminar Feb 9, Friday classes meet that Tuesday)


SEMINAR 2 (Tues Feb 16) Who is a Public Intellectual or a Social or Political Thought Leader?


Reading: Richard Posner, Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline (Harvard University Press, 2000), Intro & Chps 1, 6, 8, 9, & Conclusion; Eric Alterman, Review of Posner’s book in The Nation, 1/28/2002, Vol. 274 Issue 3, 10; Patrick Baert, Barbara Patrick and Barbara Misztal “Introduction: A Special Issue on Public Intellectuals,” International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 25 (4) (2012).

Videos: Richard Posner, The Problem with Public Intellectuals: A Decline in the Market of Ideas; and “Top 10 Public Intellectuals”


SEMINAR 3 (Tues Feb 23) Great Idea Impact in the Progressive Era – Changing the American Political System 20th Century Progressive versus late 20th and 21st Century Progressivism Part 1 — Issues

Reading: Upton Sinclair, The Jungle (Bantam classic with introduction by Morris Dickstein); Cecelia Tichi, “Exposé and Excess,” American Literary History 15 (2003). 822-29; and Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation (Perennial, 2002), intro and chps 1-4, 7-8 epilogue.

Video: The Dark Side of Fast Food: Why Does it Make you Sick/Fat/Tired/Taste So Good?

Recommended Reading: Jason Pickavance, “Gastronomic Realism: Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, The Fight for Pure Food and the Magic of Mastication,” Food and Foodways 11 (2003): 87-112.

SEMINAR 4 (Tues March 1) 20th Century Progressive Reformers vs. late 21st Century Progressive Reformers – Part II on Prospects for Institutional Change

Reading: John Dewey, The Public and Its Problems (any edition), chps 1,2, 3, & 5; & David Halliburton, “John Dewey: A Voice that Still Speaks to Us” Change 29, (Jan/Feb 1997); Malcolm Gladwell, “The Cellular Church,” New Yorker (September 12, 2005); KevinMattson, “Where Are the Young Left Intellectuals Social Policy, 29 (1999); and Patrick Brantlinger, “Professors & Public Intellectuals in the Information Age,” SHOFAR 21 (2003): 122-36.

Video: John Dewey, Pragmatism, and Metaphilosophy


Further Reading or Recommended Reading: Alexis De Tocqueville, Democracy in America chps Volume 2, Book 1, Part I, X, XII, XIV-XVIII, Part 2 I, II, V-VI, X, Book II, Part I-V; Michael J. Shapiro, “Bowling Blind: Post Liberal Civil Society and the Worlds of Neo-Tocquevillean Social Theory,” 1:1 1997; Aristide Tessitore, “Alexis de Tocqueville on the Natural State of Religion in the age of Democracy,” Journal of Politics 64 (2002): 1137-52.


SEMINAR 5 (Tues March 8) Bodies — Taking the University to the Street: The New Left & Public Intellectuals Demanding Action



Reading: 1960s: Robert B. Westbrook, “In Retrospect Christopher Lasch, The New Radicalism, and the Vocation of Intellectuals,”Reviews in American History 23 (1995); and Edward Shils, “Intellectuals and the Discontents,” The American Scholar, 45 (Spring 1976):181-204.


Video: Noam Chomsky, Kathleen Cleaver on The 1960s, Black Panthers, COINTELPRO, Watergate 1997


Recommended Reading: Henry David Allen, “The American University Part I,” New York Review of Books, 7, (October 20, 1966); Henry David Allen, “The University II: What is Liberal Education?,” New York Review of Books, 7, (November 3, 1966); Noam Chomsky, “A Special Supplement: The Responsibility of the Intellectuals,” New York Review of Books  8 (February 23, 1967) George Steiner, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” New York Review of Books, 19, (March 23, 1967); Stokely Carmichael, “What We Want,” New York Review of Books 7 (September 8 1966); Tom Hayden, “The Occupation of Newark,” New York Review of Books, 18 (August 24, 1967); Andrew Kopkind, “Soul Power,” New York Review of Books  9 (August 24, 1967).


SEMINAR 6 Race in 1990s vs. BlackLivesMatter (Tues. March 15)


Race in 1990s: Cornel West, Race Matters (Vintage, 1994) Intro, Chps 6 & 8; Robert S. Boynton, “The New Intellectuals,” The Atlantic Monthly, (March 1995):53-70; Sean Wilentz, “Race, Celebrity, and the Intellectuals,” DISSENT (Summer 1995): 293-99.

