Mannheim, Karl

views updated Jun 11 2018

Mannheim, Karl

Sociology of knowledge

The structure of modern society

Mannheim’s influence



Karl Mannheim (1893–1947), German sociologist, was born in Budapest. He attended school in that city and then studied at the universities of Berlin, Budapest, Paris, and Freiburg before going to the University of Heidelberg, where he habilitated as a Privatdozent in 1926. At that time Heidelberg was still the major intellectual center of the German academic world. Alfred Weber, Heinrich Rickert, Marianne Weber, Friedrich Gundolf, Ernst Kantorowicz, and Errrl Lederer were among its major personalities. The spirit of Max Weber, who had died in 1920, dominated the atmosphere, and the youthful brilliance of György Lukács in his pre-Marxist period had not been forgotten. Mannheim lived and worked in Heidelberg until he was called to the professorship of sociology at the University of Frankfurt in 1930. He remained at that post until the spring of 1933, when, following the coming to power of the National Socialists, he took refuge in Great Britain. There he was lecturer in sociology at the University of London (London School of Economics) from 1933 to 1945; and from 1945 until his death, he was professor of the sociology and philosophy of education in the Institute of Education at the same university.

Mannheim’s work falls into two main phases, which correspond approximately to his German and his British careers. In the first phase the sociology of knowledge—its methodological legitimation, its epistemological implications, and its substantive application—formed his main field of work. In the second phase the study of the structure of modern society came to the fore. In these latter studies he combined macrosociological and microsociological concerns with an explicit interest in social policy.

Sociology of knowledge

Mannheim’s early writings expressed his struggle against the inheritance of German idealism. They were attempts to revise its epistemology in an instrumentalist direction and constituted a critique of its conception of intellectual history as an autonomously developing sequence of ideas. In this first phase of his work Mannheim was much influenced by the tradition of historicism and by the Marxist model of society; no less fundamental to his thought was his interest, derived from the classics of German sociological thought and from Marxism, in the structure and determinants of agreement and disagreement, of consensus and dissensus.

Mannheim went further than Marx and Tonnies: they saw society split by class conflict and class interest or by mutual distrust; Mannheim thought that the cleavages existed at deeper levels as well. Mannheim saw social cleavages not merely as divergences of interest but as divergences of modes of thought, of the categories in which events are conceived, and even, indeed, of the very criteria of validity. In “Competition as a Cultural Phenomenon” (1929) and Ideology and Utopia (1929–1931) he set forth his views on the profundity of the cleavages in styles of thought which had developed in modern times.

The profundity of these cleavages led Mannheim to formulate the distinction between “particular” and “total” conceptions of ideology. He was always concerned with the re-establishment of consensus: believing that the disintegration of the social order had penetrated into the epistemological and ontological spheres, he desired to lay the foundations for a comprehensive “perspective” which would transcend the partial perspectives associated with particular social positions. In Ideology and Utopia and in his article “Wissenssoziologie” he sought an epistemological solution (the article is incorporated in the English and American editions). Independently of Durkheim’s and Lévy-Bruhl’s relativization and “sociologization” of the categories of thought, Mannheim asserted that the fundamental categories are functions of divergent interests, aspirations, and Weltanschauung en, which are in turn related to social status, role, and position; he sought a way out in what he called “relationism.” He insisted that the truth of a proposition cannot be assessed without regard for the “values and position of the subject. .. and the social content” he did not take seriously the possibility of autonomous, disinterested, and disciplined intellectual action. The historicist view that each age has its own distinctive problems, views of the world, and conceptions of the good and true; the Marxist view that there are “bourgeois” and “proletarian” truths; and the idea of Weltanschauung, developed in the writings of Dilthey and Spranger, all came together in Mannheim’s thought in the 1920s.

Mannheim’s earliest formulation of relationism, in “On the Interpretations of ‘Weltanschauung’” (1923), prefigured the whole concern and intellec tual position of his German period. This essay represents an effort to legitimate a mode of understanding intellectual works as manifestations, expressions, or parts of something else. He regarded the Weltanschauung of an individual, school, or epoch as the nonrational matrix from which every particular work was an emanation. A major task of the analysis of particular works was, therefore, to discern their “style.” According to this approach, style consists of features which a work shares with other works, which each part of a work shares with each other part of the work, and which intellectual works share with nonintellectual manifestations of a Weltanschauung. Thus, the problem with which Mannheim was concerned was the subsumption of a particular work under the pattern of other works like it and of the style of the Weltanschauung as a whole. Each particular intellectual work was treated—and accounted for—as related to or derived from something else.

