The intelligentsia is a status class composed of the university-educated people of a society who engage in the complex mental labours by which they critique, shape, and lead in the politics, policies, and culture of their society; as such, the intelligentsia consists of scholars, academics, teachers, journalists, and literary writers.
Conceptually, the intelligentsia status class arose in the late 18th century, during the Russian Partitions of Poland (1772–1795). Etymologically, the 19th-century Polish intellectual Bronisław Trentowski coined the term inteligencja (intellectuals) to identify and describe the university-educated and professionally active social stratum of the patriotic bourgeoisie; men and women whose intellectualism would provide moral and political leadership to Poland in opposing the cultural hegemony of the Russian Empire.
In pre–Revolutionary (1917) Russia, the term intelligentsiya (Russian: интеллигенция) identified and described the status class of university-educated people whose cultural capital — schooling, education, and intellectual enlightenment — allowed them to assume the moral initiative and the practical leadership required in the national, regional, and local politics of Russia.
In practice, the status and social function of the intelligentsia varied by society; in eastern Europe, the intellectuals were at the periphery of their societies, and thus were deprived of political influence and access to the effective levers of political power and of economic development. In western Europe the intellectuals were in the mainstream of their societies, and thus exercised cultural and political influence that granted access to the power of government office, such as the Bildungsbürgertum, the cultured bourgeoisie of Germany, and the professions in Great Britain.