Patrik Baert: The Existentialist Moment: The Rise of Sartre as a Public Intellectual

Jean-Paul Sartre was little known until 1944. Two years later, he was already a celebrity in France and to some extent abroad. In this talk, we trace Sartre’s sudden rise as a public intellectual and provide clues to why Sartre and the philosophy of existentialism became so prominent at that point in time.

For this, we need to go back to the Second World War. We show the extent to which the war, the occupation and the liberation changed the intellectual field and altered the very notion of what intellectual life is about. It is within this unique French context that Sartre reformulated his philosophy in ways that resonated with the French public and the sense of collective trauma. Towards the end of the talk we use this story as a platform to introduce a broader sociological theory about intellectuals and their work.

Patrick Baert is Professor of Social Theory at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. He is also Fellow and Director of Studies at Selwyn College, Cambridge. Professor Baert has been Editor in Chief of the International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society since 2013, as well as Associate Editor of the Journal of Clasical Sociology since 2000, and member of the International Advisory Board of theEuropean Journal of Social Theory since 2002. Since 2014 he has been Co-Chair of the Research Committee on Social Theory (RC16) of the International Sociological Association. He received a Doctorate of Philosophy in Sociology from Oxford University (Nuffield College) in 1990, and subsequently carried out postdoctoral work with Claude Javeau in Brussels and Anthony Giddens in Cambridge before taking up a teaching position at Cambridge. Professor Baert has held various visiting positions, including Brown University, the University of Cape Town, the CNRS/EHESS in Paris and the University of British Columbia. His research interests encompass sociology of culture, sociology of intellectuals, social theory and philosophy of social science. Against the representational model of knowledge in philosophy of social sciences, Professor Baert argues in favour of a neo-pragmatist perspective which promotes social research in the pursuit of ’self-referential knowledge’. Amongst his publications are  The Existentialist Moment; Sartre’s Rise as a Public Intellectual (2015); Social Theory in the Twentieth Century and Beyond (with F. Carreira da Silva, 2010) and Philosophy of the Social Sciences: Towards Pragmatism (2005).