Although Mannheim first applied this conception to art history, its implications for the next stage of his thought were patent. In two essays, “The Problem of a Sociology of Knowledge” (1925) and “Ideologische und soziologische Interpretation der geistigen Gebilde” (1926), he advanced to the treatment of moral works, mainly works of political and social philosophy, and to the “sociological approach.” Whereas the “ideological” interpretation of intellectual works treated them simply as derivable from other intellectual works which preceded them and as generated by a process internal to the mind, the sociological approach purported to go further. It claimed that intellectual works are generated in response to the needs of the class or group to which their creators belong, as it is confronted with “practical” tasks and challenges to its position by other classes or groups. However much he sought to distinguish his own view from Marxism, he never fully escaped from the Marxist categories of Unterbau and Überbau.

The question may be asked, Did he really succeed, in this first phase of his work, in freeing himself from the ideological interpretation he tried to transcend? Much of his subsequent sociological analysis of political and cultural beliefs, not least that in his major substantive work, “Conservative Thought” (1927), consisted in relating particular beliefs to more general patterns of belief or Weltanschauung en. His work became sociological through scattered assertions that particular views are correlated with particular value orientations, characteristic of particular roles or statuses—for example, membership in particular social classes or the practice of particular occupations or styles of life. In this period he attempted fewer correlations with social structural variables than with the culture or value orientations of classes or occupational strata. His “sociological” interpretations of political and social beliefs remained ideological. Nonetheless, the specification of the social group which possesses a particular culture or Weltanschauung did represent a genuinely sociological extension of the ideological approach, rather than its replacement or negation.

The sociological variables Mannheim used in this phase of his career were largely derived from Marxism, e.g., “declining classes,” “ascendant classes,” “threatened classes,” “newly self-conscious classes,” etc., although he also cited generations, sects, and parties as the structural bearers of different Weltanschauungen. In Ideology and Utopia he asserted, for example, that “uprooted” and “unintegrated” revolutionary groups think intuitively and lay little or no stress on historical development; that conservative groups think morphologically; that liberal–humanitarian strata stress the openness of the future and the progressive realization of ethical values; and that oppressed strata, which are chiliastic, expect immediate and sharply disjunctive changes.

The correlations were at best no more than correlations. Mannheim avoided the task of causal imputation and of a differentiated analysis of the process or mechanism through which ideas and social position are connected. In the main he committed himself to nothing more than the assertion that thought is “existentially connected” (seinsverbunden) with social position. His work was characterized by insights of great penetration, both into the interconnections between diverse elements in a given Weltanschauung and also, if more rarely, into the correlations of these elements with “positions” in society.

The contradictory combination of a persistent idealism with the Marxist negation of idealism by “standing it on its head” remained basic in Mannheim’s thought throughout his German period. It was a contradiction which he did not overcome and of which he was unaware. His continuous insistence that the “internalist” (ideological) view is wrong and his failure to recognize how much of it he himself retained led to his failure to perceive the partial autonomy of intellectual traditions and the institutional structure in which autonomous intellectual activity is effectuated. By constantly stressing that intellectual activities are responses to current practical–political situations, which are “nonintellectual,” he was precluded from a sociological analysis of the institutional structures of intellectual activity, which make possible the continuity of intellectual traditions. (His one effort to study the social processes that are immanent in intellectual continuity and change, “The Problem of Generations” [1928], remained very general and vague and was never assimilated into his sociology of knowledge.)

There were other reasons why Mannheim’s sociology of knowledge failed. What he meant by “knowledge” was largely normative and metaphysical beliefs, ideas about the nature and right organization of society, and interpretations of history. He never came to grips with the natural sciences, that is, with science as that term is understood in English-speaking countries. Scientific knowledge as a body of systematically verified beliefs remained at the margin of his interests. The influence of science and of scientific, research-based technology on social structure passed unnoticed before him. This omission made it easier for him to neglect the element of continuity and the processes of internally instigated innovation within an intellectual pattern. His denial that there is anything like a “self-contained intellect which evolves by and from itself” and his equal insistence that every change in a pattern of thought corresponds to “a change in the position of the group “required that intellectual interest and criteria of truth other than the successful mastery of life situations also be denied.

