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Karl Mannheim

(1893—1947) sociologist

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A Hungarian sociologist who emigrated to Germany and finally to England shortly after Hitler came to power. His most enduring contribution was to the sociology of knowledge, which he defined as a theory of the social or existential conditioning of thought. Mannheim viewed all knowledge and ideas as bound to a particular location within the social structure and the historical process. Thus, thought inevitably reflects a particular perspective, and is situationally relative. Mannheim was influenced by both Marx and Weber, and in most of his writing, he conceives the different social locations of ideas mainly in terms of class factors or status groups. For example, he contrasts utopian thought rooted in the future hopes of the under-privileged, with ideological thought propounded by those benefiting from the status quo. However, Mannheim also gave special attention to generational differences in relation to ideas. A person's generation, like their social class, gives an individual a particular location in social and historical time and thereby predisposes them to a certain mode of thought.

Although Mannheim saw all thought as relative to social position, he rejected total relativism. All thought is an authentic expression of a group outlook, but this does not make it false or distorted knowledge. He sought for a method through which each partial truth could be synthesized into a larger, and more objective, picture.

Some of his central and most important ideas can be found in Ideology and Utopia (1929), Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge (1928), and Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction (1935). See also knowledge, sociology of.

Subjects: Social sciences

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