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The Network Celebrity

Fred Turner and Christine Larson, both researchers at Stanford University, have just published an article in Public Culture on a new type of celebrity – the network intellectuals. Discussing the examples of Norbert Wiener, Stuart Brand and Tim O’Reily, the authors present a compelling account of how opinion leadership is both outcome of network effects and entrepreneurial zest to create those networks and opportunities in the first place.

In their historical and iconographic review of Wiener, O’Reilly and Brand, the authors find that the network intellectual is both a spokesperson, who condenses interests not yet formulated as an agenda, as someone who is actively pursuing to build a community to support his (or her) interests and who is committed to spreading a worldview beyond those circles.

Their power and their celebrity no longer come from the ability to express ideas in words or the ability of mass media technologies to broadcast images around the world. Rather, they come from the ability to build new social networks, to generate new ideas, new language, and new identities within them and, ultimately, to promulgate these networks’ labors—all in such a way that entrepreneurs can come to stand before the public as emblems of the worlds they have helped create. Celebrities in this model are hardly empty vessels. Rather, they are full to the brim with the cultural assumptions and social aspirations of the communities they represent (p. 80)

Turner, Fred, & Larson, Christine. (2015). “Network Celebrity: Entrepreneurship and The New Public Intellectuals.” Public Culture 27(1): 53-84. doi:10.1215/08992363-2798343

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