In the three years between the publication of Ideology and Utopia and his departure from Germany, Mannheim’s transition from the sociology of knowledge to the macrosociological and microsociological study of social structure began to become visible. Much influenced by Max Weber’s ideas about bureaucracy, he wrote an essay, “Über das Wesen und die Bedeutung des wirtschaftlichen Erfolgsstrebens” (1930), in which he analyzed the psychological correlates of the bureaucratic career and the bureaucratization of modern society and adumbrated his later interest in a pragmatic educational policy. His interest in personality and culture and in the “planning of personality” also appeared here for the first time. He also wrote a book on the intelligentsia, which was unpublished in his lifetime. (It was published posthumously in 1956, as Essays on the Sociology of Culture.) In the final section of that book, entitled “The Democratization of Culture,” he presented an original analysis of the postulates of the democratic outlook, setting forth for the first time his later more fully developed views about fundamental democratization and the deterioration of the rationality and solidarity of elites.

The structure of modern society

After Mannheim went to England, he ceased almost entirely to study doctrinal beliefs and their social correlates. His epistemological interests, which had foundered in inconclusiveness, were largely discontinued. (For example, his distinction, in Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction [1935], of three modes of thought—thought at the level of discovery, at the level of invention, and at the level of planning—avoided all questions of epistemological validity.) Nonetheless, certain earlier themes continued to preoccupy him in this second stage of his career; dissensus, the conflict of classes, the disagreements of doctrines, and the irreconcilability of political movements still engaged his mind, although the particular contexts changed in which these phenomena were seen. While in his first phase his attention was preponderantly directed to the reconciliation of contending and antithetical interpretations of events and criteria of truth, the main aim of the macrosociology of his second period was the delineation of the contemporary dissensus, the disclosure of its causes, and the discovery of the means of its displacement by a new consensus.

Another line of continuity may be seen in his attitude toward sociology. Although in his second phase he came much closer to the scientific aspirations of empirical sociology, he never fully resigned himself to them. He became more sympathetic to the largely ahistorical, sociological, and social-psychological research of the period, but he never ceased to insist on the necessity of a “dynamic” and “historical” sociology. The natural-science model of knowledge remained alien to him and was never integrated into his thought.

In both periods he looked upon sociology as a potential cure for the ills of society. Just as the sociology of knowledge had been intended to emancipate intellectuals from extreme partisanship and from particularistic perspectives ([1929–1931] 1954, pp. 97-104), so a sociologically oriented education and sociologically oriented planning became the means, in his second phase, of overcoming dissensus and of avoiding the dangers of totalitarianism. His historicism led him to underemphasize the elements of identity between various societies, and he therefore believed that modern mass society is afflicted with a degree of dissensus such as no other society had ever suffered. But instead of focusing his attention on the dissensus of the intellectuals, he now stressed the dissensus of social strata and political groups.

Mannheim added some variants of his own to the German sociological tradition which derived from Tonnies and Simmel and which emphasized the disintegration of modern urban society. Unlike his predecessors, who characterized bourgeois society as uniform throughout its history, Mannheim distinguished between the stages of minority democracy and mass democracy. Several elements, not previously considered in the older diagnosis of the perpetual crisis resulting from unbridled conflicts of individual and collective desires, were added by him: the concentration of authority, the bureaucratization of work, “functional rationalization,” increased integration (“increasing interdependence”), and “fundamental democratization. “The concomitance of these major processes resulted in the democratization of access to positions within elites. Through these processes individuals who lacked practical and experienced judgment moved into the political elites at the very time that more and more of social life had become dependent on the decisions of these elites.

