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Intellectual Life and its Purpose

Published onJul 09, 2019
Intellectual Life and its Purpose

The fundamental tool of our trade is reading. Included here are references to Alberto Manguel’s insightful books, some on the history and times of reading. Also included is Walter Benjamin’s classic essay on unpacking his library and the relationship between the reader and his or her book collection. Homi Bhahba’s retelling of the scene of unpacking brings some of the issues around academic reading up to date.

Some of the references included here reflect on daily realities and routines of intellectual life, like Pat Thomson’s wonderful blog Patter and Zygmunt Bauman’s anti-diary diary. Harvey Molotch offers some guidance on how to avoid academic narrowness and some suggestions with regard to keeping our imaginations alive and open. Others discuss the social role of writers and intellectuals and the importance of public engagement (Mills, Said, Puwar and Sharma). Mark Carrigan’s online resource Sociological Imagination offers a good example of the possibilities that are available now to create open platforms for ideas and also create spaces of intellectual dialogue.

  • Bauman, Zygmunt. (2010) 44 Letters from the Liquid Modern World. Cambridge: Polity Press.

  • Bauman, Zygmunt. (2012) This is Not a Diary. Cambridge: Polity Press.

  • Benjamin, Walter. (1973) ‘Unpacking My Library’, in Walter Benjamin: Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt. London: Fontana/Collins, pp. 59–67.

  • Bhabha, Homi. (1995) ‘Unpacking My Library Again’, Journal of Midwest Modern Language Association, 28(1): 5–18.

  • Eagleton, Terry. (2001) The Gatekeeper: A Memoir. London: Allen Lane/The Penguin Press.

  • Manguel, Alberto. (1996) A History of Reading. New York: Viking.

  • Manguel, Alberto. (2006) The Library at Night. New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press.

  • Mills, Charles Wright. (1944) ‘The Social Role of the Intellectual’, in C. Wright Mills: Power, Politics and People, ed. Irving Horowitz. New York: Ballantine.

  • Molotch, Harvey. (1994) ‘Going Out’, Sociological Forum, 9(2): 221–239.

  • Patter – Pat Thomson’s blog at:

  • Puwar, Nirmal and Sharma, Sanjay. (2009) ‘Short-Circuiting Knowledge Production’, in Edu-Factory Collective towards a Global Autonomous University. New York: Autonomedia, pp. 45–49.

  • Robinson, Katherine. (2015) ‘An Everyday Public?: Placing Public Libraries in London and Berlin’, doctoral thesis in the Department of Sociology, London School of Economics and Political Science, University of London.

  • Said, Edward. (1996) Representations of the Intellectual: the 1993 Reith Lectures. London: Vintage.

  • Said, Edward. (2004) Humanism and Democratic Criticism. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Steegmuller, Francis, ed. (1982) The Letters of Gustave Flaubert: 1857–1880. Cambridge, MA and London: The Belknap Press.

  • The Sociological Imagination website hosted by Mark Carrigan, at:

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