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The Macmillan Co & The Free Press, NY, 1968 Vol. 7, pp. 428-434
The sociology of knowledge may be broadly defined as that branch of sociology which studies the relation between thought and society. It is concerned with the social or existential conditions of knowledge. Scholars in this field, far from being restricted to the sociological analysis of the cognitive sphere as the term would seem to imply, have concerned themselves with practically the entire range of intellectual products - philosophies and ideologies, political doctrines, and theological thought. In all these areas the sociology of knowledge attempts to relate the ideas it studies to the sociohistorical settings in which they are produced and received. Assertions as to how social structures are functionally related to categories of thought and to specific sets of ideas have a long history. At the be ginning of the seventeenth century, Francis Bacon outlined the general territory when he wrote about impressions of nature, which are imposed upon the mind by the sex, by the age, by the region, by health and sickness, by beauty and deformity, and the like, which are inherent and not extern; and again, those which are caused by extern fortune; as sovereignty nobility, obscure birth, riches, want, magistracy, privateness, prosperity, adversity, constant fortune, variable fortune, rising per saltum. per gradus, and the like. ( 1958, p. 170) This is indeed the field that later systematic sociology of knowledge claimed as its province. A variety of European thinkers of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early
The eternal verities of dominant thought appeared upon analysis to be but the direct or indirect expression of the class interests of their exponents. 6). "It has not occurred to any of these philosophers.nor their tributaries .nineteenth centuries may be considered among the precursors of the sociology of knowledge. they are the starting point of most theorizing in the field. Marx proceeded to analyze the ways in which systems of ideas appeared to depend on the social positions particularly the class positions . to establish a connection between philosophies and the concrete social structures in which they emerged.are by any means identical in their fundamental assumptions. Karl Marx undertook. This programmatic orientation once established. Several of the philosophes of the Enlightenment (Condorcet in particular) inquired about the social preconditions of different types of knowledge. In his struggle against the dominant ideas of his time Marx was led to a resolute relativization of these ideas.of their proponents. "to inquire into the connection of German philosophy with German reality. p. Hegel. the relation of their criticism to their own material surroundings" (Marx & Engels [1845-1846] 1939." wrote Marx in The German Ideology. Marx attempted to explain ideas sytematically 2 . and Auguste Comte's famous "law of three stages"' asserting the intimate relationship between types of social structures and types of knowledge. as well as from the "critical philosophy" of his former "young Hegelian" friends. in some of his earlier writings. Marx and the German tradition In his attempt to dissociate himself from the panlogical system of his former master. It nevertheless remains true that systematic development of the sociology of knowledge as an autonomous enterprise rather than as a by-product of other types of inquiry received its main impetus from two trends in nineteenth-century European sociological thought: the Marxian tradition in Germany and the Durkheimian tradition in France. might well be considered a contribution to the sociology of knowledge. Although neither these two mainstreams .
edition) In their writings of a later period. political and spiritual processes of life. They were thus led to grant a certain degree of intrinsic autonomy to the development of legal. political. but on the contrary their social existence determines their consciousness" ( 1913. Moreover. and that the dissolution of the old ideas keeps even pace with the dissolution of the old conditions of existence. religious. it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence. p.in terms of their functions and to relate the the thought of individuals to their social roles and class positions: "The mode of production in material life determines the general character of the social. While Marx was mainly concerned with uncovering the relationships between bourgeois ideas and bourgeois interests and life styles. they now granted that the intellectual superstructure of a society was not simply a reflection of the infrastructure but rather could in turn react upon it. which had most often been made in a polemical context. they do but express the fact that within the old society the elements of a new one have been created. Marx and Engels were to qualify their somewhat sweeping initial statements. What else does the history of ideas prove. literary. 91 in 1964 paperback . and artistic ideas. When people speak of ideas that revolutionize society. They now stressed that mathematics and the natural sciences were exempt from the direct influence of the social and economic infrastructure. Interpreted rigidly. it also lost some of its distinctive qualities. While the original Marxian thesis reinterpreted in this fashion became a considerably more flexible instrument. he nevertheless explicitly stated that the same relation also held true with regard to the emergence of new dissident and revolutionary ideas. PP 11-12). it tended to lend itself to use as a rather crude tool 3 (Marx & Engels 1848. than that Intellectual production changes its character in proportion as material production is changed? The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling klass. According to the Communist Manifesto.
