Going Public - A History of German Sociology

German sociology can be understood only in the light of its history, a history that is quite different from that of English and French sociology. We begin with a time when the intellectual, economic and political life of Europe saw the end to feudalism and the dawn of the “Aufkärung” (enlightenment), which signaled the end of religious dominance and the superiority of human reason was affirmed (Scheuch).

At the time, in other regions of Western Europe, class divisions began to form as the Industrial Revolution took hold. A rising middle class of entrepreneurs; industrialists, tradesman, and bankers challenged the ruling class and established what was called “the third estate”. With the creation of this new class, over the coming century, between roughly 1750-1850, Europe saw the rise to prominence of many philosophers, “humanists” and social theorists with whom you may be familiar: August Comte, Herbert Spencer, John Stuart Mill, to name just a few.

It was not until Karl Marx, however, that the discussion of human justice and rights of men in society would reach the masses in his book, das Kapital, written in 1867. Both Comte and Marx pursued a new scientific ideology, however it was was Marx who became recognized as a founder of sociology - as the word gained wider meaning. Isaiah Berlin, the British social philosopher and historian, described Marx as the “true father” of modern sociology, “in so far as anyone can claim the title”(Berlin).

The "Classical" Sociologists: Karl Marx and Max Weber

Marx Weber

Karl Marx and Max Weber are typically cited as the two principal architects of modern social science. Marx (1818) and Weber (1864) were Prussian born. The sociological “canon of classics” with Weber at the top owes in part to Talcott Parsons, who is largely credited with introducing both to American audiences. While the secondary role Marx plays in early American sociology may be attributed to Parsons, the dominance of Marxism in European sociological thought had long since secured the rank of Marx alongside Weber as one of the “classical” sociologists. (Morrison)

The Classical Period: 1880-1917

By the turn of the twentieth century, sociology had become an exciting intellectual concern in the United States, France, England, and Germany. Since an educated person at that time was expected to know English, German, and French, there was intensive direct interaction. Initially the builders of large sociological “systems” dominated German sociological literature. In a review of the period up to 1914, Leopold von Wiese lists Max Weber, Ferdinand Tönnies, and Werner Sombart as the most important sociologists; along with Alfred Vierkandt, Franz Oppenheimer, and Alfred Weber. This inner circle of sociologists of the ‘‘classical period’’ is still influential today. In the closing days of the German empire, sociology was established in an elitist academy in Europe, with Weber and von Weiss as most prominent members. Weber was considered to be the leading scholar within this academy.

The Weimar Period: 1919-1933

Not until the end of the 1920s was the first chair of sociology instituted in Frankfurt. However, during the fourteen years of the Weimar Republic, forty professorships were created that combined sociology with another discipline, such as economics, philosophy, or law. Eight periodicals had Sociology in their titles, and another eight regularly published sociological contributions. Shortly after accepting a professorship in Munich, Weber died in 1920. Some of his most important works on religion had appeared during the war, and his magnum opus, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft (Economy and Society) was published posthumously by his wife Marianne Weber. Other works by Weber were not readily available until after about 1925.

The Third Reich - An End to Sociology: 1933-1945

The list of German sociologists whose voices were silenced as the Nazi Regime came to power includes virtually every important contributor: Oppenheimer and Vögelin were forced to emigrate, although they tried to stay. Spann lost his professorship and was imprisoned. Tönnies was ostracized. Alfred Weber was dismissed, Vierkandt was restricted, and von Martin resigned. The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Soziologie was suspended in 1934. Von Wiese stopped publishing the Kölner Zeitschrift in the same year, and from then on, lectured only on the history of economic thought. René König, a young candidate for a professorial career who had to emigrate in 1935, attributes to the Nazis a complete stoppage of any sociology worthy of its name.

Post-War and the Americanization of German Sociology: 1946-1965

German sociology after 1945 found itself lost in the rubble that had been the Third Reich. With virtually every important figure in the discipline resigned, forced to emigrate, or worse, it was without voice. Added to that was its own inability to articulate an understanding of the political forces that had enabled the Nazi Regime to come to power, and the social climate that had enabled the ensuing atrocities. The question asked was, “what public are the sociologists addressing? Those that did return post-war were heavily influenced by American sociology. The so called “Young Turks” of sociology born between 1926 and 1930 studied the subject in American universities. Without an identity of their own, the American model was adopted. Foreign dollars for reconstruction were used to fund new research, thus empirical social research at that time was largely understood to be an import from the United States. The German Sociological Association had been transformed from an elitist academy into a professional association with increasingly important sections or research committees in which the Young Turks were able to attract followers (Scheuch).

German Sociology Reborn: 1966-2000

Following the infusion of American sociological influence in the post-war era, the social and political upheaval, marked by student demonstrations and violence, resulted in a response from the sociological community. The student protest movement, and various alternative cultures associated with it, became a regular part of life in Germany in the 1960's and 1970's. Unlike their U. S. counterparts, whose pursuits continued to focus on academic research, at arm's length from application, German sociologists sought to make sociology a “quarry for public discourse” (Scheuch). While some academics railed at the idea, a burgeoning body of young sociologists trumpeted this applied, functionalist approach as more more relevant. Today, nearly thirty years later, the divide has widened between American Sociology, thought by many to be academic and elitist, and European/German Sociology, applauded for “going public” (Burawoy). German Sociology has now come full circle.

Important words and phrases

Aufkärung - Enlightenment

Reich - Empire, Realm

Deutsche Gesellschaft für Soziologie - German Society for Sociology

Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft - Economy and Society

Works Cited

Burawoy, Michael. 2005. For Public Sociology, American Sociological Review, Vol 70.

Berlin, Isaiah. 1967. Karl Marx. Time Inc Book Division, New York. pp130

Morrison, Ken. 2006 (2nd ed.) “Marx, Durkheim, Weber”, Sage, pp. 1-7

Scheuch, Erwin K. Encyclopedia of Sociology, Web 21 Sept. 2011. http://edu.learnsoc.org/Chapters/branchesofsociology/germansociology.htm

ger/101/2011/fall/doug.txt · Last modified: 2011/10/31 16:27 by djengelman
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