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Karl Mannheim

Karl Mannheim
Karl Mannheim
Born Károly Mannheim
March 27, 1893
Budapest, Austria-Hungary
Died January 9, 1947
London, England
Nationality Hungarian
Known for One of the founding fathers of the sociology of knowledge

Karl Mannheim (March 27, 1893 – January 9, 1947), or Károly Mannheim in the original writing of his name, was a Hungarian-born sociologist, influential in the first half of the 20th century and one of the founding fathers of classical sociology as well as a founder of the sociology of knowledge. In 1921, Mannheim married professor and psychologist "Juliska" Károlyné Julia Lang, better known as Julia Lang.[1]


  • Life 1
  • Intellectual work 2
    • The Hungarian phase 2.1
    • The German phase 2.2
    • The British phase 2.3
  • Death 3
  • Legacy 4
  • Selected works 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9


Mannheim was born in Hungarian Soviet, in 1919, he taught in a teacher training school thanks to the patronage of his friend and mentor György Lukács,[3] whose political conversion to Communism he did not, however, share.[4] After the emergence of the Kingdom of Hungary, Mannheim chose exile in Germany. In Germany Mannheim moved from Freiburg to Heidelberg, and in 1921 he married psychologist Julia Lang.[4]

From 1922 to 1925 he worked in Heidelberg under the German sociologist Alfred Weber, brother of the well-known sociologist Max Weber.[5] In 1926 Mannheim satisfied the requirements to teach classes in sociology at Heidelberg. In 1930 he became a professor of sociology and political economy at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt am Main.[1]Norbert Elias and Hans Gerth worked as his assistants during this period (from spring 1930 until spring 1933) with Elias as the senior partner. Greta Kuckhoff also worked for him, leaving in 1933 to study at the London School of Economics (LSE) and prepare for Mannheim's emigration there.[6]

In 1933, after being ousted from his professorship, he fled the Nazi regime and settled in Britain where he was adopted as a lecturer in Sociology at the London School of Economics. In 1941, Sir Fred Clarke, Director of the Institute of Education, University of London, invited him to teach sociology on a part-time basis in conjunction with his role at LSE. In January 1946 he took up the full-time chair of education at the Institute of Education, which he held until his death in London a year later at the age of 53. During his time in England, Mannheim played a central role in 'The Moot', a Christian think-tank concerned with the role of culture in society, which was convened by J. H. Oldham.[7]

Mannheim’s life, one of intellectual and geographical migration, falls into three main phases: Hungarian (to 1919), German (1919–1933), British (1933–1947). Among his valued intellectual sources were György Lukács, Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl, Karl Marx, Alfred and Max Weber, Max Scheler, and Wilhelm Dilthey. In his work, he sought variously to synthesize elements derived from German historicism, Marxism, phenomenology, sociology, and Anglo-American pragmatism.

Intellectual work

The Hungarian phase

Mannheim was a precocious scholar and an accepted member of two influential intellectual circles in Budapest. In the autumn of 1915, he was the youngest member the founding members[8] of the Sonntagskreis (Sunday Circle) alongside Béla Balázs, Lajos Fülep, Arnold Hauser and György Lukács, where a wide range of literary and philosophical topics where discussed.[9] Some discussion focused on the enthusiasms of German diagnosticians of cultural crisis, notably the novels of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and the writings of the German mystics. The Social Science Association was founded by Oszkár Jászi in 1919 and was interested above all in French and English sociological writings. Mannheim's Hungarian writings, notably his doctoral dissertation "Structural Analysis of Epistemology,"[4] anticipate his lifelong search for "synthesis" between these currents. According to Longhurst, the Sonntagskreis "rejected any 'positivist' or 'mechanist' understanding of society and was dissatisfied with the existing political arrangements in Hungary. The way forward was seen to be through the spiritual renewal entailed in a revolution in culture".[4] The group members were discontent with the political and intellectual composition of Hungary, however, "they rejected a materialist Marxist critique of this society. Hungary was to be changed by a spiritual renewal led by those who had reached a significant level of cultural awareness".[4] Mannheim's work was influenced by Lukacs' Marxist view, as he credits Marx as the forerunner to the sociology of knowledge.[2]