Mannheim stressed the intensification of demands which accompanied the democratization of political participation and the consequent increase in the frequency of unrealistic and unfulfillable demands. Yet the first years of his sojourn in Great Britain changed the accent of his thought. His outlook became more optimistic and more concrete. The increased optimism was manifested in his effort to promulgate a pattern of democratic planning. The enhanced concreteness arose in part from his increased interest in empirical sociological and social-psychological research. It was also related to the much greater matter-of-factness of discussions of social and political problems in Great Britain, where political differences were not invariably reduced to metaphysical and weltanschauliche differences. He became more sympathetic to psychoanalysis and better acquainted with it. He also became increasingly interested in educational techniques—that is, the possibility of transforming conduct through scientifically based educational techniques. This interest, encouraged by Sir Fred Clarke, the director of the University of London Institute of Education, brought him into a greater intimacy with the practical problems of education. His dislike of the prototype of the generally educated man espoused by German idealism had already, in his German period, caused him to reach out toward more practical types of education, which would be concerned with fitting individuals for differentiated social roles. His growing interest in planning strengthened his interest in education as preparation for participation in a democratic consensus.

His membership in an unusual group called the Moot, which met quarterly and which included Joseph Oldham, long active in Church of England affairs and social reform; Alec Vidler, a notable Anglican theologian and historian, then dean of Windsor Chapel; T. S. Eliot; J. Middleton Murry; and other literary and academic men, civil servants and theologians, made him more sensitive to religious belief and its possible role in the planned democracy of the future than he had ever been before. It was to this group that he presented a long paper, “Towards a New Social Philosophy: A Challenge to Christian Thinkers by a Sociologist” (1943). Mannheim argued that laissez-faire has exhausted its possibilities; as a result of fundamental democratization and the process of functional rationalization, the free play of forces in the economy has lost its powers of self-equilibration. Man’s capacity for autonomous and responsible individual judgment has weakened at the very time that greater demands for such judgment are being placed on him. The irrationality generated by these two processes has increased the danger of totalitarianism. The “primordial images” which have directed the life experiences of men through the ages have vanished, and nothing has taken their place. Conduct, in consequence, “falls to pieces,” and only “disconnected fragments of unintegrated behaviour patterns” remain.

In the final product of his constructive imagination, Freedom, Power, and Democratic Planning (1950), Mannheim defined the principal task as the creation of a society-wide “spontaneous” consensus, which would permit planning to be carried out effectively. In Germany he had shared many of the general views of democratic socialism, and in the 1930s he came to accept the inevitability and desirability of planning. To prevent planning from becoming totalitarian, self-restraint in collective demands and confinement of popular participation in the exercise of power to specific occasions were necessary. The indispensable condition for such restraint and limitation was consensus, and the two paths to consensus were, first, pedagogy, and, second, a readiness to accept and even to arouse religious sensibility and the moral attitudes called forth by religious experience. He saw the function of religion as helping man to restrain himself through spontaneously experienced moral norms and therewith to stabilize a social framework which would permit a modicum of freedom in a society that had to be planned in order to exist. Society in its latest phase needed a spiritual purpose, to avoid having a purpose imposed on it by a totalitarian elite. Thus, it became necessary to plan religion— not by prescribing a theology, but by the planned provision of institutional settings in which religious experience could flourish.

Mannheim’s influence

Although he was an extraordinarily stimulating teacher, Mannheim had few intellectual descend ants: his Frankfurt students were scattered and their incipient careers broken; at the London School of Economics, students interested in empirical research found him insufficiently at home in the then prevailing techniques, and there were very few equipped to do the kind of historical and macrosociological work that was Mannheim’s forte. During World War II the teaching of sociology ceased in England, and Mannheim was thereby deprived of the opportunity to influence the new generation of sociologists. In Germany the long suspension of social scientific work resulted in an attrition of the culture required to sustain Mannheim’s kind of sociology, and when social scientific work was resumed after the war, the older tradition had been lost and Mannheim’s prewar macrosociological writings did not appear relevant to current interests.

The sociology of knowledge as practiced by Mannheim has found no succession. Its only manifestations are Ernst Kohn Bramstedt’s dissertation, Aristocracy and Middle-classes in Germany (1937), Hans Gerth’s “Die sozialgeschichtliche Lage der bürgerlichen Intelligenz um die Wende des 18. Jahrhunderts” (1935), and Hans Speier’s “Die Geschichtsphilosophie Lassalle’s” (1929). Much work has been done since World War II which may be said to fall within the jurisdiction of the sociology of knowledge broadly conceived, yet very little of it bears the impress of Mannheim’s thought.