since it is more directly tied to the main themes of Marxian thought. 479). thus he attempted to transform into a general tool of analysis what for Marx had been primarily a means of attack against adversaries. Marxian modes of analysis in this field. The twin heritage of Marx and of Nietzsche (particularly the latter's "debunking" attack on Christianity as a slave philosophy of ressentimen-laden lower-status groups) loomed very large in the mental climate of pre-World War I Germany. Marx's own ideas were held by Marxists to be true and unbiased by virtue of their being an expression of classes that had no privileged interests to 4 . as in so many others. But it remained for two German scholars. While in the Marxian formulations attention was called to the function of ideology in the defense of class privileges and to the distortions and falsifications of ideas that flowed from the privileged class position of bourgeois thinkers. Even though it followed upon the work of Max Scheler.influence on subsequent German social thought. Mannheim wished to create a tool that could be used as effectively for the analysis of Marxism as for any other system of thought. as Merton has pointed out ( 1957. when the Marxian thesis is stated in so flexible a manner. to develop a corpus of theory that represents the first systematic elaboration of the sociology of knowledge as a new scientific discipline. Also. Despite these difficulties. it becomes impossible to invalidate it at all.for debunking all adverse thought. exerted a powerful . interpreted flexibly. it became difficult to distinguish from non-Marxian attempts at the functional analysis of thought. since any set of data may be so interpreted as to fit it. Major portions of the work of Max Weber can be seen as attempts on the part of this greatest of all German sociologists to come to terms with the Marxian inheritance and particularly with the Marxian assertion of the essentially epiphenomenal character of knowledge and ideas. Karl Mannheim's contribution will be dealt with first. Max Scheler and Karl Mannheim. Mannheim and universal relativism. Mannheim undertook to generalize the Marxian interpretation so as to divest it of polemical elements.if often subterranean . p.
being affiliated with the emerging working class. On the contrary they act with and against one another in diversely organized groups. and while doing so they think with and against one another" (Mannheim [1929-1931] 1954. were exempt from such distorting influences and hence had access to "true consciousness" .the term that Mannheim preferred . It has been said that the notion of relativism or relation-ism . To him all knowledge and all ideas. the social and historical situation from which they emerged.defend. but no group can have total access to it. even "truths..that he occupies a certain status and enacts certain social roles . to nondistorted historical truth. the defenders of the status quo were inevitably given to false consciousness. and hence influenced by.. Men "do not confront the objects of the world from the abstract levels of a contemplating mind as such. nor do they do so exclusively as solitary beings. At particular times a particular group can have fuller access to the understanding of a social phenomenon than other groups. especially on the grounds that it led to universal relativism. ) The task of the new discipline was to ascertain the empirical correlation between intellectual standpoints and structural and historical positions. From its inception Mannheim's thesis encountered a great deal of criticism. Mannheim expressed the hope that "detached intellectuals" might in our age achieve a "unified"perspective" free of existential determination. in contradistinction.that is. If it is assumed that all thought is existentially determined and 5 . for it must presuppose its own absoluteness. According to Marx. The sociology of knowledge . 87). (At times. Mannheim's orientation.colors his intellectual outlook. although to different degrees. must assume its own validity if it is to have any meaning ” (Dahlke 1940. p. allowed for the probability that all ideas. are "bound to a location" within the social structure and the historical process. The very fact that each thinker is affiliated with particular groups in society . 3). while their critics."is selfcontradictory. Mannheim was thus led to define the sociology of knowledge as a theory of the social or existential conditioning of thought. though. p." were related to.
