Karl Mannheim Critical Essays

Introduction

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Karl Mannheim 1893-1947

German sociologist.

Mannheim is credited as one of the founders of sociology as a systematic, coherent, and unified science. He firmly believed that as a scientific discipline sociology could help resolve the conflicts of modern society through a "sociology of knowledge." Mannheim differentiated between two different areas of knowledge: the knowledge that derives from scientific data and class-based knowledge, such as religious, philosophical, and traditional forms of knowledge. Both his predecessor Max Weber and his contemporary Georg Lukacs exerted strong influence on Mannheim's work. His contributions also advanced the sociology of education, political sociology, and modern social structure.

Biographical Information

Mannheim was born in Budapest, Hungary, on March 27, 1893, the only child of a German mother and Hungarian father. After the fall of the Hungarian Republic of Councils in 1919, Mannheim left Hungary for Germany. His academic career included studies at the universities of Budapest, Freiburg, Paris, and Berlin. In the early 1920s he moved to Heidelberg, where he earned his doctorate at the University of Heidelberg. By 1930 he was a lecturer at the University of Frankfurt. After Hitler came to power in 1933, Mannheim took a position at the London School of Economics, and in 1945 he was appointed to the chair of sociology of education at the University of London. He was a popular lecturer and public figure in his adopted country. Mannheim died on January 9, 1947.

Major Works

From 1910 to 1916 Mannheim corresponded with Hungarian philosopher and literary historian Georg Lukacs, an influence evident in Mannheim's key work, Ideologie und Utopie (Ideology and Utopia). In it he argued that although knowledge is integral to humankind's adaptation and survival in the world, it is the environment that determines the kind of knowledge people have. He labeled ideas that serve to protect the established élite "ideologies," and descibed as "utopias" those ideas that aim to better the lot of the less fortunate. Mannheim's decision to leave Germany for England prompted his collection of essays Mensch und Gesellschaft im Zeitalter des Umbaus (Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction), in which he argued against National Socialism as exploitative of a global crisis in the institutions that comprise liberal civilization. Diagnosis of Our Time, his subsequent collection of lectures and essays, expanded on the concepts of social planning introduced in his previous work while also arguing for a reevaluation of Christianity and the creation of a new system of values. In Freedom, Power, and Democratic Planning, Mannheim expanded on the ideas of his two previous books and added an analysis of power, which he viewed as the most pressing problem of the postwar period. Although he was a strong advocate of social planning, he believed in a "fundamental democratization" that would produce an informed public capable of demanding the dissolution of government when necessary.