More recent works like Thomas S. Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) and Michael Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge (1958), which have carried very far the systematic analysis of patterns of thought and their modes of change, owe nothing to Mannheim’s analyses of Weltanschauungen. Similarly, Mircea Eliade and Claude Lévi-Strauss, in work on the fundamental categories of thought, owe much to Jung, Durkheim, and Mauss; they owe practically nothing to Mannheim. Latent-structure analysis, which was developed by Paul F. Lazarsfeld and others for the analysis of attitude-survey data and which offers great possibilities of development for the analysis of the structure of beliefs, is also independent of Mannheim’s influence.

The situation is somewhat different with regard to the study of ideologies: there can be little doubt that the prominent place which this kind of work is now beginning to occupy in sociological analysis owes something to the fact that Mannheim brought the term “ideology” to the attention of sociologists. His influence in this area is a product less of anything specific he said about the problems of ideology than of the fact that he dwelt on them long and seriously. Similarly, the study of the political and social role of intellectuals and of the institutional systems of intellectual life, as carried on by Theodor Geiger, Robert K. Merton, Joseph Ben-David, Talcott Parsons, Helmuth Plessner, Martin Trow, Lewis Coser, A. H. Halsey, and others, owes some of its impetus to Mannheim’s concern with these subjects.

Mannheim’s macrosociological views of contemporary large-scale society have had a more receptive audience and a more enduring influence. They were in harmony with an already established tradition in the analysis of modern urban society, and their appearance coincided with the emergence of the influence on sociology of Marxism and of Max Weber’s writings on bureaucracy and capitalism. Also, they appeared at a time of troubled interest in the causes of the breakdown of liberal societies and the emergence of populistic totalitarian regimes and movements. Mannheim’s very term “mass society” focused attention on certain unique features of modern large-scale societies, and his emphasis on the significance of bureaucratization and democratization in government, industry, commerce, and culture created one of the major themes of contemporary sociological thought.

Mannheim’s “morphological” approach, derived partly from German historicism, partly from Marxism, and partly from Weber’s broad categories and comparative studies, made him one of the first proponents of the macrosociological approach in the world of English-language sociology. Here again, it was his inclination to think of society as a whole, rather than his specific hypotheses, which led to macrosociology. He was vague in his formulations, and there is a tantalizing ambiguity in nearly everything he wrote. Yet, he dealt with very important subjects. The adage which asserts that the mistakes of a distinguished mind are more interesting than the truths of a mediocre one was true of Mannheim. He had in large measure the rare gift of touching on vital and enigmatic things.

Edward Shils

[Directly related are the entries Ideology; Integration,article on Cultural Integration; Intellectuals; Knowledge, Sociology Of; Mass Society; Political Sociology; Social Movements.Other relevant material may be found in Conservatism; Education,article on The Study Of Educational Systems; Elites; Generations; History,articles on The Philosophy Of Historyand Intellectual History; Marxist Sociology; Planning, Social; Revolution;and in the biographies of Dilthey;eiger; LukÁcs; Marx; Scheler; Simmel; Tonnies; Weber, Alfred; Weber, Max.]


(1922–1940) 1953 Essays on Sociology and Social Psychology. Edited by Paul Kecskemeti. London: Routledge; New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

(1923) 1952 On the Interpretations of “Weltanschauung.” Pages 33-83 in Karl Mannheim, Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge. New York: Oxford Univ. Press. → First published as “Beitrage zur Theorie der Weltanschauungsinterpretation.”

(1923–1929) 1952 Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge. Edited by Paul Kecskemeti. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

(1925) 1952 The Problem of a Sociology of Knowledge. Pages 134–190 in Karl Mannheim, Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

1926 Ideologische und soziologische Interpretation der geistigen Gebilde. Jahrbuch fur Soziologie 2:424–440.

(1927) 1953 Conservative Thought. Pages 77-164 in Karl Mannheim, Essays on Sociology and Social Psychology. London: Routledge; New York: Oxford Univ. Press. → First published as “Das konservative Denken.”

(1928) 1952 The Problem of Generations. Pages 276–320 in Karl Mannheim, Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge. New York: Oxford Univ.

Press. → First published as “Das Problem der Generationen.”

(1929) 1952 Competition as a Cultural Phenomenon. Pages 191–229 in Karl Mannheim, Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge. New York: Oxford Univ. Press. → First published as “Die Bedeutung der Konkurrenz im Gebiete des Geistigen.”

