Sociology of knowledge

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Sociology of knowledge deals with the creation, dissemination, use and preservation of knowledge and understanding within groups, communities and societies. The basic hypothesis is that knowledge is shaped through and anchored in the social context. Knowledge, and more generally: thinking , is therefore socially conditioned. Knowledge is not an autonomous process.

The sociology of knowledge is a branch of sociology. She stands u. a. the sociology of culture close to that also with the relationship of cultural and social employs phenomena. The relevant theories were developed by Max Scheler and Karl Mannheim at the beginning of the 20th century .


The sociology of knowledge can look back on several precursors. These are largely (before Marx and Engels) proto-sociological , i. In other words, they do not yet themselves ask about the social interests that are behind certain thought structures, behind a "style of thinking" ( Karl Mannheim ).

  • Francis Bacon (1561–1626), who in the center of his doctrine of idols points to inhibitions of the sensory and intellectual functions such as idols, prejudices and errors that cloud true knowledge.
  • Giambattista Vico (1668–1744), who in his book The New Science describes a new philosophy of history in which man constructs his own history in a social context.
  • Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831), whoenrichedthe social construction with the dialectic of consciousness and reality. Put simply, with Hegel, thoughts can change reality. As a result, his legal philosophy increases into a utopia in which history is a story of the realization of pure rationality or of the objective spirit, which in turn materializes as the state. For him, therefore, reality is not a facticity.
  • Wilhelm Dilthey (1833–1911) transformed the prevailing Kantian epistemology (especially towards contemporary positivists ) into the recognition of the difference in knowledge of reality: we understand the human world, we can explain nature with laws. Different methodological attitudes correspond to both areas of reality; both represent different sciences: the humanities and the natural sciences. What is decisive is that Dilthey assumed a relation of “experience, expression and understanding” in the human, that is, the cultural sphere, and thus, epistemologically, allowed a perspective worldview.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) is a forerunner of the sociology of knowledge insofar as he unmasked the interests of 'truth': knowledge is power (Francis Bacon).
  • After all, the historical-materialistic doctrine of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels , which they call science, is a direct forerunner of the classical German sociology of knowledge, insofar as it is based on the ideological illusion of the prevailing style of thought and 'puts on its feet' Hegel's slogan: Being determines the consciousness (Die deutsche Ideologie, MEW 3).


Classical German sociology of knowledge

The central concern of the classical German sociology of knowledge ( Karl Mannheim , Max Scheler , Theodor Geiger , Wilhelm Jerusalem ) was in this tradition, v. a. but in the immediate successor of Wilhelm Dilthey's founding of the humanities, the elucidation of the relationships between social being and consciousness by assigning “cultural objectivations” (a term Diltheys that includes world views, values, forms of thought ) to social structures .

In Mannheim the concept of ideology acquired a broader meaning. In contrast to Marx, who linked the concept of ideology with “false consciousness”, all thinking, including “knowing”, should be ideological, that is, be subject to social conditions. He has shown this in detail for conservative , liberal and socialist thinking. According to Mannheim, only the “ free-floating intelligence ” stands largely outside ideological thinking and can act independently and sensitively on social processes.

With this concept of ideology, which postulates a total dependence of the point of view on the social situation, the question also arose as to the possibility of science to recognize truth at all behind ideology. Mannheim solved this dilemma with the demand to combine a value-free attitude with an epistemological attitude.

In his sociology of knowledge, Max Scheler made the distinction between salvation or redemption (1), education (2) and achievement knowledge (3). Each type of knowledge corresponds to a specific attitude of interest to be examined.

In the transformed continuation of the tradition of the sociology of knowledge, especially in American sociology, the question of the classical sociology of knowledge was extended to the social condition of scientific knowledge and ideologies. That is, the sociological research subject was broadened.

