No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

Karl Mannheim

Karl Mannheim's (1893-1947) sociology of knowledge placed less emphasis on the intent to conceal ideological statements than on the inevitably different kinds of consciousness of the different kinds of subjects in the historical-social space. Mannheim's work gave hope for a new intellectual and social leader of a sociologically oriented social science who could break free from dogmatically rigid German sociology and Marxism. Mannheim devised a new class theory, moving away from the one-sided economic view of Marxism. The cycle of historical or ethnic existence is hereby reflected in the medium of the mind, and is constantly in flux, partly in infinitesimal steps, partly in great leaps, which we also call revolutions. With his book 'Ideologie und Utopie' Mannheim has been an inspiration for thinking about the social construction of reality, sociology of science and actor-network theory.

The Sociology of Knowledge

Mannheim appropriated Max Scheler's term 'the sociology of knowledge': social conflicts are caused by the diversity of thoughts and beliefs - rooted in larger systems of thought (ideologies) - between important segments of society that arise from differences in social location. Ideology arises from (political) conflict, when ruling groups become so closely tied to interests in their thinking that they cannot see certain facts that would undermine their sense of dominance. Utopian thinking describes that certain oppressed groups are intellectually so interested in the destruction and transformation of a particular state of society that they unconsciously see only those elements in the situation that negate it.

Four variables

Four variables are relevant for the sociology of knowledge: (1) the positionality of individuals, such as a community, a nation, or a class which we try to interpret when we respond to it; (2) the person who is particularly involved with the situation - by overlapping groups ties like his/her own goals and aspirations, family ties, economic rivalries and alliances - and forms his view of it accordingly; (3) the imagery adopted by individuals or groups; (4) the audience to whom the image is conveyed, including its peculiar concepts, symbols to which it attaches meaning, and a vocabulary to which it responds. For Mannheim, an intellectual is a person who can break free from their conditioning social background and float freely between the different social and historical perspectives of their society.

Knowledge as a moving staircase

The knowledge of the world, according to Mannheim, is like a "moving staircase", so we must transcend static epistemologies: knowledge is relative to a particular place and time; knowledge is often reduced to something universal (eg nature, human behavior, the economic basis). Mannheim's alternative was relationism, which means that all elements of meaning in a given situation refer to each other and derive their meaning from this mutual coherence in a certain frame of mind. Such a system of meanings is possible and valid only in a certain type of historical existence, to which it gives appropriate expression for a time. According to Mannheim, we need a detached engagement to binary codes (see Luhmann) of true/false, fact/value, subjective/objective, safe/unsafe etc. Mannheim thus indicated that intellectuals belong to a relatively classless, not too firmly anchored stratum in the social sphere, unbound to the perspective, location-bound character of political thought. The intellectual therefore does not lend himself/herself well to political and ideological formations.


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