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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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2. A Genealogy of Social Theory on Intellectuals 21


21 CHAPTER 2 A Genealogy of Social Theory on Intellectuals This chapter provides a review of the theoretical canon on intellectuals from the beginning of the last century. My starting point is not Emile Zola or the other men of letters of the late nineteenth century but Mannheim’s theory of intellectuals, which was formulated in the early twentieth century. The reason for starting with Mannheim is my interest in social theory, which provides a more theoretical refl ection on the spe- cifi c historical milieus in which intellectuals were situated. Moreover, the subsequent development of the social theory of intellectuals was divided into different schools of thought. Antonio Gramsci revived the Marxist tradition and relocated intellectuals to the position of pivotal agents of fully fl edged capitalist control over the masses through cultural hege- mony. Post-structuralist theorist Michel Foucault theorized intellectuals as agents of resistance with local knowledge or, as Foucault called them, specifi c intellectuals. However, Foucault located specifi c intellectuals in the discursive practices of language or discourse; this highlights the much-objectivized position of the ‘repudiated subject’, which is subject to the shaping and reshaping of discourse. The third stream I review is the self-refl exive knowledge captured by intellectuals. Here, I make ref- erence to the work of Alvin Gouldner and Pierre Bourdieu. For Gould- ner, ‘situated knowledge’ and everyday life are parallel to each other; for Bourdieu, the practice of intellectual knowledge is overshadowed and shaped by the intellectual fi eld and the heterodoxy of intellectual...

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