Mannheim's theory on the sociology of knowledge is based on some of the epistemological discoveries of Immanuel Kant and the sociology of knowledge is known as a section of the greater field known as the sociology of culture. The sociology of culture is defined as the relationship between culture and society.[10] The sociology of culture had two main branches: a moderate branch, represented by Max Scheler, who believed that social conditions do not affect the content of knowledge, and a radical branch, of which Mannheim and Karl Marx were a part. The radical branch highlighted that society is determined by all aspects of culture. When it came to the sociology of knowledge, Mannheim believed that it established a dependence of knowledge on social reality.[10] Mannheim's central question of the sociology of knowledge, which tried to understand the relationship between society and knowledge, demonstrated his endeavors to solve the issue of "historical nature and unity of mind and life."[10] Mannheim affirmed the sociology of knowledge as an "extrinsic interpretation and sets apart from the immanent interpretation of thought products."[10] The immanent interpretation is based on one's understanding of intellectual content, which is limited to theoretical content of knowledge and the extrinsic interpretation is based on the capability to understand manifestations.[10] Knowing the difference between these two types of interpretations helped Mannheim create a place for the sociology of knowledge in the scientific system, thus leaving the sociology of knowledge to stand opposite of the traditional human sciences and to interpret knowledge through an exploration of social reality.[10] Mannheim claimed that the sociology of knowledge has to be understood as the visionary expression of "historical experience which has social reality at its vital center."[10]

The German phase

This was Mannheim's most productive period. In the early part of his stay in Germany, Mannheim published his doctoral dissertation "Structural Epistemology of Knowledge", which discusses his theory of the structure of epistemology, "relations between the knower, the known and the to be known…for Mannheim based on psychology, logic and ontology”.[4] Sociologist Brian Longhurst explains, his work on epistemology represents the height of his early "idealist" phase, and transition to hermeneutic "issues of interpretation within culture". In this essay, Mannheim introduces "the hermeneutic problem of the relationship between the whole and the parts". He argues the differences between art, the natural sciences, and philosophy "with respect to truth claims", stating science always tries to disprove one theory, where art never does this and can coexist in more than one worldview; philosophy falls in between the two extremes. Mannheim posits the "danger of relativism", in which historical process yields cultural product; "if thought to be relative to a historical period, it may be unavailable to a historical period"[4] In this period he turned from philosophy to sociology, inquiring into the roots of culture. His essays on the sociology of knowledge have become classics. In Ideology and Utopia he argued that the application of the term ideology ought to be broadened. He traced the history of the term from what he called a "particular" view. This view saw ideology as the perhaps deliberate obscuring of facts. This view gave way to a "total" conception (most notably in Marx), which argued that a whole social group's thought was formed by its social position (e.g. the proletariat's beliefs were conditioned by their relationship to the means of production). However, he called for a further step, which he called a general total conception of ideology, in which it was recognized that everyone's beliefs—including the social scientist's—were a product of the context they were created in. Mannheim points out social class, location and generation as the greatest determinants of knowledge.[4] He feared this could lead to relativism but proposed the idea of relationism as an antidote. To uphold the distinction, he maintained that the recognition of different perspectives according to differences in time and social location appears arbitrary only to an abstract and disembodied theory of knowledge.

The list of reviewers of the German Ideology and Utopia includes a remarkable roll call of individuals who became famous in exile, after the rise of Hitler: Hannah Arendt, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, Paul Tillich, Hans Speier, Günther Stern (aka Günther Anders), Waldemar Gurian, Siegfried Kracauer, Otto Neurath, Karl August Wittfogel, Béla Fogarasi, and Leo Strauss. In the early 1970s, Erich Fromm and Michael Maccoby would later illustrate scientifically the effects of social class and economic structure on personality in their landmark study Social Character in a Mexican Village.

Mannheim's ambitious attempt to promote a comprehensive sociological analysis of the structures of knowledge was treated with suspicion by Marxists and neo-Marxists of what was the grouping that was later recognized as an antecedent of the Frankfurt School. They saw the rising popularity of the sociology of knowledge as neutralization and a betrayal of Marxist inspiration. Relations between Mannheim and Horkheimer were however correct, and there is no evidence that students were enlisted in the arguments between them, which played out in faculty forums, like the Kant Gesellschaft and Paul Tillich's Christian Socialist discussion group. Horkheimer's Institute at the time was best known for the empirical work it encouraged, and several of Mannheim's doctoral students used its resources. While this intramural contest looms large in retrospect, Mannheim's most active contemporary competitors were in fact other academic sociologists, notably the gifted proto-fascist Leipzig professor, Hans Freyer, and the proponent of formal sociology and leading figure in the profession, Leopold von Wiese.

The British phase

Monument to Karl Mannheim in Golder's Green Columbarium, part of Golder's Green Crematorium

In his British phase Mannheim attempted a comprehensive analysis of the structure of modern society by way of democratic social planning and education. Mannheim's first major work published during this period was Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction 1935, in which he argues for a shift from liberal order of laissez-faire capitalism, "founded on the unregulated trade cycle, unextended democracy, free competition and ideas of competitive individualism" to planned democracy.[4] In Diagnosis of Our Time, Mannheim expands on this argument and expresses concern for the transition from liberal order to planned democracy, according to Longhurst, arguing "...the embryonic planned democratic society can develop along democratic or dictatorial expressed in the totalitarian societies of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union".[4] His work was admired more by educators, social workers, and religious thinkers than it was by the small community of British sociologists. His books on planning nevertheless played an important part in the political debates of the immediate post-war years, both in the United States and in several European countries.