political factors. blood and kinship ties constitute the independent variable. According to Scheler there is no constant independent variable that determines the emergence of ideas. and. In nonliteraic groups. and the sociology of knowledge is no substitute for this" ([1929-1931] 1954. "the ultimate criterion of truth or falsity is to be found in the investigation of the object. pp. p. and occupational groups. in the modern world economic factors are to be considered as the independent variables to which thought structures have to be related." Marx laid primary stress on economic and class factors in the determination of ideas. Mannheim's own thought cannot claim privileged exemption. it seems that he did not mean to imply that "existential determination" (Seinsverbundenheif) is a kind of total determination that leaves no room for an examination of ideas in other terms. Mannheim expanded this conception to include other groupings such as generations. 77-164) and "Competition as a Cultural Phenomenon" ([1923-1929] 1952. as elsewhere. which is totally distinct 6 . later. pp. finally. 4). 191-229) which have been recognized as important contributions even by those who have been critical of Mannheim's theoretical apparatus.hence all truth but relative. a realm of eternal essences. He explicitly stated that in the social sciences. No matter what the imprecisions and methodological shortcomings of Mannheim's theoretical statements are judged to be. in the course of history. especially in his earlier writings. Scheler's "real factors. but rather. he left a number of concrete studies on such topics as "Conservative Thought" ([1922-1940] 1953. Mannheim did indeed lay himself open to such attacks. status groups.that is. Max Scheler went still further in widening the range of factors that influence thought forms. there occurs a sequence of "real factors" that condition thought. Scheler rejected what he considered the "naturalism" and relativism of previous theorizing in the field and asserted that there exists an atemporal absolute order of values and ideas . however.
between the content of Plato's theory of ideal and the formal organization of the Platonic Academy. the sluice gates of the stream of thought. Scheler's theory of eternal essences is metaphysical and hence not susceptible to scientific validation. In his attempt to establish the social origin and functions of morals. and in explaining these as different forms of "collective representations." Durkheim was led to consider a similar social explanation of the basic forms of logical classification and of the fundamental categories of thought themselves.from historical and social reality. values. These real factors "open and close. Gesellschaft types of society. 7 .) French contributions Emile Durkheim's contributions to the sociology of knowledge form only a relatively small part his total work. different "real factors» predominate. (For a different view of Schelez see Ranulf 1938. Thus Scheler thought that he had succeeded in reconciling sociocultural relativity with the Platonic notion of an eternal realm of unchanging essences." so that different aspects of the eternal realm of essences can be grasped at particular points in time and in particular cultural systems (1926). in determinate ways and determinate order. and religion. Scheler's own studies provide important examples of the fruitfulness of this type of inquiry: for example. his studies on the interrelations between the hierarchical medieval world of communal estates and the medieval con-ception of the world as a hierarchy culminating to God. his proposal to widen the range of existential factors that may be seen as the source of particular systems of ideas is testable and potentially fruitful for research. and between the rise of mechanistic models of thought and the rise of bourgeois. Although some of his statements this area are mixed with epistemological speculations that most experts would consider rather dubious. At different moments in historical time and in different cultural systems. However. he nevertheless did some of the most vital pioneering work in the field.
for example. Claude Levi-Strauss has argued that society "cannot exist without symbolism. Similarly. Society is decisive in the genesis of logical thought by forming the concepts of which that thought is made. The social organization of the primitive community is the model for the primitive's spatial organization of IBS surrounding world. These. 10). the very manner in which we classify things as "belonging to the same family" still reveals the originally social origins of classificatory thought. Be further argued that." he suggested. especially the concepts of time and space. All animals and natural objects were classified as belonging to this or that clan. 477). and ceremonies: "A calendar expresses the rhythm of the collective activities. p. while at the same time its function is to assure their regularity" ( 1954. were classes of men. temporal divisions too days. temporal. In his last major book The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1912). months. instead of showing how the appearance of thought makes social life altogether possible and necessary. the first "classes. weeks. phratry.Durkheim attempted to account: for the origins of spatial. These Durkheimian notions have been challenged frequently. and years correspond to periodical recurrences of rites. although scientific classifications have now largely become divorced from their social origins. Durkheim tries the reverse. and the classification of objects in the world of nature was but an extension of the social classifcation already established. More fundamentally. are not only transmitted If society. they are social creations. Durkheim returned to these earlier ideas and attempted a sociological explanation of all fundamental categories of human thought. It has been pointed out. or residential or kinship group. p. leasts. 8 . he claimed. and other classifications among nonliterate peoples and concluded that these classifcations closely approximated the social organization of these peoples (Durkheim & Mauss 1903). that Durkheim slighted the importance of the rhythm of natural phenomena by his overemphasis on social rhythms (Sorokin 1928.
