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Karl Mannheim

Birthplace: Budapest, Hungary
Death: January 09, 1947 (53)
London, United Kingdom
Immediate Family:

Son of Gustav Mannheim and Rosa Mannheim
Husband of Dr. phil. Júlia (Juliska) Károlyné Mannheim
Brother of Private

Occupation: "Soziologe, Pädagoge" - prominent sociiologist
Managed by: Randy Schoenberg
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Karl Mannheim

Mannheim, Karl [K%C3%A1roly] (1893–1947), sociologist, was born on 27 March 1893 at 19 Sas Street in Budapest, Hungary, the eldest child of Gusztáv Mannheim, a textile merchant, and Rosa Eylenburg. His father was Hungarian-Jewish and his mother German-Jewish. After attending a Gymnasium Mannheim enrolled as a student of philosophy at the University of Budapest from 1911 to 1915, though for much of the time he studied at German universities. In 1918 he took a doctorate of the University of Budapest summa cum laude. He mixed freely in various intellectual circles, but became most closely associated with a group around George Lukács, the Marxist literary critic, who was briefly a commissioner for education in a short-lived Communist–Social Democratic government. Although Mannheim declined to join the Communist Party, Lukács appointed him a lecturer at the college of education of the University of Budapest. After a counter-revolutionary government took over in Budapest Mannheim decided to leave for Vienna in December 1919.

Mannheim soon moved to Germany and many of his most formative intellectual experiences took place in exile in the Weimar Republic. He went initially to Freiburg and Berlin but settled in Heidelberg, where he became a member of the circle that had grown up around Max and Alfred Weber. There, on 22 March 1921, he married Juliska (Julia) Láng (1893–1955), a psychologist, also from Hungary. In 1926 Mannheim received a formal academic appointment in sociology at Heidelberg. In 1930 he became professor of sociology at the Goethe University of Frankfurt am Main. However, in 1933 he was ‘retired’ from this position by the Nazis and went via Amsterdam to England, where he was given a lectureship in sociology at the London School of Economics. He also lectured on a part-time basis for the University of London Institute of Education between 1941 and 1945. During the war he travelled frequently from his home in Golders Green to Cambridge and Nottingham, to where his two institutions were evacuated. In January 1946 he moved full-time to the chair of education at the institute.

Mannheim was about 5 feet 8 inches tall. His dark hair was receding by the time he was in his twenties and he had a distinguished bald dome well before he came to England. Assessments of his character vary. Some observers regarded him as highly approachable, while others saw him as a somewhat distant figure. Some described him as modest, but others felt he was dominating and opinionated. He seems to have been very popular with students at the LSE but his relations with colleagues, especially Morris Ginsberg, the professor of sociology, became decidedly strained. There, as elsewhere, he often felt denied the status and intellectual recognition he believed he deserved.

Internationally, Mannheim was probably best known as a sociologist of knowledge concerned with the social conditioning of thought and the role of socially unattached intellectuals. This work is particularly relevant to the problem of relativism. Many of his key publications were originally written in Germany in the 1920s, notably Ideologie und Utopie (1929). This he revised and expanded in the 1930s, and it was translated into English by Louis Wirth and Edward Shils at the University of Chicago. In his writings of this period, Mannheim took the view that sociology could help make people more aware of the nature of social relationships but should not make judgements.

As the 1930s progressed, however, Mannheim's work became increasingly concerned with the threat to democracy posed on the one hand by totalitarianism and on the other by unbridled individualism and competition. These concerns were reflected in Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction, published in German in 1935 and in English in 1940, and in Diagnosis of our Time: Wartime Essays of a Sociologist (1943). Jean Floud, a student at the LSE in the 1930s who subsequently assisted Mannheim with his research, suggested that by the 1940s he had ‘turned from the fine points of the diagnosis [of the crisis] to the active political problem of controlling the descent into disaster’ (Floud, ‘Karl Mannheim’, 49). He proposed ‘Planning for freedom’—a third way between a laissez-faire society and total regimentation. Although Mannheim's obituary in The Times claimed that he himself always insisted that he was concerned with diagnosis only, it has been said by another of his former students that his denial of partisanship was ‘rather like Mr Roosevelt's claim to be neutral before Pearl Harbour’ (Stewart, 21).

