Sociolog~of Knowledge and its Consciousness
The Sociology of Knowledge and Its
By Theodor W. Adorno
Robert Merton, C. WrightMills et al. repeatedly complained that the sociology of knowledge failed to solve its centralproblem of specifying the nexus between social and cognitive structures. Nonetheless, this field has remained limited to techniques of content analysis and correlation studies whilefailing to explain these categories and correlations other than by recourse tofunctionalist truisms. Forthis reason, it is important to point to some of the fundamental reasons for this failure: not imperfect research techniques but the approach itself fails to examine its o wn categories as problematic (e.g. divisions into popular and classical music, into high and mass culture-these should be the problem rather than the premise on which to classify responses, as Adorno used to complain when he conductedpart of the Princeton Radio Research Project with Lazarsfeld). Ofnecessity, therefore, Mannheim (commonly taken to be the founder of the sociology of knowledge) had to arrive at a leveling pluralism where all ideologicalpositions, all fonns of consciousness were alike in that they were the natural correlative of social positions. If he had considered what concretely mediated betweell social being and consciousness, he might have found a different nexus in every case, depending on what social necessities or possibilities were at work. But such a perspective would have required a theory of the emergence of the social constelladons which Mannheim, in Adorno's ejles, accepts as givens, just as he does cul-
made sense, Adorno and Horkheimerargued, that despite his
considerable acumen, Mannheim 's accepting and conservative
stance leads him to assume absrractprinciples to be the active agents of history, rather than people. Finally, if every ideologicalposition was contingent on a socialposition, why should the sociology of knowledge be exempt from this postulate?
The sociology of knowledge expounded by Karl Mannheim has begun to take hold in Germany again. For this it can thank its gesture of innocuous skepticism. Like its existentialist counterparts, it calls everything into question and criticizes nothing. Intellectuals who feel repelled by "dogma," real or presumed, find relief in a climate which seems free of bias and assumptions and which offers them in addition something of the pathosof Max Weber's self-conscious and lonely yet undaunted rationality as compensation for their faltering consciousness of their own autonomy. In Mannheim as in his polar opposite, Jaspers, many impulses of Weber's school which were once deeply embedded in the polyhistoric edifice come to light. Most important of these is the tendency to suppress the theory of ideologies in its authentic form. These considerations may justify returning to one of Mannheirn's older books, Man and Society in an Age of Reconsrruction. The work addresses itself to a broader public than does the book on ideology. It cannot be held to each of its formulations. All the greater, however, is the insight it offers into the influence of the sociology of knowledge.
The mentality of the book is "positivistic"; social phenomena are taken "as such" and then classified according to general concepts. In the process, social antagonisms invariably tend to be glossed over. They survive merely as subtle modifications of a conceptual apparatus whose distilled "principles" install themselves autocratically and engage in shadow battles: "The ultimate root of all conflicts in the present age of reconstruction can be seized in a single formula. All down the line tensions arise from the uncontrolled interaction of the 'laisser-faire principle' and the new principle of regulation." As if everything did not depend on who regulates whom. Or, instead of specific groups of people or a specific structure of society, "the irrational" is made...
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