- Response Politicizing Modern Greek Studies
What does it mean for academics to intervene in the public arena? Is public scholarship a distinctive field, and if so, what are its defining features? Does the figure of the intellectual have any meaning and validity today, or is it just a relic of the seemingly long forgotten Sartrean era (cf. Traverso 2014)? This fine, thought-provoking set of papers forces us to reflect on these and many other questions, and while their immediate intellectual content and point of departure is the cross-disciplinary field of Modern Greek Studies, the broader issues raised are of relevance to academics and scholars in all fields. In what follows, I briefly reflect on the challenges they raise, partly based on my own experience from anthropological archaeology, and partly on my wider concerns on the politics of academia and scholarship today.
To start, where does this pressure to engage with the public come from? Moreover, what is this so-called public that is invoked each time the issue is raised? These questions need unpacking before we proceed. Does this pressure come from various nonacademic groups and initiatives? From local, disenfranchised communities? Or does it come from university administrators with their eyes on league tables, metrics such as impact factors, and fundraising? Or from various media commentators who have proclaimed once more the death of the intellectual or, in a more charitable manner, the total and utter compliance and compromise of so-called tenured radicals? If the answer is the latter two, what is this fiction of the public that is being conjured up? Is it not the case that, very often in these discourses, the public acquires a very specific meaning, denoting either an abstract mainstream with establishment views and politics (cf. Robbins 1990, xvii), or specific elites with financial power and means that, it is hoped, may come to the rescue of a struggling university program or department? Such discourses rely on the metanarrative of academia as the mythical ivory tower, occupied by disinterested scholars pursuing their esoteric quests, oblivious to the world around them. If there ever was such a space in the modern Humboldtian university, which I very much doubt, it is clear to us all that it no longer exists. [End Page 67]
I thus contend that the starting point of our discussion should be that all of us who work in academia, but also all our colleagues who work in other domains, are grounded; that is, we are already social actors within specific public spheres. The classroom and the seminar room, the library and the archive, the excavation and the ethnographic site are all public spaces with their own tensions, conflicts, and social and political entanglements. To address our students or our colleagues is to address a specific public sphere, different, of course, from the public sphere of a community hall, a newspaper, or a blog readership. We are already situated in specific public realms, and to call thus for a shift to engage with public humanities in the abstract is at the very least meaningless, and it can even disguise an intent of instrumentalization or neo-liberal commodification. There is a case to be answered, however: as scholars and academics we will need to recognize and accept the political dimension of our grounding and assume an active role in the specific contexts and arenas we work in. These can be the classroom and seminar room, the boardroom of a university or other such organization, the fundraising meeting, as well as the mass media and the community or town hall. I am calling, in other words, for the overt politicization of Modern Greek Studies in all fora in which the field has a presence.
Before I venture some thoughts on how such politicization of Modern Greek Studies might look, let me reflect on what it means to be politically active in archaeology, my own field, right now. In the spirit adopted by the other contributors in this discussion, this will be a personal and rather idiosyncratic view but hopefully not a self-indulgent one. In my own work, politicization was not a carefully planned project alongside all others, but it...