The P.T. Barnum of modern British autonomism, Dougald Hine, has come up with a great new project, defined - like many of the best are - by an argument with the establishment. BBC 3, in association with the Arts and Humanities Research Council, is embarking on a quest to find "New Generation Thinkers" in the UK - meaning public intellectuals who shape debate through writing, broadcasting, blogging and other kinds of intervention.
Nice idea. Only problem is, the rules of the competition are that you have to be a staff academic in some way. Dougald quite rightly points out that not only would this disqualify past great thinkers like Antonio Gramsci, John Berger and Karl Polyani, but it disqualifies many current voices who find the time for critique and research in the midst of non-academic lives - as writers, entrepreneurs, employees, activists, artists.
So, platform-ready as ever, Dougald is going to set up a site called New Public Thinkers (first announcement here, holding page for actual site here), which as I understand it will have at least a wide-open door to those who are publicly intellectualising from a non-academic perch. Many thoughts on the state of public thinking come to mind - but to begin with, D wants some nominations as to who should be on a putative list of NPTs. Some of my favourites have already been proposed, here's some others:
Mark Fisher (aka K-Punk). Now straightaway this gets complicated, in terms of the initial definition. I didn't know much about K-Punk other than his extraordinary blog - which uses the best of radical left theory (Zizek, Badiou, Negri, Deleuze) as tools for writing heterodoxically about music, popular culture, the political spectacle and activism, in a way which for me defines what "public thinking" should be.
But the more you read, the more you realise his own predicament - as a precarious academic teacher, hopping from gig to gig teaching late teens, and thereby gaining an insight into contemporary passivities and pathologies. Keep reading, and his network of pals emerges - voices like Nina Power aka Infinite Thought (a philosopher at Roehampton University), Owen Hathereley's Sit Down Man You're a Bloody Tragedy (freelance architectural critic and lecturer), and Richard Seymour aka Lenin's Tomb (who's a PhD sociology candidate at the LSE). All writing from the theoretically-informed activist left that I value - but with some academic locus.
Should "new public thinkers" also allow for post-grads and employed academics who do carve out time to make public interventions - meaning, they don't keep their heads down and direct all their textual production towards peer-ref'd articles that can improve their research ratings and thus career? I think they should. Otherwise a lot of the new leadership that's coming from the student protests will be unnecessarily ruled out.
John Thackera (Doors of Perception). In terms of consistency of approach about the importance of "design for resilience" over the last decade, John Thackera gets my vote as a "public thinker". He isn't just a persuasive advocate of ideas about green design, but his "Doors Of Perception" conferences have been great opportunities for the meeting of practical minds across disciplines, under the urgent horizon of climate crisis. I think it's also helpful that a public thinker knows how to write clearly and effectively, particularly if the topic is recondite or specific. John, as an ex-hack, knows how to do that well. A busy man, but I'd love to see his voice much more in the agora of ideas about green economics in this country again.
Indra Adnan (Downing Street Project, Soft Power Network). Indra has been writing publicly (and from a non-academic perch) for the last four years on the nexus between Buddhism, soft power and the politics of gender and families. In her columns for the Huffington Post and the Guardian, Indra has explored how the crisis of power in the UK - exemplified by political corruption and the financial crash - has a complex relationship with notions of 'the masculine' and 'the feminine': we simply can't make an effective critique of how power structures order our lives if we don't find a way to talk about our deeply-held attitudes towards control, participation, acceptance.
Indra's advocacy and development of Joseph Nye's concept of soft power - from an American propaganda exercise, to a radically compassionate network politics, rooted in conflict-mediation and practised throughout the world - brings new insights about public life (see for example, her ambivalence about Wikileaks on this Huff Post blog). And yes, this woman is my partner, but sometimes the obvious is sitting right in front of you...
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Already excited, waiting to see a list of these thinkers in one place - feels like a handy new blogroll to look forward to.