Geiger, Theodor

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Geiger, Theodor


Theodor Geiger (1891–1952) was a German-born sociologist whose chief interests were the fields of general social theory, methodology, social stratification and mobility, the sociology of law, and ideology. Even in Germany, Geiger’s work is not widely known, although his writings on social stratification and mobility and on the sociology of law possess current significance. There is practically no secondary literature on Geiger. It was not until some years after his death that his influence was felt at all beyond the confines of Germany and Scandinavia.

Geiger’s life mirrors German history in the twentieth century. His numerous publications—a bibliography of his works contains some 160 titles —constitute a courageous and nonideological discussion of the social and methodological problems of his time. He is noteworthy as an early critic of Nazism.

Geiger was the son of a teacher in a Munich Gymnasium; he studied law at the University of Munich and at Wiirzburg—where he received his doctorate in law—and volunteered for military service in World War i. After the war, until 1932, he was a member of the German Social Democratic party. During this time he began work on some problems relevant to the sociology of law. For some years he was active as a tutor, translator, and writer. He was fluent in the Scandinavian languages and also in Finnish. From 1920 on, he lived in Berlin, collaborating in the publication of the periodical Die Fremde Presse and working intensively in the field of adult education. He taught at the Volkshochschule Gross-Berlin and had be come the principal of that school by the time he left, in 1928, to occupy the chair of sociology at the Brunswick Institute of Technology. While he was in Berlin he also worked at the National Statistical Bureau.

In 1933 Geiger emigrated to Denmark. For some time his studies in Copenhagen were supported by the Rockefeller Foundation. In 1938 he became professor of sociology at Aarhus. With the German occupation of Denmark, it became desirable for Geiger to leave, and in 1943 he escaped to Sweden. There he was stimulated by contact with the jurists and social scientists of the “Uppsala school.” In 1945 he returned to Aarhus and founded the first institute of sociological research in Scandinavia. In collaboration with T. T. Segerstedt (of Uppsala), V. Verkko (of Helsinki), and J. Vogt (of Oslo), Geiger founded a series of publications, Nordiske studier i sociologi, Volume 1 of which was published in Copenhagen in 1948. He was also busy with several large-scale empirical studies on strati fication and mobility and with developing his ideas on the sociology of law and the critique of ideology —ideas dating back to the stimulation he had re ceived in Sweden. He was one of the founders of the International Sociological Association (ISA) and, together with D. Glass, was a leading spirit in the First International Working Conference on Social Stratification and Social Mobility. In 1951 he went to the University of Toronto as visiting professor; on the return voyage he died suddenly on shipboard.

General social theory. Geiger made important theoretical contributions to the study of social groups and to the refinement of Tönnies’ cate gories of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. He was also concerned with the role of secondary groups in modern society, notably in two articles, one, “Die Gruppe und die Kategorien Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft,” published in 1927 and the other, “Die Legende von der Massengesellschaft,” published in 1951. After briefly outlining a sociological theory (which he later partly retracted) in Die Gestalten der Gesellung (1928), in the 1930s he wrote his powerful introductory text Sociologi (1939), at the time a unique work in Scandinavia and for several decades an important textbook. Subsequently, he shifted entirely from the construction of general theory to the study of specific problems.

Methodology. In the 1920s Geiger was one of the few European sociologists doing empirical re search. One of his first studies was an evaluation of illegitimacy statistics (1920). His book Die soziale Schichtung des deutschen Volkes (1932) and several articles—on employees (1933a), on the self-employed (1933b), and on problems of adult education—also have an empirical foundation. After these early works Geiger, influenced by Scan dinavian thought and by American sociology, sought to refine the methods of empirical social research. He developed his own methods of inquiry and presentation, notably in his studies of Danish intellectuals and of changes in social stratification in Aarhus. His theoretical considerations of metho dology (e.g., several articles written in 1948 and 1949: see Arbeiten zur Soziologie) also raised problems of the philosophy of science and of knowledge.

Stratification and mobility. In his studies of social stratification, Geiger initially accepted the Marxist view that German society had a clear-cut class structure, but he departed increasingly from this conception. Under the influence of American sociology and of his own empirical data, he wrote, while he was in Sweden, Klassesamfundet i støbe-gryden (“Class Society in the Melting Pot,” 1948). By means of large-scale research he developed a dynamic analysis of social mobility and a typology of social fluctuation, together with a multidimensional model of stratification. A brief article by Geiger on his theory of social stratification was published in the Worterbuch der Soziologie, edited by W. Bernsdorf and F. Billow (1955).

Sociology of law and ideology. Geiger was early concerned with the sociology of law, and his association with the Uppsala school intensified this interest (1946a; 1946b; 1947). In several publications he took issue with the views of S. Ranulf, A. Ross, and K. Ilium. Geiger linked the sociology of law with the analysis of ideology, discussing juris tic concepts—norms, sources of law, consciousness of law, etc.—as phenomena of social reality. He examined the general nature of civil order and broke it down into such partial orders as habit, custom, usage, and law. Although this analysis is based on Continental legal conceptions, it consti tutes a theory of social control that has bearing, also, on non-European social structures. Indeed, the Vorstudien (1947) are, with the fundamental works of G. Gurvitch and N. S. Timasheff, among the most important contributions to the sociology of law.

Geiger’s conception of ideology has frequently been misinterpreted. Ideology, to him, is a concept in the theory of knowledge: Ideologie ist theoretisch gemeintes A-Theoretisches (“Ideology is the atheo-retical taken theoretically”). He was led to this approach by the Uppsala school, especially by the work of A. Hägerström, although he criticized Hagerstrom and by the same token departed from the view of Karl Mannheim. Geiger’s “value nihil ism” must be understood in terms of a theory of knowledge: his value nihilism permits primary value judgments, but not their conversion into theories. In his last work, Demokratie ohne Dogma (1960), he made a plea for “intellectual humanism,” the “enlightenment of the masses,” the “democratization of reason,” the “asceticism of emotion,” and “abstinence from value judgment.” Yet he was a pragmatist: he considered his last work to be his political testament and hoped that his ideas would be put into practice.