(1929–1931) 1954 Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge. New York: Harcourt; London: Routledge. → A paperback edition was published in 1955 by Harcourt. Part 1 is an introductory essay. Parts 2-4 are a translation of Ideologic und Utopie (1929); Part 5 is a translation of “Wissenssoziologie” (1931).

1930 Über das Wesen und die Bedeutung des wirtschaft-lichen Erfolgsstrebens: Ein Beitrag zur Wirtschaftssoziologie.Archiv fur Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik 63:449–512.

(1935) 1940 Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction: Studies in Modern Social Structure. Revised and considerably enlarged by the author. New York: Harcourt. → First published as Mensch und Gesellschaft im Zeitalter des Umbaus.

(1939–1943) 1950 Diagnosis of Our Time: Wartime Essays of a Sociologist. London: Routledge.

(1943) 1950 Towards a New Social Philosophy: A Challenge to Christian Thinkers by a Sociologist. Pages 100–165 in Karl Mannheim, Diagnosis of Our Time: Wartime Essays of a Sociologist. London: Routledge.

1950 Freedom, Power, and Democratic Planning. NewYork: Oxford Univ. Press. → Published posthumously.

1956 Essays on the Sociology of Culture. Oxford Univ. Press. → Published posthumously.


Bramstedt, Ernst Kohn (1937) 1964 Aristocracy and Middle-classes in Germany: Social Types in German Literature, 1830–1900. Rev. ed. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Gerth, Hans H. 1935 Die sozialgeschichtliche Lage der biirgerlichen Intelligenz um die Wende des 18. Jahrhunderts. Unpublished manuscript.

Kuhn, Thomas S. 1962 The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Univ. of Chicago Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1964.

Lenk, Kurt 1963 Die Rolle der Intelligenzsoziologie in der Theorie Mannheims. Ko’lner Zeitschrift fur Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie 15:323–337.

Merton, Robert K. (1941) 1957 Karl Mannheim and the Sociology of Knowledge. Pages 489–508 in Robert K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure. Rev. ed. New York: Free Press.

Mills, C. Wright (1940) 1963 Methodological Consequences of the Sociology of Knowledge. Pages 453–468 in C. Wright Mills, Power, Politics and People: The Collected Essays of C. Wright Mills. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Polanyi, Michael 1958 Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-critical Philosophy. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Speier, Hans 1929 Die Geschichtsphilosophie Lassalle’s. Archiv fur Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik 61: 103-127, 360-388.

Mannheim, Karl

views updated May 18 2018

Mannheim, Karl 1893-1947


Karl Mannheim was a Hungarian philosopher and sociologist who is usually credited with having established the sociology of knowledge as an autonomous field of inquiryas opposed to, say, an application of Marxist or phenomenological sociology. Mannheims intellectual trajectory resembled that of his contemporary, Georg Lukacs (18851971), with whom he remained friends until the rise of Nazism. Whereas Mannheim fled to London, Lukacs fled to Moscow, and their politics diverged accordingly from their original common Marxist roots. Both were grounded in the philosophy of culture and were early influenced by Georg Simmels (18581918) conception of sociology as the science of forms of life. Each tried to ground a conception of objectivity from the relationist epistemology common to Karl Marx (18181883) and Simmel. This produced an interesting contrast in privileged standpoints and, implicitly, the vanguard of progressive politics. In response to Lukacss proletarian standpoint, where workers were understood as integral to, yet alienated from, the means of production, Mannheim proposed a free-floating intelligentsia, an increasing segment of the middle class whose alienation reflects its detachment from the means of production.

Mannheims sociology of knowledge was refined through a series of debates in both the German-and English-speaking worlds. Prior to the publication of his major work, Ideology and Utopia (1929), Mannheim corresponded with the art historian Erwin Panofsky (18921968) over the sense of historicism required of cultural interpretation. In contrast to Panofskys view of art as the unique synthesis of various ongoing traditions, Mannheim stressed arts ability to capture the common experience of a generation. Indeed, ideology and utopia referred to contrasting attitudes toward history that might be shared by a generation: the backward-looking (conservative) ideology and the forward-looking (progressive) utopia.