.Pierce. Durkheim failed to establish the social origins of all categories of thought. Thus the eminent Sinologist Marcel Granet (1934) used Durkheimian leads when he related the conceptions of time and space in ancient Chinese thought to such social factors as the ancient feudal organization and the rhythmic alterations of concentrated and dispersed group activities. to make symbolism grow out of society.i. Sociology cannot explain the genesis of symbolic thought. . p. [See DURKHEIM. GRANET. James. but has just to take it for granted in man" (1945. it prepared the ground for consideration of the more specifically sociological links between social conditions and the thought processes. 518).e. rather than some of the more debatable epistemological propositions found in his work. but it is important to recognize his pioneering contribution to the study of the correlations between specific systems of thought and systems of social organization. Jane Harrison (1912) and Francis Cornford (1912) renovated classical studies by tracing Greek religious notions and philosophical ideas to their origins in tribal initiation ceremonies and to the clan structure of the Greek tribes. Maurice Halbwachs (1925) attempted to establish how even such apparently private and intimate mental activities as dreams and memories need for their organization a stable reference in the group life in which individuals participate.. Insofar as the pragmatists stressed that thought is in its very nature bound to the social situation in which it arises. To the extent that pragmatism stressed the organic process by which every act of thought is linked to human conduct and thus rejected the radical distinction between thinking and acting which had informed most classical philosophy.] American sociology of knowledge The work of the major American pragmatists . . and Dewey abounds with suggestive leads for the sociology of knowledge. Finally. they set the stage for efforts to inquire into the relations between a thinker and 9 . that has influenced later developments in the sociology of knowledge. It is this part of Durkheim's contribution. HALBWACHS.
Perhaps less well known is Veblen’s relatively systematic effort to relate styles of thought to the occupational roles and positions of their proponents. Pragmatic philosophy is not the only American intellectual trend to influence the development of the sociology of knowledge. Insofar as they rejected the traditional view according to which an object of thought was to be sharply distinguished from the thinking subject and stressed the intimate transactions between subject and object. Veblen's emphasis on habits of thought as an outcome of habits of life and his stress on the dependence of thought styles on community organization are well known. Parrington. 105). and perhaps above all. hence. Veblen's savage polemics in his Higher Learning in America (1918) should not be read as polemics alone. In contrast. American historical scholarship. 'is in good part a reverberation of the schemes of life" ([1891-1913] 1961. Moreover.in efforts to develop new perspectives on American politics and letters by selfconsciously relating currents of thought to economic interest and social condition. a seminal contribution to the sociological study of the organization and functioning of the American university. directly and explicitly influenced American sociology of knowledge. Thorstein Veblen and George Herbert Mead. Many of these strains of ideas had only an indirect impact on American sociology. especially the work of Charles A.especially of its Marxian variety . appropriated for its own uses a number of the orientations of European sociology of knowledge . Beard and Vernon L. two major American thinkers. they prepared the ground for the specifically American contributions to the sociology of knowledge. "The scheme of thought or of knowledge. 10 . p.his audience. those engaged in pecuniary occupations are likely to develop thought styles that differ from the styles of those engaged in industrial occupations." he wrote. Magical as well as matter-of-fact ways of thinking find their proponents among groups of men differentially located in the social structure and in the economic process. The work is also.
