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persons, typically well-educated, who engage their intellect in work which they believe to be of cultural importance. In English, ‘intellectual’ as a noun first appeared in the early 19th century, and early usage was often pejorative. Sociological interest largely centres on intellectuals as a distinct social group (see INTELLIGENTSIA). In addition, three episodes in French social thought are worth noting. First, the social scientist Henri de SAINT-SIMON introduced the military concept of a vanguard, or avant-garde, to social thought in the early 19th century, although his reference was not to intellectuals as such, but rather to scientists, whose positive knowledge would enable them alone to direct the development of France and other industrial societies. Second, in 1896, the politician Georges Clemenceau labelled the defenders of Dreyfus as ‘intellectuals’ (see DREYFUS AFFAIR), so beginning modern usage. The label was promptly adopted as a badge of honour by DURKHEIM and others. Third, the philosopher Julien Benda condemned intellectuals for their readiness to serve particular social and political interests and to betray their true calling – the disinterested pursuit of universal truth and justice – in his La Trahison des Clercs (1927).

Intellectuals, interests and truth also figure in the writings of Antonio GRAMSCI between the wars. Gramsci notes the partiality of (communities of) intellectuals – producers and disseminators of knowledge – and their role in the generation of both hegemony and resistance. In particular, he distinguishes ‘traditional intellectuals ’ who, however self-deludingly, uphold the autonomy of intellectuals,from ‘organic intellectuals, including technical specialists, who acknowledge a functional relation, however nuanced, to dominant or oppositional classes and groups within a given socioeconomic formation.

Finally, the term ‘public intellectual ’ is increasingly used in America, and now Britain, to refer to intellectuals in the PUBLIC SPHERE who set agendas, inform debate and influence opinion. Anthony GIDDENS’ articulation of a ‘THIRD WAY’ politics beyond left and right provides an example. See also MANNHEIM.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
References in classic literature ?
We are a race of tit-men, and soar but little higher in our intellectual flights than the columns of the daily paper.
Next proceed to consider the manner in which the sphere of the intellectual is to be divided.
There is a fatality about all physical and intellectual distinction, the sort of fatality that seems to dog through history the faltering steps of kings.
They are all men of some intellectual power, and consequently they all appreciate me.
It is even worse in America, where, from the intellectual quickness of the race, the genius of the country is more splendid in its promise and more slight in its performance.
We obey the same intellectual integrity when we study in exceptions the law of the world.
How to succeed and make the most of prosperity might be called the pervading theme of the essays, and subjects which in themselves suggest spiritual treatment are actually considered in accordance with a coldly intellectual calculation of worldly advantage.
With characteristic intellectual independence Bacon strikes out for himself an extremely terse and clear manner of expression, doubtless influenced by such Latin authors as Tacitus, which stands in marked contrast to the formless diffuseness or artificial elaborateness of most Elizabethan and Jacobean prose.
But some of the conditions of intellectual construction are of rare occurrence.
For this reason, an index or mercury of intellectual proficiency is the perception of identity.
Her hair, braided by her own hands, was bound about a head, whose intellectual capacity and development were beautifully expressed in its graceful outline, and its broad open brow; her dress, arranged by herself, was a pattern of neatness and simplicity; the work she had knitted, lay beside her; her writing-book was on the desk she leaned upon.
It was evident, however, that the only intellectual exercise was that of imitation and memory.