Mannheim, Karl (1893–1947)

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Karl Mannheim, the German sociologist, was born in Budapest and died in London. He studied at Berlin and Paris, and at Heidelberg under Max Weber, and later taught at Heidelberg, Frankfurt am Main, and, after 1933, in London.

Mannheim's thought resembles that of such philosophers as Auguste Comte and G. W. F. Hegel, who believed that in the past man had been dominated by the historical process whereas in the future he would gain ascendancy over it. Mannheim was deeply influenced by Karl Marx, but he deviated from Marxism in asserting that a better society might be achieved by nonrevolutionary means and also in de-emphasizing the interpretation of the development of society as being semiautomatic and stressing the importance of conscious political effort. He was, in addition, decisively influenced by German historicism and Anglo-Saxon pragmatism. From the former he took the belief that history is the ens realissimum, while from the latter he derived his criterion of truth. Both positions pointed toward a radical relativism, which, however, he strove to overcome.

In his first and most important book, Ideologie und Utopie, Mannheim asserted that the act of cognition must not be regarded as the effort of a purely theoretical consciousness, because the human consciousness is permeated by nontheoretical elements arising both from man's participation in social life and in the streams and tendencies of willing which work themselves out contemporaneously in that life. The influence of these active factors is all-important; even the categorial structure of the intellect does not escape it. Mannheim therefore maintained that epistemology (as practiced, for instance, by Immanuel Kant) was outdated, and must be superseded by a new discipline, the sociology of knowledge.

According to Mannheim, this new discipline revealed that all knowledge (at any rate, knowledge of things human) was situation-bound (situationsgebunden )that is, tied to a given constellation of sociohistorical circumstances. Each age develops its own style of thought, and comparisons between these styles are impossible, since each posits a different basic (or, so to speak, relatively absolute) sphere. Even within each age there are conflicting tendencies toward conservation, on the one hand, and toward change on the other. Commitment to conservation tends to produce "ideologies"to falsify thought by excessive idealization of the past and overemphasis on the factors making for stability. Intentness on change is apt to produce "utopias," which overvalue both the future and factors leading to change.

Between ideology and utopia there is at least the possibility of completely realistic (situationsgerecht ) thought that functions without friction within the given framework of life, and is set neither on pushing forward nor on holding back the development of society. But Mannheim places little emphasis on this possibility. He sees a very strong tendency toward the polarization of society into hostile camps. Only the comparatively uncommitted intelligentsia is likely to approach nearer the truth. From its special and particularly favorable vantage point, it could, and should, elaborate a "total perspective" that would synthesize the conflicting contemporary world views and thereby neutralize, and to some extent overcome, their one-sidedness. Such a "dynamic synthesis" is the nearest possible approximation to a truly realistic attitude, within the limitations imposed upon a given epoch.

This estimate of human thought might seem to justify accusing Mannheim of skepticism, but Mannheim held himself innocent of the charge. To rebut it, he developed his doctrine of "relationism," which he opposed to skeptical relativism. Relationism, he argued, does not impugn the validity of an insight: It merely draws attention to the fact that the insight is dependent upon, and confined within, a specific sociohistorical situations. But this argument merely shifts the relativity, and does not remove it. Mannheim held that every sociohistorical situation is located at a specific point along a unilinear, ever-progressing and never-returning temporal continuumhistory. Each situation is therefore unique, and the knowledge to which it gives birth, and which is true within it, is equally unique, bound to its time and place, and relative.

But Mannheim was not primarily concerned with the truth of propositions. Rather, he operated with a radically different conception of "truth." To him, truth is an attribute, not so much of discourse, as of reality. The individual who is in contact with the living forces of his age has the truth, or better, is in the trutha conception that shows at once Mannheim's Marxism, his historicism, and his pragmatism. He was moving close to the belief that the traditional adaequatio rei et intellectus (correspondence of thought and reality) should be replaced by a new test, the adaequatio intellectus et situs (correspondence of thought and situation). He was interested in the genuineness, rather than in the truth (properly so called), of a given world view.

