The economy of influence
In the week when Richard Posner's Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline hit the bookshelves, a masters student asked me whether J-K Gibson-Graham was a 'she' or a 'they'. The two events may seem to have little in common, but they got me thinking about how intellectual influence works, how it is measured, and how academic career progression is linked to them. Posner's list is controversial, not least because Henry Kissinger-a man whom columnist Christopher Hitchens insists should be prosecuted for war crimes-is top of it. Moreover, a number of intellectuals one might think of as influential, such as Edward Said, either do not make it onto Posner's list or are very low down the order. So what is 'influence' and how might it best be quantified? Posner's method of counting the number of times an intellectual or their work is mentioned in prominent newspapers, magazines, and TV programmes is all too easy to pick holes in. But even supposing one arrives at a robust and sophisticated accounting procedure, complex questions remain about the economy of influence. Who influences whom? How? To what extent? With what consequences?