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Reimagining Popular Notions of American Intellectualism

Reimagining Popular Notions of American Intellectualism

Literacy, Education, and Class

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Kelly Susan Bradbury


E-book (Other formats: Paperback)
6 illustrations


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About the Book

The image of the lazy, media-obsessed American, preoccupied with vanity and consumerism, permeates popular culture and fuels critiques of American education. In Reimagining Popular Notions of American Intellectualism, Kelly Susan Bradbury challenges this image by examining and reimagining widespread conceptions of intellectualism that assume intellectual activity is situated solely in elite institutions of higher education.

Bradbury begins by tracing the origins and evolution of the narrow views of intellectualism that are common in the United States today. Then, applying a more inclusive and egalitarian definition of intellectualism, she examines the literacy and learning practices of three nonelite sites of adult public education in the United States: the nineteenth-century lyceum, a twentieth-century labor college, and a twenty-first-century GED writing workshop. Bradbury argues that together these three case studies teach us much about literacy, learning, and intellectualism in the United States over time and place. She concludes the book with a reflection on her own efforts to aid students in recognizing and resisting the rhetoric of anti-intellectualism that surrounds them and that influences their attitudes and actions.

Drawing on case studies as well as Bradbury’s own experiences with students, Reimagining Popular Notions of American Intellectualism demonstrates that Americans have engaged and do engage in the process and exercise of intellectual inquiry, contrary to what many people believe. Addressing a topic often overlooked by rhetoric, composition, and literacy studies scholars, it offers methods for helping students reimagine what it means to be intellectual in the twenty-first century.


Kelly Susan Bradbury teaches writing and rhetoric at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her work has appeared in various essay collections and journals, including Computers and Composition, Community Literacy Journal, and Journal of Teaching Writing.


“In this ambitious, thought-provoking book, Bradbury explores Americans’ notions of intellectual work—what it is and who does it—with the goal of developing a more generous and accurate definition of intelligence and intellectualism.”—Mike Rose, author of The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker
“Kelly Bradbury embarks on a century-long journey to reconfigure popular intellectualism in America. This wonderfully written and carefully researched work is an eminent tonic for recent turbid claims of ‘the dumbing down of America.’ . . . From her narrative, we can gain renewed vigor to embrace intellectual life in our nation from the bottom up.”—Ira Shor, City University of New York Graduate Center

"I think the implications of Bradbury’s book do serve as a powerful call to action to the field to reimagine not what we can do to get more people into the vaunted realms of intellectualism that we’ve fought so hard to enter, but rather to get us to consider more carefully the roles and importance of intellectualism in the world around us—especially in places we don’t control, in places we can’t access, and in places we can access but generally don’t. If we begin to rethink the ways we police the boundaries of intellectualism, perhaps we’ll find ways to reimagine ourselves in ways that make us less threatening and elitist, and maybe even a little more intellectually aware."--Ryan Skinnell, Composition Forum