Certainly Mannheim became passionately concerned to influence reconstruction after the Second World War. The International Library of Sociology and Social Reconstruction, which he founded, reflected his conviction that sociology could provide the basis for this. Indeed he increasingly saw his own destiny as helping to rebuild Europe on a sound democratic footing. This was one reason why he chose not to follow the well-trodden path of fellow Jewish sociologists to the USA. His Times obituary described him as becoming ‘more English than the English themselves’; in 1940 he had become a British citizen. His self-appointed role as both friend and critic of the British establishment was reflected in his deep involvement with the wartime Moot. This brought together predominantly Christian lay people and clergy at a series of residential weekends between 1938 and 1947 and came to focus on plans for the post-war social and political reconstruction. It included leading intellectuals such as J. H. Oldham, Adolph Lowe, J. Middleton Murry, Walter Moberly, A. D. Lindsay, and T. S. Eliot. Mannheim quickly became a key member of this group, as did Sir Fred Clarke, director of the Institute of Education, who helped to tease out the educational implications of Mannheim's general prescriptions about ‘Planning for freedom’. As a result some of Mannheim's ideas indirectly influenced the 1944 Education Act.

Although he had shown some interest in education as early as the 1920s, it became the main focus of Mannheim's work only towards the end of his life. He became particularly concerned about social education and the development of the techniques necessary for the creation of the democratic personality (see Kudomi). His ‘profound reflections on the problems of human society had led him to a conviction of the importance of education’ (minutes of academic board, Institute of Education, Sir Fred Clarke Archive), so his move to the Institute of Education was not merely an escape from a difficult situation at the LSE. However, Mannheim's actual influence on British education was cut short by his premature death at the age of fifty-three. He had had a heart condition from birth and was generally in poor health throughout his life. In early 1947, during one of London's coldest winters, he contracted pneumonia, ignored medical advice to take total bed rest, and died from a heart attack at his home, 5 The Park, Golders Green, Middlesex, on 9 January 1947. His funeral was held at Golders Green crematorium, where there is a memorial to him and his wife, who had become a practising psychotherapist and outlived him until 1955. The couple had no children.

Much of Mannheim's work, including that on the sociology of education, was published after his death. From the 1960s, however, his contribution to both sociology and education was relatively neglected. Although Kettler and Meja suggested that his project should be ‘irresistible to reflective people at the end of the twentieth century’ (Kettler and Meja, 1), and there are certainly some fascinating resonances with contemporary sociological concerns in his work, he would probably have had little sympathy with postmodern theorists. His intellectual roots predisposed him towards a ‘grand narrative’ approach to theory and his solutions to the problems of ‘new times’ were profoundly modernist ones. However, it is not always easy to understand just what Mannheim was saying. Even though one of his posthumous volumes was entitled Systematic Sociology (1957), he was hardly a systematic thinker. Loader charitably termed his work a ‘dynamic totality’, but even the books compiled during his lifetime under his own supervision are full of inconsistencies and repetitions.

Floud implied that Mannheim would have done better to continue ‘to try to understand and diagnose, rather than to plan and legislate’ (Floud, ‘Karl Mannheim’, 62). She also claimed that, within a decade of his death, it was universally recognized that ‘Mannheim's “planning for democracy” … was not “democratic planning”; and people were beginning to think in any case that “democratic planning” was a contradiction in terms’ (Floud, Functions, Purposes and Powers in Education, 8). Yet it is quite possible that, after the experience of deregulation and political hostility to planning in Britain and elsewhere in the 1980s, Mannheim's commentary on the damaging effects of atomization and a laissez-faire society will become relevant again. There would certainly be some poetic justice in Mannheim's ideas becoming fashionable in the aftermath of the Thatcherite era, as his views were one of the main targets of his LSE colleague Frederik Hayek's Road to Serfdom (1944), which hurt him badly at the time of its publication and later became one of the key texts of the new right revolution of the 1980s.