Mannheim died in London and was cremated at Golder's Green Crematorium. His ashes were placed in the columbarium there in an urn and later mixed with those of his wife Julia. He was originally placed opposite Sigmund Freud as a planned pairing, but Freud was later relocated.


Mannheim's book Ideologie und Utopie (1929) was the most widely debated book by a living sociologist in Germany during the Weimar Republic; the English version Ideology and Utopia (1936) has been a standard in American-style international academic sociology, carried by the interest it aroused in the United States. The quite different German and English versions of the book figure in reappraisals of Mannheim initiated by new textual discoveries and republications. Mannheim’s sociological theorizing has been the subject of numerous book-length studies, evidence of an international interest in his principal themes. Mannheim was not the author of any work he himself considered a finished book, but rather of some fifty major essays and treatises, most later published in book form.

Selected works

  • Mannheim, K. ([1922-24] 1980) Structures of Thinking. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Mannheim, K. ([1925] 1986) Conservatism. A Contribution to the Sociology of Knowledge. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Mannheim, K. (1929), Ideologie und Utopie
  • Mannheim, K. (1935 (English 1940)) Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction. London: Routledge.
  • Mannheim, K. (1936) Ideology and Utopia. London: Routledge.
  • Mannheim, K. (1950) "Freedom, Power, and Democratic Planning." Oxford University Press
  • Mannheim, K. ([1930] 2001) Sociology as Political Education. New Brunswick, NJ. Transaction.
  • Mannheim, K. (1971. 1993) From Karl Mannheim. New Brunswick, NJ. Transaction.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Sica, Alan. "Social Thought: From the Enlightenment to the Present." pp. 433-441. Pennsylvania State University.
  2. ^ a b Ryan, Michael. 'Karl Mannheim', Encyclopedia of Social Theory, pp. 469.
  3. ^ Karácsony, A. (2008). 'Soul–life–knowledge: The young Mannheim’s way to sociology', Studies in East European Thought. 60 (1/2), pp. 97-115.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Longhurst, Brian (1989).Karl Mannheim and the Contemporary Sociology of Knowledge, New York: St Martins Press, pp. 1-197.
  5. ^ Werner, S. (1967). 'Karl Mannheim', Encyclopedia of Philosophy, pp. 1.
  6. ^ Bernd-Rainer Barth, Helmut Müller-Enbergs: Biographische Datenbanken: Kuckhoff, Greta Bundesunmittelbare Stiftung des öffentlichen Rechts. Wer war wer in der DDR?, 5th edition, Volume 1 Ch. Links Verlag, Berlin (2010). ISBN 978-3-86153-561-4 (German)
  7. ^ [2]
  8. ^ Lemert, Charles. "Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings." Weslyan University.
  9. ^ Mary Gluck (1985) Georg Lukács and His Generation, 1900-1918. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. pp. 14–16
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Remmling, Gunter W. "Karl Mannheim: Revision of an Intellectual Portrait." Social Forces , Vol. 40, No. 1 (Oct., 1961) , pp. 23-30.

Further reading

  • Richard Aldrich, (2002) The Institute of Education 1902-2002: A centenary history, London: Institute of Education.
  • David Frisby, (1983) The Alienated Mind, London: Heineman.
  • David Kettler, Volker Meja, and Nico Stehr (1984), Karl Mannheim, London: Tavistock.
  • David Kettler and Volker Meja, (1995) Karl Mannheim and the Crisis of Liberalism, New Brunswick and London: Transaction.
  • Colin Loader, (1985) The Intellectual Development of Karl Mannheim, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Colin Loader and David Kettler (2001) Karl Mannheim's Sociology as Political Education New Brunswick and London: Transaction.
  • Volker Meja and Nico Stehr (eds), (1982[1990]) Knowledge and Politics. The Sociology of Knowledge Dispute, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Eva Karadi and Erzsebet Vezer, (1985) Georg Lukacs, Karl Mannheim und der Sonntagskreis, Frankfurt/M: Sendler.
  • Reinhard Laube (2004) Karl Mannheim und die Krise des Historismus, Goettingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

External links

  • Karl-Mannheim Chair for Cultural Studies, Zeppelin University, Friedrichshafen, Germany
  • Studies of Karl Mannheim.
  • Likenesses of Mannheim in the National Portrait Gallery.
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