Given the speed at which history seems to be happening right now, there is an urgent need for a better public conversation.
We need critique and analysis of Wikileaks, the Big Society or the Occupy movement from people who have an intuitive understanding of how networks change things, but who are also able to bring longer historical and theoretical perspectives to the conversation. We need thinkers ready to puzzle through the world as we find it, rather than forcing it to fit the shape of familiar arguments.
Launched in February 2011, New Public Thinking aims to host a growing community for such a public conversation, an open space whose participants are neither united by a party line nor divided by battle lines, a common ground on which to explore ideas together.
The immediate trigger for the project was BBC Radio 3's New Generation Thinkers project, which set out to find "a new generation of public intellectuals", but restricted its search to those based within universities.
I wrote to the station's controller, pointing out that by this criterion, they would have excluded the likes of George Orwell, Gloria Steinem and John Berger. And I invited readers of my blog to nominate the emerging public thinkers from beyond academia whose work they valued.
It was the response to that post which led to the creation of New Public Thinking as an online platform and a real world network for those interested in a different kind of public conversation.
In early 2012, we'll be launching the first New Public Thinking print publication - and we are always looking for new contributors to join the conversation. If you would like to write for us, contact:
For me personally, New Public Thinking was also a response to the experience of my debate with George Monbiot at Uncivilisation 2010. I came away deeply unsatisfied with the combative style of the event, while aware that I had helped to frame it this way.
There had to be a way to move beyond this sterile, oppositional mode, towards a different kind of public conversation: one with less posturing and shouting, fewer rehearsed arguments and a greater willingness to think together, to risk being wrong, to surprise ourselves and each other.
I hope that New Public Thinking has made some steps towards that.
>> Read 'Time for New Public Thinking', my NPT launch essay (Feb 2011)
>> 'Sage Concern', Peter Geoghegan in the Times Higher (Feb 2011)
>> my original post on the BBC's 'New Generation Thinkers' (Dec 2010)
>> 'New Public Thinkers: The first 25 nominations' (Dec 2010)
>> Visit the New Public Thinking blog