Modern sociology of knowledge

In contrast to Scheler's and Mannheim's classical sociology of knowledge, the "newer sociology of knowledge" deals with everything that is considered to be knowledge in a society, and above all with research into the societal stock of knowledge that makes up the everyday knowledge of "everyone" and from the point of view of " The social construction of reality ”can be understood ( Peter L. Berger , Thomas Luckmann ). There is also the variant of a praxeological sociology of knowledge (Bohnsack 2007, 2008), in the context of which the documentary method was developed, which aims in particular at the reconstruction of an implicit, atheoretical and habitually anchored knowledge (conjunctive knowledge in the sense of Karl Mannheim ).

As a place where meaning is created, the everyday world becomes the subject of sociological analysis in all variants of the sociology of knowledge . Referring to the concept of the lifeworld introduced by Edmund Husserl , Alfred Schütz developed a concept of the everyday lifeworld, later taken up by Berger and Luckmann, in which the acting subjects attribute meaning to their experiences and develop everyday interpretations, interpretive schemes , action logics and justification strategies that are incorporated into an everyday knowledge base enter. The everyday sense of meaning pervades all sub-areas and systems of a society and is thus constitutive for social reality and every socially relevant knowledge. The sociology of knowledge thus becomes a basic science of sociology.

Regardless of this claim, analyzes of the sociology of knowledge in the last 20 years, influenced by symbolic interactionism and phenomenological sociology such as ethnomethodology , have mainly dealt with microsociological questions and the reconstruction of special and individualized stocks of special knowledge . As a result of the change from the modern to the postmodern knowledge and media society, the question of the origin, relevance and social legitimacy of knowledge acquired a new topicality, but this did not yet lead to a clear reform of the paradigm of the sociology of knowledge.

In contrast to this narrower definition of “sociology of knowledge” in the sense of hermeneutic sociology of knowledge ( Soeffner ; Hitzler & Reichertz & Schröer; Knoblauch) or the further development of Mannheim's sociology of knowledge in the documentary method , one can also see Michel Foucault's discourse analysis with its principle of the inseparable connection of Understand 'knowledge' and ' power ' as genuinely sociological of knowledge (in the classic sense of Mannheim and Scheler).

The systems theory Niklas Luhmann's going on sociology of knowledge, namely in the interrelating a certain "social structure and semantics." Luhmann explicitly refers to Mannheim.

The process Sociology of Norbert Elias is also a sociology of knowledge and at the same time a sociology of science in which the generation of knowledge and the development of science as a long-term social processes are understood. His sociology of knowledge is based on his theory of social processes and is inextricably linked with his other theoretical concepts, such as his power theory or his theory of symbols . Elias classifies myths as an early form of social knowledge and goes into the close connection between knowledge and power .

Further sub-areas of the sociology of knowledge are the sociology of the intellectuals (Karl Mannheim, Theodor Geiger and later Pierre Bourdieu ) and the more recent sociology of science (Michel Foucault, Karin Knorr-Cetina , Bruno Latour ).