Over his career, Mannheim cast this perspective in increasingly normative terms, culminating in the proposal of new modes of political education and broadcast media capable of instilling social democratic attitudes in the generation entrusted with reconstructing postWorld War II Europe. Here he crossed swords with both liberals and elitists, including fellow émigrés Michael Polanyi (18911976) and Karl Popper (19021994), as well as T. S. Eliot (18881965), with whom Mannheim maintained a friendly rivalry until his death.

Two seminal theses in the sociology of knowledge are due to Mannheim: (1) a knowledge practices validity is relative to its capacity to confer legitimacy on a particular social order; and (2) the social conditioning of a knowledge practice that is valid according to standard methodological criteria can be demonstrated by showing how the practice helps to reproduceand sometimes even constitutethe criteria by which it is judged valid. Both theses remain controversial because they imply that the sociology of knowledge can challenge the philosophical theory of knowledge, epistemology, on its own grounds. Mannheims challenge was later taken up by social epistemology.


Fuller, Steve. 2002. Social Epistemology. 2nd ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Mannheim, Karl. 1936. Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge. Trans. Louis Wirth and Edward Shils. New York: Harcourt.

Steve Fuller

Karl Mannheim

views updated May 21 2018

Karl Mannheim

The Hungarian-born sociologist and educator Karl Mannheim (1893-1947) explored the role of the intellectual in political and social reconstruction. He also wrote on the sociology of knowledge.

Karl Mannheim was born on March 27, 1893, in Budapest to a German mother and a Jewish middle-class Hungarian father. He attended a humanistic school in Budapest and did further study in philosophy (particularly epistemology), languages, and the social sciences at the universities of Budapest, Berlin, Paris, Freiburg, and Heidelberg (1920). His doctoral dissertation in 1922 was The Structural Analysis of Knowledge. In 1921 he married Juliska Lang.

Mannheim was a lecturer in sociology at the University of Heidelberg (1926-1930) and then became professor of sociology and head of the department at the University of Frankfurt. The Nazi government forced his dismissal in 1933. He moved to England, where he became a lecturer in sociology at the London School of Economics (1933-1945). He was also lecturer in the sociology of education (1941-1944) and then professor of education and sociology (1944-1947) at the Institute of Education of the University of London. He died in London on Jan. 9, 1947.

Mannheim's early writings dealt with the leadership role of intellectual elites in maintaining freedom. This concern reflected his study of Max Weber, Max Scheler, and Karl Marx. Mannheim's most important early book, Ideology and Utopia (1929 in German, 1936 in English), introduced the sociology of knowledge as a new field of study in the social sciences. Antipathy to the Nazi movement in Germany deepened his interest in democratic dynamics. His writings increasingly focused on the political, social, and moral problems involved in the survival of democracy and freedom. He saw interdependence as the characteristic feature of the modern era and viewed education and planning as essential for improving society. This concern is expressed in Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction (1940), in which he weighed the political strengths and weaknesses of intellectual elites. His Diagnosis of Our Time (1943) explored ways to reestablish rational means of social organization. In Freedom, Power, and Democratic Planning (1950), published after his death, he continued his concern about the intellectual as leader in a planned society.

In his last years Mannheim made the problem of planning and education his principal concern. As editor of the International Library of Sociology and Social Reconstruction, he stimulated thought and publications in sociology, education, and planning. He sought democratic ways to achieve consensus in a mass society, believing that studies in the sociology of education could help achieve this consensus.

Mannheim was a successful and inspiring teacher with a contagious passion for his subject. He was articulate and provocative, had a Socratic tolerance for opposition and a lively sense of humor, and was nonpartisan in sociological controversies. Although he did not create a sector school, he influenced many students and colleagues.

Further Reading

Jacques J. Maquet, The Sociology of Knowledge (1949; trans. 1951), is a critical analysis of the systems of Mannheim and Pitirim A. Sorokin. Margaret B. Fisher, Leadership and Intelligence (1954), discusses Mannheim's writings in this field.

Additional Sources

Kettler, David, Karl Mannheim and the crisis of liberalism: the secret of these new times, New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1995.

Loader, Colin, The intellectual development of Karl Mannheim: culture, politics, and planning, Cambridge Cambridgeshire; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Woldring, H. E. S., Karl Mannheim: the development of his thought: philosophy, sociology, and social ethics, with a detailed biography, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987, 1986. □

Mannheim, Karl

views updated Jun 11 2018


MANNHEIM, KARL (1893–1947), sociologist. Born in Budapest, Mannheim was a student of Max Weber in Heidelberg. He was professor of sociology in Frankfurt in 1930, emigrating in 1933 to London, where he taught at the London School of Economics until his death.

