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Workshop to examine public intellectuals in Canadian society

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Workshop to examine the public intellectual in Canadian society

David Suzuki, Margaret Atwood, Noami Klein are familiar faces to Canadians, popping up regularly in public discussion on a range of issues from climate change, science and political policy to cultural affairs. They are public intellectuals who have become leaders in thinking about our society’s status, progress and goals and pushing the boundaries in public dialogue on these matters.

“Every society and era needs people other than politicians and corporate leaders to give advanced perspectives on where we as a society have come from and where we are going,” says Michael Keren, Canada Research Chair in Communication, Culture and Civil Society.

Keren says that new media is directing a shift of who in our society is able to take up the role of public intellectual. He is the organizer of a workshop that will bring academics together to examine the public intellectual in Canada October 5 – 6.

 “New media is creating opportunity for writers of all kinds to contribute to a very fruitful discourse in Canada, reaching masses of people,” he says. “Even Margaret Atwood has transformed herself by taking to Twitter and David Suzuki has a deep understanding of the power of media to convey his message. The traditional writer is still important, but often there are now different people who are filling the public intellectual's role because of new media.”

Blogs, Twitter, Facebook and even discussion boards on news websites allow for everyday citizens to comment publicly and to a wide audience about any issue they like. In the past, this opportunity was reserved for priests and clergy, who were later replaced by published writers like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. The most recent transformation of the public intellectual occurred in the 1970s and 80s when the public began to take more seriously the thoughts and insights of academic experts like strategic analysts and economists. Now, says Keren, new media is changing all this.

Throughout the workshop professors from across the Faculty of Arts and numerous other universities will discuss what it means to go through a transformation of who our public intellectuals are and what happens when the discourse goes online; the extent to which intellectuals are rooted in the politics of the society he or she belongs to; a comparison of Canadian and American public intellectuals and the importance each society has attributed to them; the impact of public intellectuals on Canadian policy; their contribution to whistle blowing and the evolution of knowledge; how new media is changing the way we acquire and disseminate knowledge; the construction of science in public discourse; and the experience of public intellectuals themselves.

Transformation of Public Intellectuals
October 5 – 6, 2011
Rozsa Centre, University of Calgary
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This workshop is free and open to the public.