Karl Mannheim was an influential German sociologist during the first half of the 20th century. He is a key figure in classical sociology, as well as one of the founders of the sociology of knowledge. Karl Mannheim is best known for his book Ideology and Utopia (1929/1936), in which he distinguishes between partial and total ideologies, the latter representing comprehensive worldviews distinctive to particular social groups, and also between ideologies that provide outdated support for existing social arrangements, and utopias, which look to the future and threaten to transform a society. During the War Karl Mannheim was involved in a number of influential intellectual circles: the Galileo Circle founded by Karl Polanyi in which Michael Polanyi also participated, the Social Science Association organised by Oscar Jaszi, and the Sonntagskreis or 'Sunday Circle' led by Gyorgy Lukacs.
In the brief period of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, in 1919,
taught in the Pedagogical Institute of the University of Budapest thanks to the
patronage of his friend and mentor Lukacs, whose political conversion to
communism he did not share. Both Karl Mannheim and Gyorgy Lukacs were forced into exile
after the rise of Horthy as Regent of Hungary. Karl Mannheim chose exile in Germany
and was there from 1920-1933.
Mannheim began work in 1924 under the German sociologist Alfred Weber, the brother of well-known sociologist Max Weber, and Emil Lederer. In 1926, Mannheim had his habilitation accepted by the faculty of social sciences, thus satisfying the requirements to teach classes in sociology at Heidelberg. Mannheim was chosen over other competitors for the post, one of whom was Walter Benjamin. From 1929-1933, he served as a professor of sociology and political economy at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt am Main. Norbert Elias and Hans Gerth worked as his assistants from spring 1930 until spring 1933, with Elias as the senior partner. Greta Kuckhoff, who later became a prominent figure in the DDR, was his administrative assistant in Frankfurt, leaving early in 1933 to study at the London School of Economics (LSE) and prepare for Karl Mannheim's emigration there.
Karl Mannheim's life, one of intellectual and geographical migration, falls into three main phases: Hungarian (to 1919), German (1919–1933), British (1933–1947). Among his valued interlocutors were György Lukács, Oszkár Jászi, Georg Simmel, Martin Heidegger, Edmund Gustav Albrecht Husserl, Karl Marx, Alfred and Max Weber, Max Ferdinand Scheler, and Wilhelm Dilthey. In his work, he sought variously to synthesize elements derived from German historicism, Marxism, phenomenology, sociology, and Anglo-American pragmatism.