Essays on the Sociology of Culture

Essays on the Sociology of Culture

Essays on the Sociology of Culture

Essays on the Sociology of Culture

Synopsis

Although Mannheim's contributions to the sociology of knowledge are well known and widely discussed, his analysis of the problems of cultural sociology has been neglected by sociologists. This is a pity because the sociology of culture has become one of the most popular and exciting areas of sociological debate in recent years and Mannheim's work has much to contribute. In this book Mannheim provides an overview of the nature and content of the cultural sciences within the context of his historical approach to questions of knowledge. The essays are organized around two important questions; what is the relationship between the organization of intellectuals and the ideas which they produce, and given the development of a democratic ethos in society what form would the democratization of culture assume? These two questions continue to be central to the humnanities and social sciences, and therefore Mannheim's contribution remains a fascinating input to contemporary debate. In considering the role of the intelligentsia in the production of culture, Mannheim provides us with a sketch of their historical development from medieval times.

Excerpt

The three essays contained in this volume were written largely during the last years of Mannheim’s stay in Germany. They are, in a sense, a sequel to Ideology and Utopia, his principal study in the field of the sociology of knowledge, for the three essays, too, are concerned with the social derivation of meaning. The present volume, however, constitutes not only an extension and elaboration of the principal thesis of Ideology and Utopia, but also a new departure.

I am inclined to regard Ideology and Utopia as an attempt to translate a disillusionment with the excessive claims of German idealism into a sociological theory of thought. Mannheim’s critique aimed at two aspects of German idealism: the over-estimation of the role of ideas in human affairs and the consequent tendency to assume that concepts which emerge in various periods of history inherently evolve from one another in something like a logical continuum. Mannheim’s sociology of knowledge sought to outline a method for the study of ideas as functions of social involvements. Once the image of an autonomous evolution of ideas was abandoned it was feasible to explore the relationship between thought and its social milieu.

It is easy to exaggerate the scope of this endeavour, and equally easy to oversimplify its aim. Some critics have felt, for example, that the sociology of knowledge lays claim to a canon of truth and assumes the authority of an umpire between partisans, an authority which sociologists engaged in other areas do not possess. Others have feared that the effort is designed to question the cognitive functions of socially conditioned thinking: for if the sociologist seeks to construe ideas as responses to particular situations he assumes the role of a

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