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[Updated on October 29, 2018]

Six Academic Types and Their Determinants

Mikyoung Kim

Former Chair, IPSA Human Rights (RC26)


Academic freedom remains a normative value that we should aspire for. I would like to present six types of intellectual roles. They are identifier, opponent, moderate, unwilling participant, willing participant and bystander. These typologies are not about individual academic, but the functional roles that scholars play in their respective fields. These archetypical categories are neither exhaustive nor mutually exclusive. They can instead overlap concomitantly and evolve over time.

The different typologies of academic engagement are determined by a set of explanatory variables. [1] They are cost-and-benefit analysis, personal value systems, psychological propensity, socio-political milieu, professional worldviews and genre diversion. This set of explanatory variables, again, are neither exhaustive nor mutually exclusive.

Academic typologies and their determinants

            Six academic typologies

            Identifiers are those who act, think and behave like politicians themselves. The distinction between academia and politics is not only blurry but irrelevant as well. They see political activities identical as intellectual practice with clearly defined political agendas. The examples include Plato (Greece, BC427-BC347), Confucius (China, BC551-BC479), Patrick Moynihan (U.S., 1927-2003) and Alberto Fujimori (Peru, 1938-).

Moderates are those who negotiate their intellectual pursuits with political pressure. While prioritizing truth-finding research over political considerations, they make a compromise with their findings to protect and preserve themselves. One classic example would be Galileo Galilei (Italy, 1564-1642).

Opponents are those who work to critique the power elites and the status quo. This probably is a most popular category among the social scientists given their disciplinary principle of demystification. A few examples would be Socrates (Greece, died in BC399), Martin Luther King (U.S., 1929-1968) and Simone de Beauvoir (France, 1908-1986).

Unwilling participants are those whose findings are deployed to serve the political needs without their intentions. They are largely oblivious to political dynamics and are unaware of ideological implications of their findings. Their work happens to facilitate a segment of power elites who utilize the knowledge for their political advantage. The tragic examples include Einstein (various citizenships, 1879-1955), Oppenheimer (U.S., 1904-1967) and Herrnstein (U.S., 1930-1994). 

Wiling participants are those who declare allegiance with power elites out of political conviction. They not only seek the political venue to participate in, but also use academic outlets to advance their agendas. Some of the examples are Heidegger (Germany, 1889-1976), Arendt (various citizenships, 1906-1975) and Giddens (U.K., 1938-).

Bystanders would be the mode among academics. Most of us probably see our profession only as a means to earn a living with limited influence in society. It takes a combination of situational and temporal contingencies to earn historical fame or notoriety. That happens with a relative infrequency. The history, however, teaches us that by-standing can result in dire consequences in times of crisis such as the outbreak of war, revolution and other violent situations. The European intellectuals did very little to prevent the two total wars of the past century resulting in massive scale human tragedies. They had to engage in post hoc soul searching only to find that their non-intervention was either a product of ignorant arrogance or intellectual inertia. 

            Six hypothetical determinants

This part introduces six possible explanatory variables of the above-introduced academic typologies. Our lives are the byproduct of multiple regression with a set of variables that are often beyond our control.

The academics like any other workers have to survive in the economic system. The survival imperative along with the amount of repression propels us to engage in cost-and-benefit calculations. This explains the positive association between democracy and academic freedom in a society. Authoritarian and totalitarian regimes often apply the thought control campaigns in order to stupefy the populace where the intellectuals are perceived to be the obstacles.[2] When the price for non-collusion is regarded too high to bear such as dismissal, arrest, detention and even death penalty, academic freedom is bound to suffer. While repression produces unwilling participants and bystanders, facilitation encourages opponents and willing participants.

Repression and perceived high cost for disobedience does not always curtail the exercise of academic freedom. Personal value system is also at work. Value system consists of religious worldviews, family socialization, friendship network and ideological orientation among others. Latin America’s liberation theology and Southeast Asian Buddhism are a useful juxtaposition. The former encourages opponents and willing participants, and the latter promotes moderates and bystanders.

Psychological propensity adds another dimension to different academic types. During college days in the 1980s’ South Korea, I witnessed many anti-military dictatorship protests on the campus. Several of us were at the same spot watching the clash between the student protestors and the riot police. While some of us immediately joined the protestors, rest of went home to study. The contrasting decision was largely dependent on risk-aversion vs. risk-taking propensity.[3] Whereas risk-aversion causes by-standing, risk-taking leads to opposition.