it would seem very difficult to deny his claim that if determinants of thought other than society itself exist. Many practitioners of what is in fact sociology of knowledge may at times be rather surprised when it is pointed out that. Thus. and in part derived from. it has often merged with other areas of research and is frequently no longer explicitly referred to as sociology of knowledge. 50). Given this wide variety of research in which at least certain leads of the sociology of knowledge have been utilized. Even when certain epistemological positions of Mead are not accepted. the orientations of the sociology of knowledge. they can structure mind only through the intermediary of the social relations in which it is necessarily enmeshed. like Monsieur Jourdain. Talcott Parsons (1938-1953).even more generally . p. communication was central to an understanding of the nature of mind: "Mind arises through communication by a conversation of gestures in a social process or context of experience" (1934.Finally. Marshall ([1934-1949] 1950. While in the European tradition attention tended to be centered upon the 11 . the works of E. Merton (1949) and Bernard Barber (1952) in the sociology of science. they have been "talking prose" all along.much of the research concerned with social roles may be related to. T. Oswald Hall (1948). and others in the sociology of the professions and occupations. Yet one characteristic seems salient. chapter 4). and . H. As the sociology of knowledge has been incorporated into general sociological theory both in America and in Europe. Theodore Caplow (1954). [See MEAD. George Herbert Mead's social behaviorism. with its insistence that mind itself is a social product and is of social origin.] Contemporary trends. C. Its diffusion through partial incorporation has tended to make it lose some of its distinctive characteristics. the works of Robert K. Hughes (1958). provided the social psychological basis for some of the assertions of previous theorists. For Mead. it is difficult to delineate the distinctive characteristics of contemporary or near contemporary developments in the sociology of knowledge in the United States.
440 ff. There has been a significant attempt at stocktaking and at discussing methodological questions left unresolved by the European tradition. Merton's writings in this area represent the most sophisticated codification of the problems faced by the sociology of knowledge. 1943). Gerald DeGre (1943). Although his argument often seems to involve a kind of circular reasoning. and although the" neglect of the existential roots of thought can hardly be justified in view of the promising results already 12 . with the axiomatic assumption that different strata of society produce different types of ideas. To some extent. Among substantive American contributions. the work of Pitirim A. and the sensate mentality . Blending an earlier European tradition of large-scale speculation with American statistical research techniques. Werner Stark (1958). Wright Mills (1963). Rejecting the prevalent conceptualizations that consider social classes or other social and economic groups as the independent variable in the functional relations between thought and society. the sociology of public opinion and mass communication has pre-empted the place of the sociology of knowledge in the contemporary United States. as Merton has pointed out ( 1957. pp. recent American contributions have by no means been limited to this field. Wolff (1959).production of ideas.). Sorokin is of special note (1937-1941. Among other notable contributions to the methodology and theoretical clarification of the sociology of knowledge are those of the philosopher Arthur Child and the sociologists Hans Speier (1938).the ideational. the idealistic. Sorokin considers variant "cultural mentalities" or cultural premises as the key variables. Kurt H. modern American research is more concerned with the consumption of ideas and the ways in which different strata of society use standardized thought products. Nevertheless. Sorokin developed a characteristically idealistic theory of the sociology of knowledge. He attempts to show that the periodic dominance of three major cultural tendencies . and C.can account for the fluctuations of types of knowledge that have marked history.
] It is impossible to discuss or even enumerate within the confines of this article the recent American studies which either directly or indirectly contribute to the further development of the sociology of knowledge. for example. in exchange for which it grants him recognition and support. the sociology of science or the elucidation of the notion of social time .are not likely to address their total society but rather only selected segments or publics. Znaniecki shows that thinkers . Florian Znaniecki's neglected but important study The Social Role of the Man of Knowledge (1940) represents.in. the sociology of science.achieved by Sorokin's predecessors. This state of affairs may itself be an indicator of the continued strength of this research orientation. Men of knowledge anticipate the demands of their public. the professions and occupations." that is. a fruitful blending of the European tradition with American contributions. to 13 . like Sorokin's work.at least in differentiated societies . select data. the many contributions by Sorokin and some of his students . In other areas can be listed the studies exploring the relations between minority status and originality of intellectual perspective. and scholar in terms of the differentiated publics to which they address themselves. and the sociology of communications and public opinion has already been mentioned. Research in the field of social role. the audience or public to which a thinker addresses himself. A few references will have to suffice. Znaniecki introduces the notion of the "social circle. Hence it becomes possible to understand the emergence of such special roles as that of sage. [See INTELLECTUALS. and they tend to form self-images. and seize upon problems in terms of their actual or anticipated audiences. He thus links the sociology of knowledge with research on publics and audiences that was pioneered by the Chicago school of sociology' (for example.remain noteworthy. Men of knowledge may thus be classified in regard to their social roles and their publics. see Park 1904). The thinker is related to a social circle: and this circle expects him to live up to certain of its demands. technologist.
