Critical Theory and the Sociology of Knowledge: A Comparative Study in the Theory of Ideology

Critical Theory and the Sociology of Knowledge: A Comparative Study in the Theory of Ideology

Critical Theory and the Sociology of Knowledge: A Comparative Study in the Theory of Ideology

Critical Theory and the Sociology of Knowledge: A Comparative Study in the Theory of Ideology

Synopsis

"The contrast between the critical theory of the Frankfurt School and Karl Mannheim's sociology of knowledge has often been noted, but never fully explicated. Most accounts of the Frankfurt School's critique of Mannheim have taken the form of partisan affirmations or denials of its success. This study provides the first detailed comparison of these two conflicting approaches to the theory of ideology. Following reconstructions of the origins of the two perspectives and a review of the Frankfurt School's critique of Mannheim, a systematic comparison is developed around the four central issues of totality, consciousness and social existence, ideology, and truth. An analysis of the significance of the contrast for current debates in social theory is offered in conclusion." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

The appearance of Karl Mannheim's Ideology and Utopia in 1929 presented an important challenge to the Marxian theory of ideology. In Mannheim's account of the origins of the sociology of knowledge, Marxism was credited with the development of a "total" concept of ideology that called the entire world view of its opponents into question. By linking the ideological distortion of thought to social position, Marxism had raised doubts about the very possibility of its opponents ever attaining an adequate knowledge of social reality. But in one respect Mannheim charged that Marxism had not gone far enough. Specifically, it had failed to call its own position into question and therefore subject all forms of social thought, including itself, to ideological analysis. This final, radical step, transforming the theory of ideology into a general theory of the social determination of all knowledge of history and society, had been taken only with the development of the sociology of knowledge. Marxism itself was now to be unmasked as merely one particular standpoint, as one ideology among all the others. Thus the ironic result of Mannheim's view was that the genuine contribution of the Marxian theory of ideology could be preserved only by revoking its substantive claims to truth.

Among those who opposed Mannheim's transformation of the theory of ideology into a general sociology of knowledge were the three central theorists of the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research (commonly known as the "Frankfurt School"): Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, and Herbert Marcuse. In their view, Mannheim's extension of the concept of ideology to encompass all forms of social thought had deprived it of all critical content by severing it from any definite relation to a concrete historical conception of truth. As a result, they believed Mannheim's sociology of knowledge, despite all wishful assurances to the contrary, to be indistinguishable . . .

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