Geoff Whitty Sources H. E. S. Woldring, Karl Mannheim: the development of his thought (1986) · [K. Mannheim], Mannheim Karoly levelezése, 1911–1946, ed. E. Gábor (Budapest, 1996) · G. W. Remmling, The sociology of Karl Mannheim (1975) [incl. bibliographical guide] · C. Loader, The intellectual development of Karl Mannheim (1985) · D. Kettler and V. Meja, Karl Mannheim and the crisis of liberalism (1995) · Y. Kudomi, ‘Karl Mannheim in Britain: an interim research report’, Hitotsubashi Journal of Social Studies, 28/2 (1996), 43–56 · J. Floud, ‘Karl Mannheim’, The function of teaching, ed. A. V. Judges (1959), 40–66 · J. Floud, Functions, purposes and powers in education (1977) · W. A. C. Stewart, Karl Mannheim on education and social thought (1967) · W. Taylor, ‘Education and the Moot’, In history and in education: essays presented to Peter Gordon, ed. R. Aldrich (1996), 159–86 · U. Lond., Fred Clarke MSS · E. Shils, ‘Karl Mannheim’, The American Scholar (1995), 221–35 · The Times (11 Jan 1947) Archives Keele University Library, corresp., papers and lecture notes | BLPES, letters to E. Rosenbaum · Bodl. Oxf., Society for Protection of Science and Learning file · Lukács Archivum, Budapest, Hungary, Magyar Tudományos Akadémia Könyutára · U. Lond., Institute of Education, discussion papers · U. Reading, Routledge and Kegan Paul Archives · U. Reading L., letters to the Isotope Institute · University of Chicago, Louis Wirth MSS Likenesses Elliott & Fry, photograph, 1943, NPG [see illus.] · portraits, repro. in Woldring, Karl Mannheim Wealth at death £4283 15s. 7d.: probate, 31 Oct 1947, CGPLA Eng. & Wales © Oxford University Press 2004–14 All rights reserved: see legal notice Oxford University Press

Geoff Whitty, ‘Mannheim, Karl (1893–1947)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2007 [, accessed 27 March 2014]

Karl Mannheim (1893–1947): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/53147

[Previous version of this biography available here: September 2004]

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Information courtesy of various sources including the following:

Biografie Karl Mannheim

Biografie Karl Mannheim i.e. Károly Mannheim

  • Budapest 27. März 1893 †London 9. Jänner 1947 britisch-deutscher Soziologe und Pädagoge österreichisch-ungarischer Herkunft

Vater: Gusztáv Mannheim, Textilhändler Mutter: Rosa Mannheim, geborene Eylenburg, Hausfrau Geschwister: keine Ehe: 1921 "Julia" beziehungsweise "Juliska" Károlyné Júlia Láng (1893-1955), Dr. phil., Psychologin Kinder: keine Religion: jüdisch

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Karl Mannheim - Wikipedia

Karl Mannheim (March 27, 1893 – January 9, 1947), or Károly Manheim in the original spelling, was a Hungarian-born sociologist, influential in the first half of the 20th century and one of the founding fathers of classical sociology as well as a founder of the sociology of knowledge. He is most known for his book Ideology and Utopia published in 1929 where he argues that ideologies are the true nature of any given society and in trying to achieve utopia, these ideologies affect theories of philosophy and even history.

Early life

Mannheim was born in Budapest, to a Hungarian father who was a textile manufacturer and a German mother.[1] He studied at the University of Budapest as well as in Berlin, Paris and Heidelberg. At the University of Budapest, he earned a doctorate in philosophy.[2] In 1914, he attended lectures by Georg Simmel.