Paul Trappe

[See alsoCommunity-society continua; Ideology; Illegitimacy; Law; Social Control; Social Mobility; Stratification, social; and the biographies ofMannheimandTÖnnies.]


1919 Die Schutzaufsicht. Breslau (then Germany): Schletter.

1920 Das uneheliche Kind und seine Mutter im Recht des neuen Staates: Ein Versuch auf der Basis kritischer Rechtsvergleichung. Munich: Schweitzer.

1926 Die Masse und ihre Aktion: Ein Beitrag zur Sozio-logie der Revolutionen. Stuttgart (Germany): Enke.

1927 Die Gruppe und die Kategorien Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft. Archiv fur Sozialwissenschaft und So zialpolitik 58:338–374.

1928 Die Gestalten der Gesellung. Karlsruhe (Germany): Braun.

(1931a) 1959 Fiihrung. Pages 136-141 in Handwbrterbuch der Soziologie. New ed. Stuttgart (Germany):Enke.

(1931b) 1959 Gemeinschaft. Pages 173-180 in Handworterbuch der Soziologie. New ed. Stuttgart (Ger many): Enke.

(1931c) 1959 Gesellschaft. Pages 201-211 in Handwbrterbuch der Soziologie. New ed. Stuttgart (Germany):Enke.

(1931d) 1959 Revolution. Pages 511-518 in Handwbrterbuch der Soziologie. New ed. Stuttgart (Germany):Enke.

(1931e) 1959 Soziologie. Pages 568-578 in Handwbrterbuch der Soziologie. New ed. Stuttgart (Germany):Enke.

1932 Die soziale Schichtung des deutschen Volkes: Soziographischer Versuch auf statistischer Grundlage. Stuttgart (Germany): Enke.

1933a Soziale Gliederung der deutschen Arbeitnehmer. Archiv fixr Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik 68:151–188.

1933b Statistische Analyse der wirtschaftlich Selbstandigen. Archiv fur Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik 69:407–439.

1934 Erbpflege: Grundlagen, Planung, Grenzen. Stuttgart (Germany): Enke.

1935 Samfund og arvelighed: En sociologisk unders0gelse. Copenhagen: Martin.

1939 Sociologi: Grundrids og hovedproblemer. Copenhagen: Nyt Nordisk Forlag.

1941 Konkurrence: En sociologisk analyse. Aarhus, Universitet, Acta jutlandica, Aarsskrift, Vol. 13, no. 2. Aarhus (Denmark): Universitets Forlaget.

1943 Kritik af reklamen. Copenhagen: Nyt Nordisk Forlag.

(1944) 1949 Aufgaben und Stellung der Intelligenz in der Gesellschaft. Stuttgart (Germany): Enke. → First published as Intelligensen.

1946a Debat med Uppsala om moral og ret. Copenhagen:Munksgaard.

1946b Ranulf contra Geiger: Et angreb og et offensivt forsvar. Copenhagen: Nyt Nordisk Forlag.

(1947) 1964 Vorstudien zu einer Soziologie des Rechts. Aarhus, Universitet, Acta jutlandica, Aarsskrift, Vol. 19, no. 1. Neuwied (Germany): Luchterhand.

(1948) 1949 Die Klassengesellschaft in Schmelztiegel. Cologne (Germany): Kiepenheuer. →First published in Danish.

1949 Den Danske intelligens fra reformationen til nuti-den: En studie i empirisk kultursociologi. Aarhus, Universitet, Acta jutlandica, Aarsskrift, Vol. 21, no. 1. Aarhus (Denmark): Universitets Forlaget.

1951α Die Legende von der Massengesellschaft. Archiv für Rechts- und Sozialphilosophie 39:305–323.

1951b Soziale Umschichtungen in einer dänischen Mittel-stadt. Aarhus, Universitet, Acta jutlandica, Aarsskrift, Vol. 23, no. 1. Aarhus (Denmark): Universitets For laget.

1952 Fortidens moral og fremtidens. Copenhagen: Reitzel.

1953 Ideologie und Wahrheit: Eine soziologische Kritik des Denkens. Stuttgart (Germany) and Vienna: Humboldt. → Published posthumously.

1954α Intelligenz. Volume 5, pages 302-304 in Hand-wbrterbuch der Sozialwissenschaften. Stuttgart (Ger many): Fischer. → Published posthumously.

1954b Ideologie. Volume 5, pages 179-184 in Handwbrt-erbuch der Sozialwissenschaften. Stuttgart (Germany): Fischer. → Published posthumously.

(1955) 1962 Theorie der sozialen Schichtung. Pages 186-205 in Theodor Geiger, Arbeiten zur Soziologie: Methode, moderne Grossgesellschaft, Rechtssoziologie, ldeo-logiekritik. Neuwied (Germany): Luchterhand. → Published posthumously. Originally appeared in the Worterbuch der Soziologie, edited by W. Bernsdorf and F. Bülow.

(1960) 1963 Demokratie ohne Dogma: Die Gesellschaft zwischen Pathos und Niichternheit. Munich: Szczesny. → First published posthumously as Die Gesellschaft zwischen Pathos und Niichternheit.

Arbeiten zur Soziologie: Methode, moderne Grossgesell schaft, Rechtssoziologie, Ideologiekritik. Neuwied (Germany): Luchterhand, 1962.