Intellectual. 'Intellectual' is a term of recent, twentieth-century origin and has been applied retrospectively to earlier centuries as well as in contemporary contexts. In its earlier usage it describes those of different occupations in the professions, sciences and arts who claim or are credited with the right to speak over and above particular interests on matters of general philosophical, ethical and aesthetic import. What gives intellectuals this role is their own expertise and the authority of reason and truth guiding their discourse. As such, intellectuals are the inheritors of a faith in Enlightenment reason and a product of modernity while they are at the same time critical of the social and political effects of this inheritance.
There are two main contemporary contributions to a theory of intellectuals ; and considerable discussion on their changed role in present-day society. The first theory derives from Antonio Gramsci's distinction between 'traditional' and 'organic'intellectuals. As above, 'traditional' intellectuals are thought to be disinterested and to rise in the name of reason and truth above sectarian or topical interests. 'Organic' intellectuals, on the other hand, speak for the interests of a specific class. Moreover, traditional intellectuals are bound to the institutions of the previous hegemonic order while organic intellectuals seek to win consent to counter-hegemonic ideas and ambitions. Gramsci is interested in the formation of intellectuals who will be organic to the interests of the working class (and who therefore find their place within the revolutionary party). If traditional intellectuals are thought to be in fact 'interested' on behalf of a class, then the distinction as framed disappears and intellectuals of both types can be seen as the rival representatives (the mobilizers, internal critics) of sectional interests in a class society.
The second, later contribution to a theory of intellectuals is made from a non-Marxist position by Michel Foucault. Foucault identifies a newer type of 'specific' intellectual identified by profession, conditions of life and work, and relation to the 'politics of truth'. This argument follows from Foucault's belief in the dispersed nature and operation of power in contemporary societies and the way this is implicated in discourse and knowledge. The types of discourse and institutional mechanisms by which certain statements of truth are obtained and sanctioned in society constitutes its 'regime of truth'. It is the function of intellectuals, says Foucault, to reveal this and the terms therefore of an alternative regime, detaching the power of truth from its present hegemonic forms. In some ways in his discussions of the task of 'critical interrogation on the present and on ourselves' Foucault is indebted to the modern tradition. However, he neither views the intellectual as the disinterested voice of reason outside the mechanisms of truth and power nor suggests he/she will occupy the role of a representative of a class along the lines of Gramsci's organic intellectual.
The problems Foucault and others confront in considering the contemporary role of the intellectual are twofold: the availability or non-availability of a position of 'critical distance' and the question of representativeness. Gilles Deleuze, in conversation with Foucault, is convinced that 'a theorising intellectual . . . is no longer . . . a representing or representative consciousness' and Foucault concurs: 'The intellectual's role is no longer to place himself "somewhat ahead and to the side" in order to express the stifled truth of the collectivity'; theory is 'an activity conducted alongside those who struggle for power and not their illumination' (1977a: 206, 208). The 'specific intellectual' will therefore work in alignment with others in specific, local, institutional struggles.
This thinking is a symptom of the altered, more modest and diversified role ascribed to the intellectual under the conditions of postmodernity. It follows from Foucault's own theorisation of power and from arguments made elsewhere on the erosion of the metanarrative of progress, a loss of faith in reason and a general scepticism towards any position of supposed universal authority. This scenario leads Zygmunt Bauman (1987) to suggest the contemporary role of the intellectual is that of an 'interpreter' in the conversation across discourses rather than a traditional 'legislator' who arbitrates on their respective value. Many would agree with Bauman that ' the traditional conception is an expression of eurocentrism. However, key contemporary intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky (see 1969, 1991) and Edward Said (1993b) take a more vigorous, dissenting and public role than the idea of 'interpreter' suggests. Nor, elsewhere, is there a consistent post- modern alternative to, or rejection of, the role of representative critic.
An influential postmodern text such as Jean-Francois Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition (1984) is, as Steven Connor points out, something of an allegory of this very condition. Lyotard of an allegory of this very condition. Lyotard talks of the decline of modernity, of educational institutions, and of the 'authority required for intellectuals to get a hearing when they mount the rostrum' (Connor 1989: 42). Nevertheless, he gives a commanding role to experimental method in science and to those who would follow its avant-gardist example. He 'ends up', says Connor, not only giving the intellectual a central place in the struggle to bring about micropolitical multiplicity, but also ... giving the illusion of analytic dominion over it' (1989: 42).
Elsewhere, scepticism about the universal intellectual has opened other possibilities for 'specific' intellectuals who might be viewed as 'organic' not to a traditional working class but in their association with feminist, gay and black or more heterogeneous political groupings. One such is Julia Kristeva's (1986b) account of a new type of 'dissident intellectual'. This figure (the political rebel, the psychoanalyst, the writer and the woman who 'always feels exiled' 1986b: 296) would be politically engaged in a way Bauman's interpreter would not; employing theory (or 'thought') 'as an "analytic position" that affirms dissolution and works through differences. It is an analytic position in the face of conceptual subjective, sexual and linguistic identity' (1986b: 299). Meaghan Morris seeks to broaden the role of Foucault's 'specific intellectual' beyond the academy to join with a "'mixed" public . . . at events organised on thematic or political rather than purely professional principles' (1988: 11). bell hooks, also, while aware of the issue of the 'representativeness' of black intellectuals in postmodern times affirms the connection of the black academic beyond a specific institutional location with a broader black community. Their work, she writes, 'is primarily directed towards the enhancement of black critical consciousness and the strengthening of our collective capacity to engage in meaningful resistance struggle' (199Ob: 31). [from Brooker, 1999]