Combining influences coming from Marx, Dilthey, and Max Weber, Mannheim became – together with the philosopher Max Scholer – the initiator of the sociology of knowledge. This branch of sociology is based on the conviction that cognition is not a purely intellectual act but formed by vital relations that are non-theoretical in character and largely defined by the position of the actor in the social structure. Cognition is based on volition and volition, in turn, on the antecedents and concrete circumstances of a person's life. Mannheim denied that this view was leading to sociological relativism or to a disparagement of the spirit; rather, in his opinion, the mind was to be set free by the recognition of the nonrational roots of a consciousness.

After his emigration, Mannheim's interest turned largely toward the problem which was posed by the rise of Nazism, namely, how democracy in a period of mass movements could be prevented from sliding into totalitarian dictatorship. Mannheim's thesis was that laissez-faire liberalism, through loosening all societal bonds, would carry with it the danger of totalitarianism and that a fighting democracy would have to "plan for freedom"; the intention ought to be to guarantee the values of personality by means of social regulation. He even went so far as to suggest the cooperation of sociology and theology to that end. Mannheim's early work, Ideologie und Utopie (1929; Eng. trans., 1936), opposes "utopian" thinking, carried by the discontented and emphasizing change, to "ideological" thinking which is essentially conservative in nature. Still earlier appeared Die Strukturanalyse der Erkenntnistheorie ("The Structural Analysis of Knowledge"; 1922), "Das Problem einer Soziologie des Wissens" (in: Archiv fuer Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik, 53 (1925), 577–652). and "Das Konservative Denken" (in: Archiv fuer Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik, 57 (1927), 68–142; 470–95). The major works of Mannheim's second period are Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction (1940) and Diagnosis of Our Time (1943). Three posthumous publications were: Freedom, Power and Democratic Planning (1950), Essays on Sociology and Social Psychology (1953), and Systematic Sociology (1958). Mannheim was the founder of the International Library of Sociology and Social Reconstruction, which published many well-known monographs. He had an important unofficial influence on some aspects of British government policy such as the 1944 Education Act. Mannheim contracted pneumonia and died at the age of only 53.


J.J.P. Maquet, Sociology of Knowledge… a Critical Analysis of the Systems of Karl Mannheim and Pitirim A. Sorokin (1951); D. Kettler, Marxismus und Kultur: Mannheim und Lukacs in den ungarischen Revolutionen [1918/19] (1967); E. Manheim, in: The American Journal of Sociology, 52 (1947), 471–4 (includes list of his publications); A. Salomon, in: Social Research, (1947), 350–64. add. bibliography: odnb online; C. Loader, The Intellectual Development of Karl Mannheim (1985); G. Werner Remming, The Sociology of Karl Mannheim (1975); H.E.S. Woldring, Karl Mannheim: The Development of His Thought (1986).

[Werner J. Cahnman]

Mannheim, Karl

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Mannheim, Karl (1893–1947) A Hungarian sociologist who emigrated to Germany and finally to England shortly after Hitler came to power. His most enduring contribution was to the sociology of knowledge, which he defined as a theory of the social or existential conditioning of thought. Mannheim viewed all knowledge and ideas as bound to a particular location within the social structure and the historical process. Thus, thought inevitably reflects a particular perspective, and is situationally relative. Mannheim was influenced by both Marx and Weber, and in most of his writing, he conceives the different social locations of ideas mainly in terms of class factors or status groups. For example, he contrasts utopian thought rooted in the future hopes of the under-privileged, with ideological thought propounded by those benefiting from the status quo. However Mannheim also gave special attention to generational differences in relation to ideas. A person's generation, like their social class, gives an individual a particular location in social and historical time and thereby predisposes them to a certain mode of thought.

When Mannheim insisted that all thought necessarily has an ideological character he was accused of adopting a position of total relativism, a charge he strenuously, but somewhat unsuccessfully denied. His major contributions were not so much epistemological as substantive, and some of his central and most important ideas can be found in Ideology and Utopia (1929), Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge (1928), and Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction (1935).