Monday, 19 March 2012 08:25

Karl Mannheim : Men of Ideas

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Karl Mannheim (1893-1947) continued the work of establishing sociology as an academic discipline. Mannheim is considered the founder of the sociology of knowledge.

Generally, many folk assume that knowledge is not a social construct.  Mannheim showed that what is considered knowledge, or truth, is a social variable. It is what a group of people, at least, its opinion leaders, accept as true that is seen as true in any group.

What is the truth is not self evident but is the consensus of the rulers of society. Truth is a social construct and not that which we all could look and see.

This understanding of the social construction of truth means that much of what were taken as truth may, in fact, not be true. For example, in most societies men dominate women. We take it for granted that men dominate women. Aristotle, in his politics, even said that it is natural for men to dominate women and for free men to have slaves. But is it natural or is it a social construct for men to dominate women? 

Of course patriarchy is a social construct. If it is a social construction of reality it follows that we do not have to accept it as true and can deconstruct and reconstruct it along the lines that serves women’s interests.

Manheim induced the massive deconstructionism movement whereby every received truth was reexamined and those that serve some interests and not others were reconstructed to serve larger interests.

In his book, Ideology and Utopia (1929), Mannheim delineated some of the concepts we have explored above. Much of what we call knowledge are mere beliefs, ideologies, those groups, particularly the ruling elements of groups, fashioned for their interests and propagated as truth.

For example, the Catholic Church clergy teaches many things but those teachings essentially serve the interests of the clergy. The teachings of the church have very little to do with serious effort to ascertain whether god exists or not. The Church gives its members a dogma and as long as they accept it on faith they are useful slaves of the church and pay to support the idle parasitical clergy that feeds on them (hosts) and like blood suckers suck them to death.  The Church gives its members a feeling of guilt for not doing certain things and out of guilt feeling do those things that bind them to the control of the Church.

We can elaborate some more on Manheim but what is salient is that he is fondly remembered as the Hungarian Jewish sociologist who taught the world that truth isn’t self evident but is a social construct. As a social construct it behooves folk to continually reconsider what is considered the truth, and reconstruct it to serve their interests.

Mannheim contributed to the movement of deconstructionism. We have not seen the last of that movement yet.

In the end, let us say that Mannheim has taught us to acknowledge that nobody knows what the truth is or what reality is.


Karl Manheim. The Structures of Thinking (1922)

Karl Manheim. Ideology and Utopia (1929)

Karl Manheim. Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction. (1940)

Karl Manheim. The Sociology of Political Education ((1930)

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Ozodi Osuji Ph.D

Ozodi Thomas Osuji is from Imo State, Nigeria. He obtained his PhD from UCLA. He taught at a couple of Universities and decided to go back to school and study psychology. Thereafter, he worked in the mental health field and was the Executive Director of two mental health agencies. He subsequently left the mental health environment with the goal of being less influenced by others perspectives, so as to be able to think for himself and synthesize Western, Asian and African perspectives on phenomena. Dr Osuji’s goal is to provide us with a unique perspective, one that is not strictly Western or African but a synthesis of both. Dr Osuji teaches, writes and consults on leadership, management, politics, psychology and religions. Dr Osuji is married and has three children; he lives at Anchorage, Alaska, USA.

He can be reached at: (907) 310-8176