Prophets, Gurus, and Pundits
Rhetorical Styles and Public Engagement
Publication Year: 2014
In Prophets, Gurus, and Pundits, author Anna M. Young proposes that the difficulty of bridging the gap between intellectuals and the public is not a failure of ideas; rather, it is an issue of rhetorical strategy. By laying a rhetorical foundation and presenting analytical case studies of contemporary “public intellectuals,” Young creates a training manual for intellectuals who seek to connect with a public audience and effect change writ large.
Young begins by defining key aspects of rhetorical style before moving on to discuss the specific ways in which intellectuals may present ideas to a general audience in order to tackle large-scale social problems. Next, she defines the ways in which five crucial turning points in our nation—the rise of religious fundamentalism, a growing lack of trust in our institutions, the continued destruction of the environment, the ubiquity of media and information in our daily lives, and the decline of evidence-based reasoning—have set the stage for opportunities in the current public-intellectual dialogue.
Via case studies of such well-known personalities as Deepak Chopra and Professor Cornel West, Young goes on to reveal the six types of public intellectuals who achieve success in presenting scholarly ideas to audiences at large:
The Prophet presents the public’s sins for contemplation, then offers a path to redemption.
The Guru shepherds his or her flock to enlightenment and a higher power.
The Sustainer draws upon our natural and human resources to proffer solutions for social, political, and ecological systems.
The Pundit utilizes wit and brevity to bring crucial issues to the attention of the public.
The Narrator combines a variety of perspectives to create a story the average person can connect with and understand.
The Scientist taps into the dreams of the public to offer ideas from above and beyond the typical scope of public discourse.
At once a rallying cry and roadmap, The Politics of Thinking Out Loud draws upon rhetorical expertise and analysis of contemporary public intellectuals to offer a model for scholars to effectively engage the public—and in doing so, perhaps forever change the world in which we live.
Published by: Southern Illinois University Press
Title Page, Copyright Page
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I am grateful to so many people for their contributions, their wisdom, and their support as I wrote this book. Like a nervous actor at the Oscars, I am afraid to miss any names. For his advice for more than a decade, I thank Barry Brummett, the White Wizard. For their editing genius, mentorship...
Introduction: Reclaiming Engagement through Style
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In a June 5, 2009, column for CNN.com titled “Don’t Hold Obama to Race Agenda,” Melissa Harris-Lacewell, associate professor of African American studies at Princeton University, takes her black intellectual colleagues to task about their puzzling treatment of the Obama presidency. She wonders...
1. Contemporary Crises and the Centrality of Style
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Stand in a grocery checkout line, and you see it. Browse any online news source, and it is there. Drive down the street, and it looms. Open a book. Turn on the TV. Poke around the house. Look up, look down, look all around. Style is ubiquitous, “a preoccupation of nearly all sectors of...
2. Prophet Style: Cornel West
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Cornel West can be found in many places. First, he is the 1943 Professor of Religion at Princeton University, though he has held faculty positions at Union Theological Seminary, Yale University, Harvard University, and the University of Paris, Sorbonne. Second, he is a contributor to CNN...
3. Guru Style: Deepak Chopra
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Among the foremost tenets of Hinduism is the importance of finding a guru, one who can impart what disciples believe is transcendental knowledge. In the Hindu text the Bhagavad Gita, the student is told by God in the form of Krishna: “Acquire the transcendental knowledge from...
4. Sustainer Style: William McDonough
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Sustainability has a “religious” following. Though likely coined by The Ecologist in the early 1970s, the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) in 1987 takes credit for introducing the term sustainability. The WCED defines sustainability as “the viability...
5. Pundit Style: Paul Begala
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As the pithy usurps the substantive in contemporary mediated discourse, punditry abounds in America—turn on any network or cable news broadcast, and you will undoubtedly run across them (and probably want to run over them). Very few pundits would qualify as public intellectuals...
6. Narrator Style: Christiane Amanpour
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In Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, the protagonist, Celie, serves also as narrator. As a rhetorical device, Celie-the-narrator tells Celie-the-character’s story in a way that gives readers a sense of history, of place, of politics, of society, of relational dynamics, of the struggles of power. Celie...
7. Scientist Style: Michio Kaku
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If you pay attention to fashion magazines, even in passing in the grocery- store checkout line, you know that style comes and goes with the times. Leisure suits. Shoulder pads. Thrift-store flannel shirts. Neon. The previous five public intellectuals styles in this book, The Prophet, The...
Conclusion: Style, the Public Sphere, and a Call to Action
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This book is dedicated to investigating the potential of style as a rhetorical frame for intellectual engagement in the public sphere. As such, the six public intellectual rhetorical styles presented here represent “point[s] of connection between intention and effect, an aspect of social action”...
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About the Author
Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2014