More detailed studies . Other relevant material may be found 14 . Perhaps the sociology of knowledge of the future will return to the more daring concerns of its founders. an analysis of social scientists' reactions to the threats posed by the McCarthy era. thus building upon the accumulation of careful and detailed investigations by preceding generations of researchers. Lazarsfeld and Thielens' Academic Mind (1958). The sociology of knowledge was marked in its early history by a tendency to set up grandiose hypothetical schemes. general studies of the settings and contexts in which intellectuals play their peculiar roles. Although this tendency has been an antidote to earlier types of premature generalizations. Recently its practitioners have tended to withdraw from such ambitious undertakings and to restrict themselves to somewhat more manageable investigations. and Fritz Machlup's large-scale study.which Veblen (1919) made significant contributions. and of which the recent work by Melvin Seeman (1956) seems an excellent example. SOCIAL STRUCTURAL ANALYSIS. Wright Mills on pragmatism (1964). such as Lewis Coser's Men of Ideas (1965). the studies that relate thought styles of American academic men to the structure and functioning of the American academy . and Caplow and McGee's Academic Marketplace (1958). The Production and Distribution of Knowledge in the United States (1962). These contributed a number of extremely suggestive leads. the studies in the history of sociological or philosophical theories. in which conceptualizations derived from the sociology of knowledge have been utilized . [Directly related are the entries article on MARXIST SOCIOLOGY.such as Peter Berger's recent attempt to account for the popularity of psychoanalysis in America (1965) and John Bennett's study of divergent interpretations of the same culture by different social scientists in terms of their divergent backgrounds and social perspectives (1946)—have also been very much in evidence in recent years. it also carries with it the danger of trivialization. the works of C.for example. SOCIAL STRUCTURE.such as Logan Wilson's Academic Man (1942).
3d ed. New York: Basic BooJcs. THEODORE 1954 The Sociology of Work. Haring (editor). rev. . GERALD L. and Frances B. New York: Free Press. W. MAX. W. of Minnesota Press. see Merton 1949.A paperback edition was published in 1961 by Wiley. Press . New York: Appieton DtGRE. Social Research 32:26-41. Pages 64-89 in Harry E. MARX. New York: Columbia Univ. and McGEE. 1965 Toward a Sociological Understanding of Psychoanalysis. SOROKIN. article on THE SOCIOLOGY OF LITERATURE. H. 1958 The Academic Marketplace. Minneapolis: Univ. PETER L. Glencoe. COSER. BARBER. Becker (editors). Personal Character and Cultural Milieu: A Collection of Readings. SCIENCE. HALBWACIIS. 111. 1912 From Religion to Philosophy: A Study in the Origins of Western Speculations.A paperback edition was published in 1957 by Harper. THEODORE. DURKHEIM. Pages 203-216 in Douglas G. VEBLEN. CORNFORD. . JAMES.: Free Press. Kitchin. ZNANIECKI. DAHLKE.] BIBLIOGRAPHY For extensive bibliographies on the sociology of knowledge. Mannheim 1929-1931. JOHN Science and the Social Order. PEIRCE. REECE J. Press. WEBER. BERNARD 1952 BENNETT. Howard Becker. FRANCIS M. LEWIS A. 15 . 1965 Men of Ideas: A Sociologist's View. and in the biographies of BACON. Contemporary Social Theory. and Wolff 1959. FRANCIS (1605) 1958 The Advancement of Learning. MANNHEIM. 1943 Society and Ideoiogit: An Inquiry Into the Sociology of Knowledge. SCHELER. OTTO Barnes. New York: Longmans. CAPLOW. (1946) 1956 The Interpretation of Pueblo Culture: A Question of Values. Syracuse Univ. New York: Dutton. London: Dent. CAPLOW. Edited with an introduction by G.. BACON. Maquet 1949. DEWEY. 1940 The Sociology of Knowledge. BERGER.in LITERATURE.First published in Volume 2 of the Southwestern Journal of Anthropology.
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