During the brief period of the Hungarian Soviet, in 1919, he taught in a teacher training school thanks to the patronage of his friend and mentor György Lukács,[3] whose political conversion to communism he did not share.[4] After the ouster of Béla Kun and the rise of Horthy as Regent of Hungary, Mannheim chose exile in Germany. In Germany Mannheim moved from Freiburg to Heidelberg, and in 1921, he married psychologist "Juliska" Károlyné Lang, better known as Julia Lang.[4]

After an unsuccessful attempt to gain a philosopher as sponsor in Heidelberg, he began work in 1924 under the German sociologist Alfred Weber, brother of the well-known sociologist Max Weber.[5] In 1926 Mannheim had his habilitation accepted by the faculty of social sciences, thus satisfying the requirements to teach classes in sociology at Heidelberg. Mannheim was chosen over other competitors for the post, one of whom was Walter Benjamin. From 1929-1933 he served as a professor of sociology and political economy at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt am Main.[1][6]

Norbert Elias and Hans Gerth worked as his assistants during this period (from spring 1930 until spring 1933) with Elias as the senior partner. Greta Kuckhoff, who later became a prominent figure in the DDR, was his administrative assistant in Frankfurt, leaving early in 1933 to study at the London School of Economics (LSE) and prepare for Mannheim's emigration there.[7]

In 1933, after being ousted from his professorship under the terms of the anti-Semitic law to purge the civil service, he fled the Nazi regime and settled in Britain where he became a lecturer in Sociology at the London School of Economics, under a program to assist academic exiles. In 1941, Sir Fred Clarke, Director of the Institute of Education at the University of London, invited him to teach sociology on a part-time basis in conjunction with his declining role at LSE under wartime conditions. In January 1946 he was appointed as the first sociology professor at the Institute of Education, a position he held until his death in London a year later at the age of 53. During his time in England, Mannheim played a prominent role in 'The Moot', a Christian discussion group of which T.S. Eliot was also a member, concerned with the role of religion and culture in society, which was convened by J. H. Oldham.[8] He gained a position of influence through his editorship of the extensive Routledge series on social sciences.

Mannheim’s life, one of intellectual and geographical migration, falls into three main phases: Hungarian (to 1919), German (1919–1933), British (1933–1947). Among his valued interlocutors were György Lukács, Oszkár Jászi, Georg Simmel, Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl, Karl Marx, Alfred and Max Weber, Max Scheler, and Wilhelm Dilthey. In his work, he sought variously to synthesize elements derived from German historicism, Marxism, phenomenology, sociology, and Anglo-American pragmatism.

Intellectual work

The Hungarian Phase

Mannheim was a precocious scholar and an accepted member of two influential intellectual circles in Budapest. In the autumn of 1915, he was the youngest founding member[9] of the Sonntagskreis (Sunday Circle) alongside Béla Balázs, Lajos Fülep, and György Lukács, where a wide range of literary and philosophical topics where discussed.[10] Some discussion focused on the enthusiasms of German diagnosticians of cultural crisis, notably the novels of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and the writings of the German mystics. The Social Science Association, on the other hand, was founded by Oszkár Jászi in 1919 and was interested above all in French and English sociological writings. Mannheim's Hungarian writings, notably his doctoral dissertation "Structural Analysis of Epistemology,"[4] anticipate his lifelong search for "synthesis" between these currents.

According to the sociologist Longhurst, the Sonntagskreis "rejected any 'positivist' or 'mechanist' understanding of society and was dissatisfied with the existing political arrangements in Hungary. The way forward was seen to be through the spiritual renewal entailed in a revolution in culture".[4] The group members were discontent with the political and intellectual composition of Hungary, however, "they rejected a materialist Marxist critique of this society. Hungary was to be changed by a spiritual renewal led by those who had reached a significant level of cultural awareness".[4] Yet they did not exclude Marxist themes and Mannheim's work was influenced by Lukacs' Marxist interests, as he credits Marx as the forerunner to the sociology of knowledge.[2]

