Here is a new report I wrote on the rise of grassroots philosophy clubs.
A very brief executive summary:
– There are more and more grassroots philosophy clubs all over the world, including 850 philosophy clubs just on meetup.com, which have a combined membership of 125,000. There are also Socrates Cafes, Skeptics in the Pub, Cafe Philos, and a myriad of debating clubs, discussion groups and ideas salons. And there are a growing number of commercial organisers of ideas events, such as the School of Life and the Idler Academy in London, Brandstof in Amsterdam, TED and Big Ideas on the net, as well as philosophy festivals like Amsterdam’s Month of Philosophy and the UK’s How The Light Gets In.
– People go to clubs for lots of reasons, including learning, sociability, the desire for community and belonging, and to find new ways to think about how to live.
– I suggest the growth of philosophy clubs is usefully situated in the rise of the ‘mass intelligentsia’ – a growing demographic of intelligent people who, while not necessarily working in academia, have the desire and capacity for complex culture, and happily give up their leisure both to consume it and to discuss it. This demographic appeared from the 1960s on, as a result of the expansion of higher education. Some of the theorists for this concept include Daniel Bell, Richard Flacks, Charles Taylor and Jonathan Rose. I discuss this concept in the report, and have also written more journalistically about it here. There was also an excellent Intelligent Life article on the concept back in 2008, which you can read here.
– Grassroots philosophy clubs can be ‘anti-academic’, in so far as they’re a form of philosophy outside of traditional academic confines, in the wider community. They’re often more informal, participatory, personal, and irreverent. However, the dichotomy of street philosophy versus academic philosophy is limiting and ultimately unhelpful – many grassroots clubs are run by academic philosophers, or invite them to speak, and some have strong links with universities. I suggest that grassroots philosophy and academic philosophy need each other – academic philosophy without the grassroots risks becoming irrelevant, while grassroots philosophy without academia risks becoming incoherent.
– We set up a website for the report, The Philosophy Hub, which has a map where people can register their local group and advertise events. There’s also lots of useful resources on the site about grassroots clubs. If you’re involved with a club, it would be great if you added it to the map, and spread the word.
– We held a seminar on grassroots philosophy at Queen Mary last month, with participants including people from SAPERE, Philosophy For All, Skeptics in the Pub and Pub Psychology and other groups. You can watch their talks on this YouTube playlist. There are also some articles on grassroots philosophy in the upcoming issue of The Philosopher’s Magazine.
– This is an ongoing research interest of mine, so please get in touch if you’re involved with grassroots philosophy projects which I could write about for The Philosophy Hub’s blog. And a big thank you to Thomas Dixon, my supervisor at the Centre, for helping me with this project.