See also


  • Peter L. Berger , Thomas Luckmann : The social construction of reality . A theory of the sociology of knowledge. S. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1969, ISBN 3-596-26623-8 .
  • Pierre Bourdieu : Homo academicus . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1988 (French 1984), ISBN 3-518-28602-1 .
  • Günter Dux : The logic of world views. Structures of meaning in the course of history . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1982, ISBN 3-518-27970-X .
  • Norbert Elias : Commitment and distancing (= work on the sociology of knowledge I). Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1987, ISBN 3-518-28251-4 .
  • Michel Foucault : The order of things. An archeology of the human sciences . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1974, ISBN 3-518-27696-4 .
  • Ronald Hitzler , Jo Reichertz , Norbert Schröer (eds.): Hermeneutische Wissenssoziologie . UVK (Universitäts-Verlagsgesellschaft Konstanz), Konstanz 1999, ISBN 3-87940-671-5 .
  • Reiner Keller: Knowledge-sociological discourse analysis. Foundation of a research program . VS, Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2005, ISBN 3-531-14428-6 .
  • Reiner Keller, Andreas Hirseland, Werner Schneider, Willy Viehöver (eds.): The discursive construction of reality. On the relationship between the sociology of knowledge and discourse research . UVK (Universitäts-Verlagsgesellschaft Konstanz), Konstanz 2005, ISBN 3-89669-526-6 .
  • Hubert Knoblauch : Sociology of Knowledge . UVK (Universitäts-Verlagsgesellschaft Konstanz), Konstanz 2005, ISBN 3-8252-2719-7 .
  • Niklas Luhmann : Society structure and semantics. Studies on the Sociology of Knowledge, Vol. 1 . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1980, ISBN 3-518-28691-9 .
  • Karl Mannheim : The problem of a sociology of knowledge . In: Archive for Social Science and Social Policy , Vol. 53 (1924/1925), pp. 577–652.
  • Karl Mannheim: Conservatism. A contribution to the sociology of knowledge (1924). Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1984, ISBN 3-518-28078-3 .
  • Karl Mannheim: Ideologie und Utopie (1928/29), 5th edition, Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main 1969, (8th edition 1995, ISBN 3-465-02822-8 ).
  • Karl Mannheim: Sociology of Knowledge. In: Alfred Vierkandt (Ed.): Concise dictionary of sociology. Stuttgart 1959, pp. 659-680.
  • Karl Mannheim: Sociology of Knowledge. Single u. ed. by Kurt H. Wolff, Luchterhand, Berlin 1964.
  • Sabine Maasen: Sociology of Knowledge. Transcript-Verlag, Bielefeld 1999, ISBN 3-933127-08-4 .
  • Volker Meja, Nico Stehr (ed.): The dispute about the sociology of knowledge , 2 volumes. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1982, ISBN 3-518-27961-0 .
  • Max Scheler : The forms of knowledge and society. Problems of a Sociology of Knowledge . Der Neue-Geist Verlag, Leipzig 1926.
  • Max Scheler (Ed.): Attempts at a sociology of knowledge , Munich 1924.
  • Max Scheler: The forms of knowledge and education (lecture). Bonn 1925.
  • Rainer Schützeichel (ed.): Handbook of the sociology of knowledge and knowledge research . UVK (Universitäts-Verlagsgesellschaft Konstanz), Konstanz 2007, ISBN 978-3-89669-551-2 .
  • Nico Stehr: Knowledge Politics. The monitoring of knowledge . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2003, ISBN 3-518-29215-3 .
  • Helmut Zedelmaier : Workshops of Knowledge between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment . Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2015, ISBN 978-3-16-153807-0 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Georg Kneer: Sociology of Knowledge . In: Georg Kneer, Markus Schroer (eds.): Handbook of special sociologies . Wiesbaden 2010, p. 714 .
  2. Gerhard Fröhlich (1991): "Islands of reliable knowledge in the ocean of human ignorance." On the theory of science by Norbert Elias , in: Kuzmics, Helmut / Mörth, Ingo (ed.), The infinite process of civilization. Frankfurt / M., 95–111.
  3. Norbert Elias (1971/2006): sociology of knowledge: new perspectives. Part I and II . in: Essays and other writings II. Ges. Schriften. Volume 15. Frankfurt / M., 219-286.
  4. Norbert Elias (1984/2006): Knowledge and Power. Interview by Peter Ludes, in it: 'The great struggle of the intellectual'. in: Autobiographical and interviews, m. Audio CD. Ges. Schriften, Volume 17. Frankfurt / M., 279–344.
  5. ^ Norbert Elias (1972/2006): Theory of Science and History of Science. Notes on a current discussion. In: Essays and other writings I. Ges. Schriften, Volume 14. Frankfurt / M., 353–382.
  6. Norbert Elias (1974/2006): On the way to a theory of the sciences. In: Essays and other writings I. Ges. Schriften Volume 14. Frankfurt / M., 402–435.
  7. ^ Norbert Elias (1982/2006): Scientific Establishments . in: Essays and other writings II. Ges. Schriften Vol. 15. Frankfurt / M., 243–344.
  8. ^ Norbert Elias (1985/2006): Science or Sciences. Contribution to a discussion with reality-blind philosophers. In: Essays and other writings III. Ges. Schriften, Volume 16. Frankfurt / M., 60–93.