The Public Intellectual by Helen Small (Blackwell) In
this exciting and timely book, prestigious thinkers such as Edward Said,
Jacqueline Rose, Bruce Robbins, and Stefan Collini discuss the role of writers
and intellectuals today and in the past, examining the ways in which thought can
be publicly expressed, and how it may relate or fail to relate to activism.
Their combined responses represent a major and long overdue riposte to claims of
a decline in public intellectual life.
The volume significantly extends the historical range of
most writing about intellectuals, exploring the relationship between thought,
professionalism, and public action from Hellenistic late antiquity onward. Other
essays in this collection are immediately contemporary in focus, addressing the
ways in which the idea of the public intellectual is being reformed today in
different political and national contexts and in different media, including film
and the visual arts.
Disciplined Minds: A Critical Look at Salaried Professionals and the
Soul-Battering System That Shapes Their Lives by Jeff Schmidt
(Rowman & Littlefield) This is as important as it is a controversial work.
Simply it shows how our institutions deeply affect individual integrity at many
levels of professional life. Eye-opening and forcefully political. Highly
recommended. Author’s preface: This book is stolen. Written in part on stolen
time, that is. I felt I had no choice but to do it that way. Like millions of
others who work for a living, I was giving most of my prime time to my employer.
My job simply did not leave me enough energy for a major project of my own, and
no one was about to hire me to pursue my own vision, especially given my
irreverent attitude toward employers. I was working in
The predicament I was in will sound painfully familiar to
many professionals. Indeed, generally speaking, professionals today are not
happy campers. After years of worshiping work, many seemingly successful
professionals are disheartened and burned out, not because of their 70‑hour
workweeks, but because their salaries are all they have to show for their
life‑consuming efforts. They long for psychic rewards, but their employers'
emphasis on control and the bottom line is giving them only increased workloads,
closer scrutiny by management and unprecedented anxiety about job security. In
this way the cold reality of employer priorities has led to personal crises for
many of this country's 21 million professionals.
Burned‑out professionals may not be immediately obvious to
the casual observer, because typically they stay on the job and maintain their
usual high level of output. But they feel like they are just going through the
motions. They have less genuine curiosity about their work, feel less motivated
to do it and get less pleasure from it. The emotional numbness inevitably
spreads from their work lives into their personal lives. According to Herbert J.
Freudenberger, the New York psychologist who coined the term burnout in the
mid‑1970s, the personal consequences are wide‑ranging and profound: cynicism,
disconnection, loss of vitality and authenticity, decreased enjoyment of family
life, anger, strained relationship with spouse or partner, divorce, obsessive
behavior such as "workaholism," chronic fatigue, poor eating habits, neglect of
friends, social isolation, loneliness‑and the list of symptoms goes on.
Freudenberger tells me he has seen a big increase in career burnout among
professionals in the past twenty years. Ironically, such depression is most
likely to hit the most devoted professionals‑those who have been the most deeply
involved in their work. You can't burn out if you've never been on fire.
The problem shows no sign of easing. In fact, the ranks of
troubled professionals are swelling as members of Generation X finish school and
rack up a few years in the workforce. Many Xers, having observed the
unfulfilling work ethic of their baby boom predecessors, want their own working
lives to be fun and meaningful from the get‑go. Starting out with priorities
that took boomers a decade to figure out, but in no better position to act on
those priorities, Xers are simply having career crises at an earlier age.
Clearly, there is an urgent need to understand why career work so often fails to
fulfill its promise.
I argue that the hidden root of much career dissatisfaction
is the professional's lack of control over the "political" component of his or
her creative work. Explaining this component is a major focus of this book.
Today's disillusioned professionals entered their fields expecting to do work
that would "make a difference" in the world and add meaning to their lives. In
this book I show that, in fact, professional education and employment push
people to accept a role in which they do not make a significant difference, a
politically subordinate role. I describe how the intellectual boot camp known as
graduate or professional school, with its cold‑blooded expulsions and creeping
indoctrination, systematically grinds down the student's spirit and ultimately
produces obedient thinkers‑highly educated employees who do their assigned work
without questioning its goals. I call upon students and professionals to engage
in just such questioning, not only for their own happiness, but for society's
sake as well.
This book shows that professional education is a battle for
the very identity of the individual, as is professional employment. It shows how
students and working professionals face intense pressure to compromise their
ideals and sideline their commitment to work for a better world. And it explores
what individuals can do to resist this pressure, hold on to their values and
pursue their social visions. People usually don't think of school and work in
terms of such a high‑stakes struggle. But if they did, they would be able to
explain why so many professional training programs seem more abusive than
enlightening, and why so many jobs seem more frustrating than fulfilling.
