Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis


English Language and Literatures

First Advisor

Pat Gehrke


The status of the public intellectual is debated continuously in the United States, but what is not up for debate or theoretical examination is how public intellectual practice is mediated between style and publics. To that end, this study examines three public intellectual figures: Saul Alinsky, Noam Chomsky, and Robert Reich. Each examination analyzes and describes particular public intellectual styles — performances of culture — which trace three dominant public intellectual practices. These styles contain, invite, and deploy certain publics to engage with the public intellectual and vice versa. First, the study is a theoretical engagement with public intellectual practice as a performance and embodiment as opposed to state of being or set identity. Second, it is a practical toolbox for theorists of publics, intellectuals, and public intellectuals, and any wishing to better understand the rhetorical interfaces — stylistically produced constructs that shut down, enable, or change the relationship between intellectual production and public discourse — that make for more nuanced public intellectual practice. Each rhetorical interface operates through tropes, common places in language around which thinking and action turn, such as faith, economy, democracy, freedom, truth, power, the public and fraud. With each come limits and possibilities not only for analysis but also for application. Rhetorical interfaces and the styles that mediate them draw together sets of practices that can, and have been taken up, in a variety of registers in and beyond the public intellectuals who best depict or inhabit them. For any intellectual production, academic or otherwise, such a toolset is invaluable for making our labor count. Last, this study aims to place a relatively new set of scholarship, publics theory, in conversation with public intellectual practice and rhetorical theory. We then see amongst a plurality of style and deployment, a set of possibilities for engaging an increasingly multi-modal world.