The restructuring of intellectual activity: a response to Pratt, and Barnett and Low

Mohan, Giles (1996). The restructuring of intellectual activity: a response to Pratt, and Barnett and Low. Area, 28(3) pp. 384–389.



The critical responses (Barnett and Low 1996; Pratt 1996) to my observation (Mohan 1994) centre upon my understanding of theoretical development and the nature of commodification. Pratt (1996, 3) asserts that my analogy of the product cycle model fails to capture the fact that "knowledge does not arrive pre-formed" while "Much of this theoretical development is outstripping its application". In a similar vein Barnett and Low (1996, 1) argue that "there is no consideration of just what sort of commodity "Theory" actually is" and that my criticism of the pace of theoretical innovation "serves as a means of acknowledging the economic ground of academic work while also disavowing one's own contamination by those same conditions". In general I found these to be useful comments. However, there are a number of points I would like to contest in re-addressing my original ideas.

My original observation was polemical and hurriedly-written following a conference which I felt was an insult to the notion of "social justice". Having been brought up in an academic family I recall that in my pre-teen years hardly a weekend went by that I wasn't taken on some demonstration or there was a political meeting at our house. Back in the 1970s I was well aware that politically academics did not have to stay in academies. My frustration echoes Cornel West's (1992, 689) question of "what it means to be a political intellectual at the moment. Is it any longer a credible notion?" This reply is the first step in answering these questions.

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