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Intellectual Narratives

Theory, History and Self-Characterization of Social Margins in Public Writings

Alex Ching-Shing Chan

This book aims to study the intellectual lives of three Hong Kong intellectuals by narrating their lives as self-reflections on theories related to social margins. Drawing on insights from Paul Ricoeur, Hannah Arendt and Zygmunt Bauman, the author analyses their narratives through in-depth interviews. Their stories point to an interpretative understanding of the works they had cursorily read when creating their historical narrations of Hong Kong from the 1970s to 2003. These stories of individual intellectuals, together with their interpretations of what they have individually read about various western theories, challenge theoretical prescriptions of historical contingent events in their narration. Such narration unfolds self-characterizations of intellectuals the author interviewed, and represents a neglected social marginal which demands that immediate attention in the public through their intellectual writings.


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1. Introduction: Intellectual Narratives as HistoricalInquires and Life Refl ections 1


1CHAPTER 1 Introduction: Intellectual Narratives as Historical Inquires and Life Refl ections The unexamined life is not worth living (Plato: The Apology of Socrates, 38a) I have written this book to argue for the following theoretical proposi- tions. First, intellectuals are the pivotal agents who promote praxis – the creative practice of action that challenges the existing social order and social institutions. Praxis is often associated with the Aristotelian poiesis, which means any individual and creative practice in craft or art; how- ever, such creativity has come to mean any abstract thoughts offering new insights on how to address new problems in contemporary society1 or any attempt at nomothetic reasoning in the sociological literature that is totally irresponsive to the uncertainty, complexity and contingency involved in the making of history.2 The life stories of the intellectuals I investigated are records of their own life-making within their emplotments of historical events that were unknown, uncertain and contingent. I there- fore interviewed them because they represent the principal social agents who advocate, preserve and safeguard the traditions and values prescribed by the society in which they are situated. It is proposed that intellectuals demonstrate their own creativity in telling their own stories. Second, and equally important, I wish to contribute my research on intellectual narra- tives as a practical basis for challenging the dominant schools of thought on modernity and intellectuals: the taken-for-granted view that progress in history is the triumph of scientifi c knowledge, a triumph which, in modern times, intellectuals have...

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