Ernest Manheim: The Sociology of Knowledge Reconsidered

Introduction: The subject of this essay is the communicative function of ideas as a potential determinant of their meanings.

The first proponents of the sociology of knowledge as a field of explorations had a double aim. One – voiced in Marx’s writings (1967, S. 372-374) and implied in Max Scheler’s and Karl Mannheim’s work – was a critical reexamination of the claim of philosophical idealism that social structures are emanations of ideas whose inherent evolution constitutes the medium of continuity in history. This critical aspect of Wissenssoziologie aroused relatively little controversy, particularly in the United States. The actual debate, whose end is not yet in sight, has centered on the principal aim of Mannheim’s Ideology and Utopia, on the attempt to spell out the nature of the relationship between ideas and their existential roots. The literature on the subject may be grouped around three points of view. …