Theory of Sociology of Knowledge & Sociology of Culture

Mannheim's theory on the sociology of knowledge is based on some of the epistemological discoveries of Immanuel Kant and the sociology of knowledge is known as a section of the greater field known as the sociology of culture. The sociology of culture is defined as the relationship between culture and society.[11] The sociology of culture had two main branches: a moderate branch, represented by Max Scheler, who believed that social conditions do not affect the content of knowledge, and a radical branch, of which Mannheim and Karl Marx were a part. The radical branch highlighted that society is determined by all aspects of culture. When it came to the sociology of knowledge, Mannheim believed that it established a dependence of knowledge on social reality.[11]

Mannheim's central question of the sociology of knowledge, which tried to understand the relationship between society and knowledge, demonstrated his endeavors to solve the issue of "historical nature and unity of mind and life."[11] Mannheim affirmed the sociology of knowledge as an "extrinsic interpretation and sets apart from the immanent interpretation of thought products."[11] The immanent interpretation is based on one's understanding of intellectual content, which is limited to theoretical content of knowledge and the extrinsic interpretation is based on the capability to understand manifestations.[11]

Knowing the difference between these two types of interpretations helped Mannheim create a place for the sociology of knowledge in the scientific system, thus leaving the sociology of knowledge to stand opposite of the traditional human sciences and to interpret knowledge through an exploration of social reality.[11] Mannheim claimed that the sociology of knowledge has to be understood as the visionary expression of "historical experience which has social reality at its vital center."[11]

In 1920 a series of his essays were published in Germany under the name Essays in Sociology of Knowledge. These essays focused on the search for the meaning behind social reality, the notion of "truth" and the role of the empirical intellectual in search for these truths.[12] Later in his life, after publishing Ideology and Utopia, Mannheim published Essays in Sociology of Culture in 1956 that basically served to merge his concern with social reality and democracy. According to Mannheim ideology was linked to a notion of reality, meanwhile culture focuses more so on the mind of the individual and how it perceives that reality, both, however, "Still concerned with the role of the intelligentsia." [12]

The German Phase

This was Mannheim's most productive period. In the early part of his stay in Germany, Mannheim published his doctoral dissertation "Structural Epistemology of Knowledge", which discusses his theory of the structure of epistemology, "relations between the knower, the known and the to be known…for Mannheim based on psychology, logic and ontology”.[4] Sociologist Brian Longhurst explains, his work on epistemology represents the height of his early "idealist" phase, and transition to hermeneutic "issues of interpretation within culture".[4]

In this essay, Mannheim introduces "the hermeneutic problem of the relationship between the whole and the parts". He argues the differences between art, the natural sciences, and philosophy "with respect to truth claims", stating science always tries to disprove one theory, where art never does this and can coexist in more than one worldview; philosophy falls in between the two extremes. Mannheim posits the "danger of relativism", in which historical process yields cultural product; "if thought to be relative to a historical period, it may be unavailable to a historical period"[4]

In this period he turned from philosophy to sociology, inquiring into the roots of culture. His essays on the sociology of knowledge have become classics. In Ideology and Utopia he argued that the application of the term ideology ought to be broadened. He traced the history of the term from what he called a "particular" view. This view saw ideology as the perhaps deliberate obscuring of facts. This view gave way to a "total" conception (most notably in Marx), which argued that a whole social group's thought was formed by its social position (e.g. the proletariat's beliefs were conditioned by their relationship to the means of production). However, he called for a further step, which he called a general total conception of ideology, in which it was recognized that everyone's beliefs—including the social scientist's—were a product of the context they were created in.Thus, to Mannheim, "ideas were products of their times and of the social statuses of their proponents." [12]

Mannheim points out social class, location and generation as the greatest determinants of knowledge.[4] He feared this could lead to relativism but proposed the idea of relationism as an antidote. To uphold the distinction, he maintained that the recognition of different perspectives according to differences in time and social location appears arbitrary only to an abstract and disembodied theory of knowledge.

