Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Ideology and Utopia in Mannheim: Towards the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Ideology and Utopia in Mannheim: Towards the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Article excerpt

There are new reasons for probing the records of Mannheim's search, especially since the theoretical approaches that had so confidently declared his work anachronistic and hopelessly eclectic have themselves fallen on hard times. The self-aware and self-critical rhetorical constituents of his thinking, his sensitivity to cultural contexts, his informed skepticism about Marxist historical ontologies, his experiments with dialectics that eschew more than provisional syntheses, his recognition of multiple modes of knowing, and other features of his unfinished thinking repay critical attention. And that requires a reconstruction of his project as a whole (Kettler and Meja 9).


Can we transcend our own ideological and/or utopian biases to scientifically understand and change our social realities? The question Karl Mannheim posed for social science in his Ideology and Utopia (1936) still remains a contested terrain amongst social scientists and cultural relativists alike (e.g., Bordo 1987; Foucault 1972; Harding 1991; Laslett 1990; Longino 1990; Kurzman 1992; Nelson 1993; Wallerstein 1991, 1999). A by-product of this intellectual impasse has been a revival of interest in Mannheim's original formulations of the problem and ways of resolving it (e.g., Kettler and Meja 1995; Kuklick 1983; McCarthy 1996; Pilcher 1994; Turner 1995).

Undoubtedly, there is much in Mannheim that is valuable. Kettler and Meja (above) are justified in inviting us to critically revisit and reconstruct Mannheim's unfinished project. The words critical and unfinished in their call must be underlined, however, for otherwise the dialectics of revisiting Mannheim may reproduce his shortcomings as well as his achievements. We may still continue to practice a sociology of knowledge which does not treat knowledge as a part of social existence as a whole. We may still continue to practice the "social origins of knowledge" discourse in our sociologies. We may still continue to treat the self not as what it is: a social relation. We may still remain reluctant to extend the reality of "social existence," and knowledges of it, to the intrapersonal and world-historical domains.

This article revisits the conceptual framework employed by Karl Mannheim in his Ideology and Utopia (1936), seeking (1) a new appraisal of the self-defeating arguments which influenced later developments in the scholarly field of sociology of knowledge, and (2) new avenues to address the vital issues originally raised by him. After a brief overview of the history of sociology of knowledge and the place of Mannheim in its development, his book Ideology and Utopia will be used as an empirical site of conceptual exploration in order to shed new lights on the theoretical and methodological roots of Mannheim's arguments in his work, and to search for alternative avenues to address the vital question he raised.

The Sociology of Knowledge and Karl Mannheim

In broad outlines, the sociology of knowledge has been concerned with the study of the relationship between society and knowledge. However, throughout the history of the subdiscipline the particular views and approaches of individual scholars regarding various methodological, theoretical, and historical issues seem to have often overshadowed their broader definitions of the field. For this reason, the history of the sociology of knowledge has aptly been characterized as the history of its conflicting definitions (Berger & Luckmann 4).

The sociologists of knowledge may be historically classified into seven categories, depending upon the nature of their contribution to the field's development: (1) 1-Precursors, those in the distant past from whose texts indirect concerns with the subject matter of sociology of knowledge may be found; 2-Originators, those in the past in whose texts a conscious, explicit, and direct concern with the subject matter of the sociology of knowledge was evident; 3-Founder, the scholar who formally and systematically developed the "classical" definitional and conceptual frameworks of the sociology of knowledge as a subdiscipline; 4-Debaters, those who became immediately or soon engaged in arguing for or against the value of the new formalized subdiscipline; 5-Diffusers, those who, going beyond intellectual debates about the need for the new subdiscipline, actually began to carry out concrete research in the new field; 6- Talkers of the Prose, those who have been or are carrying out research within or relevant to the sociology of knowledge without necessarily acknowledging the connection of their work with the subject matter of this so-called "marginalized" discipline; and 7-Revivers, those who have, in recent years, considered it vital to revive the explicit concerns of the subdiscipline, though in the context of contemporary intellectual and scholarly interests. …

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