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Public Intellectual is not a dirty name – Suzannah Lipscomb at Swindon Festival of Literature

17 May

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Given the reaction of the tabloid and ‘quality’ press front pages during the election, you may be forgiven for thinking that today’s public intellectuals are Katie Hopkins, Jeremy Clarkson and Russell Brand.

Happily, you’d be wrong on two counts and you can argue the toss with me about Russell. The term ‘public intellectuals’ sit uncomfortably with the British public, too self-congratulatory. The French are fine with it. But, boy, do we need them.

According to historian Susannah Lipscomb at the Swindon Festival of Literature last Friday, public intellectuals are the clever people who emerge from quiet libraries; they don’t endlessly research a particular point that only five other people care about.

They arm themselves with encyclopaedic knowledge, for sure, have a long hard rumination about all of it – then they get out there, tell people what they know and have an opinion about it: “They use knowledge and learning to change our shared world,” says Suzannah. Continue reading