The list of reviewers of the German Ideology and Utopia includes a remarkable roll call of individuals who became famous in exile, after the rise of Hitler: Hannah Arendt, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, Paul Tillich, Hans Speier, Günther Stern (aka Günther Anders), Waldemar Gurian, Siegfried Kracauer, Otto Neurath, Karl August Wittfogel, Béla Fogarasi, and Leo Strauss.[citation needed] In the early 1970s, Erich Fromm and Michael Maccoby would later illustrate scientifically the effects of social class and economic structure on personality in their landmark study Social Character in a Mexican Village.

Mannheim's ambitious attempt to promote a comprehensive sociological analysis of the structures of knowledge was treated with suspicion by Marxists and neo-Marxists of what was the grouping that was later recognized as an antecedent of the Frankfurt School. They saw the rising popularity of the sociology of knowledge as neutralization and a betrayal of Marxist inspiration. Relations between Mannheim and Horkheimer were however correct, and there is no evidence that students were enlisted in the arguments between them, which played out in faculty forums, like the Kant Gesellschaft and Paul Tillich's Christian Socialist discussion group.

Horkheimer's Institute at the time was best known for the empirical work it encouraged, and several of Mannheim's doctoral students used its resources. While this intramural contest looms large in retrospect, Mannheim's most active contemporary competitors were in fact other academic sociologists, notably the gifted proto-fascist Leipzig professor, Hans Freyer, and the proponent of formal sociology and leading figure in the profession, Leopold von Wiese.[citation needed]

Mannheim and Macro-sociology

Mannheim's work was written mostly through a macrosociological lens. While writing Ideology and Utopia Mannheim's fundamental questions was "why does man behave different in the framework of different social group and class structure." [12] In answering this question, his intellectual contribution to sociology was focused more on social problems than sociological problems.[12] The consolidation of his work focused on topics such as "social stability, social groups and the psychic differentials corresponding to social status or class cleavages." [12] To Mannheim the public was essential and fundamental to a democratic society. Therefore, assuring that not one ideology dictate all of the public is vital for the preservation of democracy.

The British Phase

In his British phase Mannheim attempted a comprehensive analysis of the structure of modern society by way of democratic social planning and education. Mannheim's first major work published during this period was Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction 1935, in which he argues for a shift from liberal order of laissez-faire capitalism, "founded on the unregulated trade cycle, unextended democracy, free competition and ideas of competitive individualism" to planned democracy.[4]

In Diagnosis of Our Time, Mannheim expands on this argument and expresses concern for the transition from liberal order to planned democracy, according to Longhurst, arguing "...the embryonic planned democratic society can develop along democratic or dictatorial expressed in the totalitarian societies of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union".[4] His work was admired more by educators, social workers, and religious thinkers than it was by the small community of British sociologists. His books on planning nevertheless played an important part in the political debates of the immediate post-war years, both in the United States and in several European countries.


Shortly before his death on January 9, 1947 at the age of 53, Mannheim was invited to be the head of the European UNESCO, an offer he was unfortunately not able to accept.[12] Mannheim died in London and was cremated at Golder's Green Crematorium. His ashes were placed in the columbarium there in an urn and later mixed with those of his wife Julia. He was originally placed opposite Sigmund Freud as a planned pairing, but Freud was later relocated.


Mannheim's book Ideologie und Utopie (1929) was the most widely debated book by a living sociologist in Germany during the Weimar Republic. The English version Ideology and Utopia (1936) has been a standard in American-style international academic sociology, carried by the interest it aroused in the United States. The quite different German and English versions of the book figure in reappraisals of Mannheim initiated by new textual discoveries and republications. Mannheim’s sociological theorizing has been the subject of numerous book-length studies, evidence of an international interest in his principal themes. Mannheim was not the author of any work he himself considered a finished book, but rather of some fifty major essays and treatises, most later published in book form.

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Karl Mannheim's Timeline

March 27, 1893
Budapest, Hungary
January 9, 1947
Age 53
London, United Kingdom