The Englightment and the Commodification of Ideas

The Enlightenment Room of the British Museum, ...

The Enlightenment Room of the British Museum, restored to show the Age of Enlightenment conception of a museum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Outram ends chapter 2 by posing a question of the identity of the “real elite” (page 27). She here implies that the whole notion of status is undergoing transformation in the Enlightenment. In view of the entire chapter, what do you take to be the terms of this transformation: transformation from what to what?

The transformation that Outram is talking about is the diversification of ideas and the later commodification of intellect. Access to reading and writing made ideas more accessible, and they were no longer controlled only be a small group of elites. Writers were able to reach larger audiences, and have larger influences on the world. As social institutions broke down class barriers, it started the beginning of what we now know as globalization. However, the beginning of globalization is also the beginning of commodification of ideas. As culture became commoditized, and new social hierarchies were invented. “The rendering accessible of information and debates to a wide audience became big businesses and was carried out not only by the elite of Enlightenment thinkers, but by an army of professional writers whose names are now largely forgotten” (Outram 27). Big business replaced aristocracy, and today, in America, ideas are mainly influenced and controlled by the top (richest and smallest) class.

Dorinda Outram, The Enlightenment, 2nd ed., Cambridge Univ. Press, 2005. ISBN: 9780521546812

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