Karl Mannheim

Karl Mannheim
Karl Mannheim
BornKároly Manheim
March 27, 1893
Budapest, Austria-Hungary
DiedJanuary 9, 1947 (53 years old)
London, England
EducationUniversity of Budapest London School of Economics
Known forOne of the founding fathers of the sociology of knowledge

Karl Mannheim (March 27, 1893 – January 9, 1947), or Károly Manheim in the original spelling, 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. He is most known for his book Ideology and Utopia published in 1929 where he argues that ideologies are the true nature of any given society and in trying to achieve utopia, these ideologies affect theories of philosophy and even history.

Early life[]

Mannheim was born in Budapest, to a Hungarian father who was a textile manufacturer and a German mother.[1] He studied at the University of Budapest as well as in Berlin, Paris and Heidelberg. At the University of Budapest, he earned a doctorate in philosophy.[2] In 1914, he attended lectures by Georg Simmel.


During the brief period of the 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 share.[4] After the ouster of Béla Kun and the rise of Horthy as Regent of Hungary, Mannheim chose exile in Germany. In Germany Mannheim moved from Freiburg to Heidelberg, and in 1921, he married psychologist "Juliska" Károlyné Lang, better known as Julia Lang.[4]

After an unsuccessful attempt to gain a philosopher as sponsor in Heidelberg, he began work in 1924 under the German sociologist Alfred Weber, brother of the well-known sociologist Max Weber.[5] In 1926 Mannheim had his habilitation accepted by the faculty of social sciences, thus satisfying the requirements to teach classes in sociology at Heidelberg. Mannheim was chosen over other competitors for the post, one of whom was Walter Benjamin. From 1929-1933 he served as a professor of sociology and political economy at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt am Main.[1][6]

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, who later became a prominent figure in the DDR, was his administrative assistant in Frankfurt, leaving early in 1933 to study at the London School of Economics (LSE) and prepare for Mannheim's emigration there.[7]

In 1933, after being ousted from his professorship under the terms of the anti-Semitic law to purge the civil service, he fled the Nazi regime and settled in Britain where he became a lecturer in Sociology at the London School of Economics, under a program to assist academic exiles. In 1941, Sir Fred Clarke, Director of the Institute of Education at the University of London, invited him to teach sociology on a part-time basis in conjunction with his declining role at LSE under wartime conditions. In January 1946 he was appointed as the first sociology professor at the Institute of Education, a position he held until his death in London a year later at the age of 53. During his time in England, Mannheim played a prominent role in 'The Moot', a Christian discussion group of which T.S. Eliot was also a member, concerned with the role of religion and culture in society, which was convened by J. H. Oldham.[8] He gained a position of influence through his orship of the extensive Routledge series on social sciences.

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 interlocutors were György Lukács, Oszkár Jászi, Georg Simmel, 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 founding member[9] of the Sonntagskreis (Sunday Circle) alongside Béla Balázs, Lajos Fülep, and György Lukács, where a wide range of literary and philosophical topics where discussed.[10] 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, on the other hand, 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 the sociologist 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] Yet they did not exclude Marxist themes and Mannheim's work was influenced by Lukacs' Marxist interests, as he crs Marx as the forerunner to the sociology of knowledge.[2]

Theory of Sociology of Knowledge & Sociology of Culture

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.[11] 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.[11]

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."[11] Mannheim affirmed the sociology of knowledge as an "extrinsic interpretation and sets apart from the immanent interpretation of thought products."[11] 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.[11]

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.[11] 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."[11]

In 1920 a series of his essays were published in Germany under the name Essays in Sociology of Knowledge. These essays focused on the search for the meaning behind social reality, the notion of "truth" and the role of the empirical intellectual in search for these truths.[12] Later in his life, after publishing Ideology and Utopia, Mannheim published Essays in Sociology of Culture in 1956 that basically served to merge his concern with social reality and democracy. According to Mannheim ideology was linked to a notion of reality, meanwhile culture focuses more so on the mind of the individual and how it perceives that reality, both, however, "Still concerned with the role of the intelligentsia." [12]

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".[4]

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.Thus, to Mannheim, "ideas were products of their times and of the social statuses of their proponents." [12]

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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

Mannheim and Macro-sociology

Mannheim's work was written mostly through a macrosociological lens. While writing Ideology and Utopia Mannheim's fundamental questions was "why does man behave different in the framework of different social group and class structure." [12] In answering this question, his intellectual contribution to sociology was focused more on social problems than sociological problems.[12] The consolidation of his work focused on topics such as "social stability, social groups and the psychic differentials corresponding to social status or class cleavages." [12] To Mannheim the public was essential and fundamental to a democratic society. Therefore, assuring that not one ideology dictate all of the public is vital for the preservation of democracy.

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 routes...as 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.


Shortly before his death on January 9, 1947 at the age of 53, Mannheim was invited to be the head of the European UNESCO, an offer he was unfortunately not able to accept.[12] 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[]

See also[]


  1. ^ a b 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 k 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. ^ "Karl Mannheim: Revision of an Intellectual Portrait on JSTOR". JSTOR 2573467. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  7. ^ Bernd-Rainer Barth, Helmut Müller-Enbergs: Biographische Datenbanken: Kuckhoff, Greta Bundesunmittelbare Stiftung des öffentlichen Rechts. Wer war wer in der DDR?, 5th ion, Volume 1 Ch. Links Verlag, Berlin (2010). ISBN 978-3-86153-561-4 (in German)
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ Lemert, Charles. "Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings." Weslyan University.
  10. ^ Mary Gluck (1985) Georg Lukács and His Generation, 1900-1918. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. pp. 14–16
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g "Karl Mannheim and the Sociology of Knowledge on JSTOR". JSTOR 40546528. Missing or empty |url= (help)

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