Mannheim was a confirmed progressivist, and he tended to prefer whatever was, at any time, emergent. After his immigration to England in 1933, he adopted a more practical and political orientation. He argued dialectically, especially in Mensch und Gesellschaft im Zeitalter des Umbaus (1935), that a completely unregulated society, such as he thought liberalism had created, was apt to produce its own opposite, totalitarian dictatorship. To secure the values of democracy, it was necessary to avoid the weaknesses of both liberalism and totalitarianism. As a viable synthesis, Mannheim advocated "planning for freedom," a social system that would ensure economic stability by regulating the more objective aspects of life, such as production, but at the same time grant freedom to men's subjective strivings (for example, in matters of taste), thereby releasing cultural creativity. In this context, Mannheim became interested in education as the prime means of radical democratization. Toward the end of his career, he began to feel that a modernized Christianity held out some hope for a new integration of society's value system, which had become splintered and self-contradictory.

See also Christianity; Democracy; Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; Historicism; Ideology; Kant, Immanuel; Marxist Philosophy; Marx, Karl; Pragmatism; Sociology of Knowledge.


works by mannheim

Ideologie und Utopie. Bonn: Cohen, 1929. Translated by Louis Wirth and Edward Shils as Ideology and Utopia. London: Routledge, 1936. The English edition also includes the article "Wissenssoziologie" from Handwörterbuch der Soziologie, edited by Alfred Vierkandt. Stuttgart: Enke, 1931.

Mensch und Gesellschaft im Zeitalter des Umbaus. Leiden: Sijthoff, 1935. Translated by Edward Shils as Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction. London: Routledge, 1940.

Diagnosis of Our Time. London: Routledge, 1943.

Freedom, Power and Democratic Planning, edited by Hans Gerth and Ernest K. Bramstedt. London: Routledge, 1951.

Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge, edited by Paul Kecskemeti. London: Routledge, 1952.

Essays on Sociology and Social Psychology, edited by Paul Kecskemeti. London: Routledge, 1953.

Essays on the Sociology of Culture, edited by Ernst Mannheim and Paul Kecskemeti. London: Routledge, 1956.

Systematic Sociology, edited by J. S. Erös and W. A. C. Stewart. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1957.

An Introduction to the Sociology of Education. Written with W. A. C. Stewart. London: Routledge, 1962.

Freedom, Power, and Democratic Planning. London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1968.

From Karl Mannheim, edited by Kurt H. Wolff. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971.

Die strukturanalyse der erkenntnistheorie. Vaduz/Liechtenstein: Topos Verlag, 1978.

Strukturen des Denkens, edited by David Kettler, Volker Meja, and Nico Stehr. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1980.

Structures of Tinking: Text and Translation, edited by David Kettler, Volker Meja, and Nico Stehr. Translated by Jeremy J. Shapiro and Shierry Weber Nicholsen. Boston, MA: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982.

Conservatism: A Contribution to the Sociology of Knowledge, edited by David Kettler, Volker Meja, and Nico Stehr. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986.

Collected Works of Karl Mannheim. London; New York: Routledge, 1997.

Selected Correspondence (19111946) of Karl Mannheim, Scientist, Philosopher, and Sociologist, edited by Éva Gábor. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 2003.

works on mannheim

Kettler, David, and Volker Meja. Karl Mannheim and the Crisis of Liberalism: The Secret of these New Times. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1995.

Lieber, Hans-Joachim. Wissen und Gesellschaft. Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1952.

Loader, Colin. The Intellectual Development of Karl Mannheim: Culture, Politics, and Planning. Cambridge, U.K.; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Longhurst, Brian. Karl Mannheim and the Contemporary Sociology of Knowledge. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989.

Maquet, Jacques Jerome. Sociologie de la connaissance. Louvain: Institut de Recherches Économiques et Sociales, 1949. Translated into English by John F. Locke as The Sociology of Knowledge. Boston: Beacon Press, 1951.

Remmling, Gunter W. The Sociology of Karl Mannheim: With a Bibliographical Guide to the Sociology of Knowledge, Ideological Analysis, and Social Planning. New York: Humanities Press, 1975.

Schoeck, Helmut. "Die Zeitlichkeit bei Karl Mannheim." Archiv für Rechts- und Sozialphilosophie 38 (19491950): 371382.

Simonds, A. P. Karl Mannheim's Sociology of Knowledge. Oxford: Clarendon, 1978.

Woldring, H. E. S. Karl Mannheim: The Development of His Thought: Philosophy, Sociology and Social Ethics, with a Detailed Biography. Assen: Van Gorcum, 1986.

Werner Stark (1967)

Bibliography updated by Michael J. Farmer (2005)

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Mannheim, Karl (1893–1947)

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