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UBC Theses and Dissertations

From nameless Marxist to public sociologist : the intellectual trajectory of Shen Yuan in contemporary China Lachapelle, François


The study of intellectuals constitutes a vibrant intersection of political sociology, sociology of knowledge, sociology of intellectual life, and sociological theory. Influential scholars such as Karl Mannheim, Zygmunt Bauman, Pierre Bourdieu, and Michel Foucault have enriched the social-historical understanding of intellectuals in modern societies; and more recently, the New Sociology of Ideas (NSI) has extended this endeavour with studies of social scientists and humanities scholars in Western countries. This thesis, however, documenting the intellectual trajectory of Shen Yuan (沈原, b. 1954) since the 1960s, is the first empirical study of a Chinese social scientist as a public intellectual produce within the sub-field of the NSI. It explains how Shen negotiated an authoritarian regime to become a public intellectual. In order to explore such a process, this study demonstrates the importance of attending to the way Shen sees and defines himself as an intellectual. Following Gross’s theory of Intellectual Self-Concept, the research shows that the key to understanding the making of Shen as a public intellectual is to study the Chinese sociologist’s changing intellectual identity, from problematic Marxist during the 1980s and 1990s to public sociology after 2000. To trace Shen’s intellectual trajectory, this research utilized original interviews with Shen Yuan and several of his students in Beijing, and primary sources including Shen’s publications. While employing various interpretative tools, including Gross’s intellectual self-concept, Bourdieu’s field and habitus, and Watson’s dual concepts of orthopraxy and orthodoxy, the research makes two conceptual contributions to the sociology of intellectual life: both archived identity and conceptual literacy hone an analytical understanding of the development and work of public intellectuals.

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