Video: Cornel West, Race Matters


Recommended Videos: Chris Hedges and Cornel West in Conversation: Wages of Rebellion; A Public Dialogue between bell hooks and Cornel West; and bell hooks: This Ain’t No Pussy Shit


Recommended Reading: Race: W. E. B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folks (Signet Classic edition with intro by Randall Kenan) intro, 1, 2, 4. 10, 14; bell hooks



SEMINAR 7 Cold War, NeoCons, & Post 9/11 Bodies (Tues March 22)


Cold War Post 9/11: Jules Chametzky, “Public Intellectuals – Now and Then,” MELUS 29 (Fall/Winter 2004): 211-26; JohnDonatich, John, Russell Jacoby, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Stephen Carter, Stephen, Herbert Gans, Steven Johnson, and ChristopherHitchens, Christopher, “The Future of the Public Intellectual, The Nation, (02/12/2001), Vol. 272, Issue 6; and Wendy S. Hesford. “Surviving Recognition and Racial In/justice,” Philosophy and Rhetoric 48, no. 4 (2015): 536-560.



SEMINAR 8 Triumph of the Right after 9/11? (Tues March 29)


Reading: Daniel R. Schwarz, “Eating Kosher Ivy: Jews as Literary Intellectuals,SHOFAR: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies (Spring 2003), 21; Nathan Abrams, “’A Profoundly Hegemonic Moment:’ De-Mythologizing the Cold War New York Public Intellectuals,” SHOFAR 21 (2003): 64-82; Michael Kimmage, “Lionel Trilling’s The Middle of the Journey and the Complicated Origins of the Neo-Conservative Movement,” SHOFAR 21 (Spring 2003): 48-63.


Video: Gertrude Himmelfarb, The De-Moralization of Society


Recommended Reading: Alan Bloom, The Closing of American Mind (Simon & Schuster, 1987, Introduction

Recommended Videos: Edward Said, The Myth of the Clash of Civilizations; Samuel Huntington, Who Are We: The Challenges of American Identity; Robert Bork, Slouching Toward Gomorrah; and Alan Bloom: The Closing of American Mind


SEMINAR 9 (Tues, April 5)

Does Tenure Protect Free Speech? Heretical Thought, Death Threats, and Other Social Perils When Going Viral


Reading: SLAPP suits”  (peruse the site); and Jodi Melamed, “Dangerous Associations,” American Quarterly, Volume 66, Number 2, June 2014, 289-300; and Joanne Barkan. “Big Philanthropy vs. Democracy: The Plutocrats Go to School, “Dissent, 60, no. 4 (2013): 47-54. ; Nathan Hansen. “Nothing Neutral About Network Neutrality,” SAIS Review of International Affairs 30, no. 2 (2010): 67-69.; and MichanConnor, “Uniting Citizens after Citizens United: Cities, Neoliberalism, and Democracy,” American Studies 54, no. 1 (2015): 5-27.

Video: Stopping SLAPP Suits


Recommended Reading: Jennifer Washburn, University, Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of American Higher Education (Basic Books, 2005).


SEMINARS 10-12 Tutorials for Blogging Précis (April 12, April 19, May 3)* A telephone or Skype conference sign-up sheet will be sent by reply all email so I can speak with each one of you individually for part of a seminar to help you with your Blogging Précis.


Recommended Readings (These readings depend upon your blogging topic or blogging précis so students substitute their own 3-5 articles).  Ciccariello-Maher, George. 2012. “The Dialectics of Standing One’s Ground.” Theory & Event 15, no. 3; Anderson, Karrin Vasby. 2011. ““Rhymes with Blunt”: Pornification and U.S. Political Culture.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 14, no. 2: 327-368.; Smith, Anna Marie. 2012. “Deadly Force and Public Reason.” Theory & Event 15, no. 3; Cole, Juan. 2011. “Blogging Current Affairs History”. Journal of Contemporary History 46  (3) Sage Publications, Ltd.: 658–70; Hindman, Mathew. 2013. “The Closing of the Frontier: Political Blogs, the 2008 Election, and theOnline Public Sphere”. In Representation: Elections and Beyond, edited by Jack H. Nagel and Rogers M. Smith, 192–214; Somolu,Oreoluwa. 2007. “Telling Our Own Stories’: African Women Blogging for Social Change”. Gender and Development 15 (3). Taylor & Francis, Ltd.: 477–89; Bouwma-Gearhart, Jana L., and James L. Bess. 2012. “The Transformative Potential of Blogs for Research in Higher Education.” The Journal of Higher Education 83 (2); Dahlgren, Peter. 2012. “Public Intellectuals, Online Media, and Public Spheres: Current Realignments.” International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 25 (4). Springer: 95–110; Murthy, Dhiraj. 2012. “Towards a Sociological Understanding of Social Media: Theorizing Twitter”. Sociology 46 (6); Bérubé, Michael. 2005. “Blogging Back at the Right.” Academe 91 (5). American Association of University Professors: 33–34.


SEMINARS 13-14 (May 10 & May 17) Online Workshop of 5 blogs

Workshop peer-review etiquette URL & logistics (under separate file as well).


*(The Syllabus might be altered before the first class.  See Blackboard for current version dated.)

**(How much time devoted to each student depends upon seminar size and varies each semester.) #
***Consult with the Political Science Program office or whoever the Executive Officer designates for all deadlines and dates for add/drop or registration or overrides for registration or any other office the Graduate Center deems appropriate.



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