Intellectuals and their problems

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  • 1 Brandeis University
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“When the purpose at hand begins from the perspective of a philosophy of praxis, that is to say from a motivation to enhance the leverage of radical democratic interventions in history, then the forming of the intellectual problem takes a particular shape.”

— Gavin Smith, Intellectuals and (Counter-) Politics: Essays in Historical Realism

This statement frames Gavin Smith's thoughtful, complex text Intellectuals and (Counter-) Politics: Essays in Historical Realism. Indeed, you could call the book a manual for the forming of a problem from this kind of perspective and with this motivation. To give a comprehensive discussion of how this might happen, Smith brings in a whole range of questions: What is an intellectual? How do intellectuals reach audiences? How are counter-politics situated within time and space, and how should they be studied? By including the domains of intellectuals, political actors, publics, and the constraining tendencies of structure—of “capital's fierce demands”—in his analysis, while always recognizing the porous and fluctuating boundaries between these domains, ) frames the question of activist scholarship and the ongoing historicity of politics in a way that attempts to grasp their changing, tangled, and slippery nature. The result is an immensely rich book that provides a nudge along the path to a complex account of arrangements of capital and political mobilization that it reveals.

Contributor Notes

Elizabeth Ferry is Professor of Anthropology at Brandeis University. She has research interests in value, materiality, mining, and finance, and fieldwork emphases in Mexico, Colombia, and the United States. She is the author of Not Ours Alone: Patrimony, Value, and Collectivity in Contemporary Mexico (2005) and Minerals, Collecting, and Value across the U.S.-Mexico Border (2013), the coauthor of La Batea (2017) (a book of photographs and writings about small-scale gold mining in Colombia), and the coeditor of Timely Assets: The Politics of Resources and Temporalities (2008) and The Anthropology of Precious Minerals (2020). Email:


Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology

  • Ferguson, James. 2006. Global shadows: Africa in the new world order. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

  • Mintz, Sidney W. 1985. Sweetness and power: The place of sugar in world history. New York: Viking.

  • Smith, Gavin. 2014. Intellectuals and (counter-) politics: Essays in historical realism. New York: Berghahn Books.


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