I decided to write this book when I was in graduate school
myself, getting a PhD in physics, and was upset to see many of the best people
dropping out or being kicked out. Simply put, those students most concerned
about others were the most likely to disappear, whereas their self‑centered,
narrowly focused peers were set for success. The most friendly, sympathetic and
loyal individuals, those who stubbornly continued to value human contact, were
handicapped in the competition. They were at a disadvantage not only because
their attention was divided, but also because their beliefs about big‑picture
issues such as justice and social impact caused them to stop, think and
question. Their hesitation and contemplation slowed them down, tempered their
enthusiasm and drew attention to their deviant priorities, putting them at a
disadvantage relative to their unquestioning, gong‑ho classmates. Employers,
too, I realized, favored people who kept their concerns about the big picture
nicely under control, always in a position of secondary importance relative to
the assigned work at hand. Thus I saw education and employment as a
self‑consistent, but deeply flawed, system. I wrote this book in the hope of
exposing the problem more completely and thereby forcing change.
A system that turns potentially independent thinkers into
politically subordinate clones is as bad for society as it is for the stunted
individuals. It bolsters the power of the corporations and other hierarchical
organizations, undermining democracy. As I will explain in detail, it does this
by producing people who are useful to hierarchies, and only to hierarchies:
uncritical employees ready and able to extend the reach of their employers'
will. At the same time, a system in which individuals do not make a significant
difference at their point of deepest involvement in society‑that is, at
work‑undermines efforts to build a culture of real democracy. And in a
subordinating system, organizations are more likely to shortchange or even abuse
clients, because employees who know their place are not effective at challenging
their employers' policies, even when those policies adversely affect the quality
of their own work on behalf of clients.
This book is intended for a broad range of professionals,
nonprofessionals and students, and for anyone interested in how today's society
works. It is for students who wonder why graduate or professional school is so
abusive. It is for nonprofessionals who wonder why the professionals at work are
so often insufferable, and who want to be treated with greater respect. It is
for socially concerned professionals who wonder why their liberal colleagues
behave so damn conservatively in the workplace. (Chapter I explains how
professionals are fundamentally conservative even though liberalism is the
dominant ideology in the professions.) It is for individuals who are frustrated
by the restrictions on their work and troubled by the resulting role they
play‑or don't play‑in the world. It is also for those who simply find their
careers much less fulfilling than they had expected and aren't exactly sure why.
Disillusioned lawyers, doctors, financial analysts,
journalists, teachers, social workers, scientists, engineers and other highly
educated employees are looking for a deeper understanding of why their lives are
stressful and feel incomplete. My hope is that readers will find such an
understanding in these pages, along with effective strategies for corrective
action. If you are a professional, coming
to understand the political nature of what you do, as part
of an honest reassessment of what it really means to be a professional, can be
liberating. It can help you recover your long‑forgotten social goals and begin
to pursue them immediately, giving your life greater meaning and eliminating a
major source of stress. It can help you become a savvy player in the workplace
and reclaim some lost autonomy. And, ironically, it can help you command greater
respect from management and receive greater recognition and reward, without
necessarily working harder.
If you are a student, understanding the political nature of
professional work can help you hold on to your values and moral integrity as you
navigate the minefields of professional training and, later, employment. For
students trying to get through professional training intact, this book can serve
as something of a survival guide, explaining the frightening experiences and
warning of what lies in store.
If you are a nonprofessional, you experience even more lack
of control, unfulfilling work, insecurity and other sources of stress than do
professionals. As a consequence, the toll on your physical and psychological
well‑being is even greater than that suffered by professionals. If you want to
act individually or collectively to improve your situation, then it pays to know
what makes your professional coworkers tick. Such awareness can help you figure
out which people you can trust and how far you can trust them. When professional
and nonprofessional employees maintain solidarity in the workplace, they can
cover for each other and get more concessions from their employer. But any
alliance between unequal partners is doubly risky for the less powerful party‑in
this case the nonprofessionals, who are at the bottom of the workplace
hierarchy. By understanding professionals, you reduce the chances of being
double‑crossed by them. You'll be treated with more respect, too.
Whatever your occupation, you have to deal with a variety
of professionals when you are off the job. Most of these professionals work for
others, not directly for you. Whether you visit an HMO, send kids to school,
request a government service, see a counselor, get assistance from a social
worker, deal with a lawyer, file a consumer complaint or contact a local TV
station or newspaper, understanding the political nature of professional work
will help you get better service. If you are involved in an independent
organization working for social change, you have to contend not only with
professionals in the corporations or agencies that your group confronts, but
also with professionals advising your own organization. Groups that simply trust
professionals without truly understanding them are very likely to be misdirected
or sold out by those professionals.
And, of course, everyone deals with professionals
indirectly, too. For instance, newspapers, magazines, radio and television are
filled with supposedly objective news reports, analyses and studies prepared by
professionals. What should you believe? To truly understand the output of these
or other professionals, you first need to understand the political nature of the
professional's role at work.
The political nature of professional work is this book's
unifying theme. To make the case that the professional's work is inherently
political, I examine not only professionals and what they do (part one: chapters
1 to 6), but also the system that prepares them to do it (part two: chapters 7
to 13) and the battle that one must fight to be politically independent (part
three: chapters 14 to 16).
My hope is that whether you are a professional, a
nonprofessional or a student, you will find here an unsettling but empowering
new way of looking at yourself, your colleagues, the institution that employs or
trains you, and society as a whole. This book strives to arm you with a very
practical analytical tool that you can use to your advantage in whatever
individual and collective struggles you find yourself in as an employee,
student, organization member, consumer or citizen.
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