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January 20, 2006


Ethan Leib

This is a very useful clarification. You did leave it notably ambiguous on a central question: were you going to abandon scholarship and become a "public intellectual" exclusively, whatever that is.

This clarification surely quells any skepticism about the choice to abandon scholarship I offered at Prawfs, which was dancing around this central ambiguity in your previous post.

Paul Horwitz

A fine post. As one of those untenured commenters, I'd say the hung jury doesn't necessarily divide as neatly between junior and senior profs as you suggested. It seems to me the general response was one of "supportive in principle, ambivalent in practce," and that this characterized the reactions of both senior faculty and junior faculty (myself included; although I was critical on all sorts of points, I don't think I denied the possibility of your attempted approach working). Perhaps the difference is that we junior faculty have enough time, or enough desire to find additional writing outlets, that we find ourselves endlessly parsing every aspect of an argument rather than just stating the point!

I think your last paragraph is the interesting one, and the one that most invites reaction, whether from me or from others with more time. I don't think the two (advancing scholarship and reaching a broader public audience) are inherently contradictory, or genuinely irreconcilable, but then those are pretty high standards. I think, though, that they are -often- not capable of achievement at the same time and in the same writing -- and I'm not sure there's anything surprising or worrisome or wrong about that. One reason for this, of course, is the very factor that often leads to criticism of law review articles and their length: that instead of jumping into a debate, one is obliged to spend time introducing and recapitulating much of that debate (although the results are different in the two different media: it conduces to triteness in popular work, and excess length and footnotery in law review scholarship). More generally, I don't think it's surprising that one might be forced to bring different tools, different vocabulary, and so forth to bear in addressing these two different audiences, and so it's not alarming about either public or scholarly discourse to say that, sometimes but not always, it is difficult to serve both at the same time. To take a rarefied example, I imagine Steven Hawking or Brian Greene can further scholarship more easily in their fields when writing in the language of their fields, and for their natural audiences, than they do when they simply popularize their ideas for general audiences. Again, though, I enjoyed both this post and its predecessors and am loving the blog.


I meant to comment on this thread, but commented on a different one by accident on this topic, so here is the link:


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