Socio-political milieu is another crucial variable in understanding different academic types (see Mills 1959). Peace often facilitates the flowering of ideas and cultural creativity. Tolerance activates learning, fusion of ideas and synergy leading to co-existence of disagreeing thoughts. While the ideals of academic freedom presupposes mutual respect and recognition, it retracts in hostile environment such as political repression.[4]

Finally, differential levels of professional commitment explicate different academic types. When the occupational perception is limited to the role of bread winning in the economic system, the levels of commitment, involvement and activism for social causes are bound to be restricted. For those who see academic profession as a calling in a Weberian sense, on the contrary, political participation is a part of the duty and responsibility. This encourages opposition, willful participation and identification, and yet discourages unwilling participation and by-standing.


 The case of Mikyoung Kim vs. Hiroshima City University contrasts two competing academic types: opponent vs. willing participant. Kim is the opponent with her criticisms of nationalist Japan, and the willing participant is HCU management synchronizing with the power brokers.

[1] The hypothesized causality between different typologies of academics and independent variables calls a more scientific research which is beyond the scope of current essay.

[2] For an example from Trump’s America, see ‘Thought Control, Trump Style,’ https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/18/opinion/thought-control-trump-style.html (accessed 18 December, 2017).

[3] Psychological propensity and cost-and-benefit calculations/personal value system might have a high correlation coefficient.

[4] Socio-political milieu and cost-and-benefit calculations might have a high correlation coefficient.


[December 3, 2017]

Hiroshima Jailhouse Blues


Important events often take place out of the blue. They defy flow with a chart-like logic and meticulous planning. March 6, 2017, was one of those days in my life. As I was getting ready to go to my (former) workplace, Hiroshima City University of Japan, my house was raided by a group of Japanese police officers. They told me not to touch anything and to give them my notebook computers and bank book.

I had no idea what was happening. The whole thing seemed like a cut from a film noir. The police ransacked my two-story town house and told me to pack basic necessities to last for a few days. I finally managed to collect myself and asked them why they were in my house. Hiroshima City University where I had been working for 12 years had filed a criminal complaint against me, and they were arresting me as a fraud suspect.

I was surprised, but not shocked. I knew the university was capable of doing such thing from my previous dealings with them. They were never shy about showing their contempt towards me for reasons beyond my control. And yet contempt often does not get translated into a criminal charge. Their action entailed something much more sinister and deeply political.

I was detained for 12 days in Hiroshima jailhouse. They fed the detainees 3 lunch boxes a day and allowed them a 15-minute shower twice a week. The light was on 24 hours a day, and we had to expose our head while sleeping. We had to go barefoot as socks were considered dangerous items. After non-stop police interrogation, the local prosecutor’s office dropped the charge against me. I was released on March 17. The university dispatched two staff members to me and delivered a dismissal notice two hours after my release. The brutality punched the core of my spine. It was excessive.

I was not going to last long at Hiroshima City University. It had to end in one way or another. I had been the target of their bullying for many years. Since I was not leaving the university voluntarily as a tenured faculty member, they had to devise an unnecessarily violent and brutal way to put an end to my employment.

A colleague of mine teaching in Tokyo asked me “so, how was it in the Hiroshima jailhouse?” I laughed at the way he greeted me. “The price was right, but I cannot recommend it for an accommodation under any circumstances,” I said. My 12 days at the Hiroshima detention center was more like Johnny Cash’s gloomy “In the Jailhouse Now” than Elvis’s corny “Jailhouse Rock.” Physical confinement and the violation of human dignity can never be upbeat. I tried to be funny out of courtesy, but the whole thing about it was quite traumatic.

Panic and fear probably was the psychological experience that Hiroshima City University wanted me to taste. They wanted to break my mind and destroy my soul. The university, by the way, is the exemplary educational institution in the city of “world peace culture.” I kept on asking the question of “why?” numerous times during those sleepless nights. The answer that I could think of was “simple because they could.” It was about sheer body politics.

To their eyes, I was nothing but a single Korean woman who they could take the liberty of demoralizing and undermining. And they wanted to show it to me. Body politics, a symptomatic of totalitarian control, cannot coexist with Hiroshima’s message of “No more Hiroshima, No more war.” Hypocrisy is a sign of moral weakness. The cover of intellectual pretension and self-righteousness is bound to get busted.


Mikyoung Kim is International Political Science Association (IPSA) Human Rights Research Committee Chair. She can be reached at mkkim_33@hotmail.com.


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