Karl Mannheim and Jean Baudrillard are two highly respected sociologists. They reigned in two very different periods of time and their views were inevitably shaped by the events and cultural realities of their days. Mannheim “spent his active life in the first half of the twentieth century, in the darkest years of Modern Europe”. (Karacsony, 2008) Mannheim observed and wrote about the self-serving separation of classes and how people behaved towards one another based on their economic status. Ironically, the same is evident in today’s times. He also believed that there is a relationship between human thought and the conditions of their existence. For this, he became known as the inventor of Sociology of Knowledge. One of his best works is the book entitled, Ideology and Utopia. It emphasizes the concept of utopia as one that focuses on eliminating the status quo and ascending to a greater social existence, whereas ideology seeks to justify the existing order and maintaining the ways of the past no matter how dark. Ideology seems to be employed by social groups seeking to retain an oppressive elevation above others in society (Mannheim, 1936).
On the other hand, Jean Baudrillard observed and wrote about the impact that technology and media had on human behaviors. He believed that people are so drenched in hyper stimulation and media-delivered information that they cannot distinguish between reality and that which is not real. In one of his books, he clearly stated, “we will never in the future be able to separate reality from its statistical, simulative projection in the media.” (Baudrillard,1985). Both of these brilliant men wrote many books and held esteemed academic positions at Universities. While they both appreciated the lessons of Karl Marx, each of them also inevitably influenced others who came after them. They both had a major lesson to teach anyone who would consider their points of view. After analyzing their theories, it is difficult to side with one and not the other. After reflecting on personal views and experiences, the conclusion is that they are both correct in their accusations of society. Their views are timeless and applicable long after they have passed on.
Karl Mannheim and Jean Baudrillard were two famous sociologists that emerged from two vastly different periods of time. While Karl may have been the most criticized of all social theorists of his time, he had a fascinating perspective to share with the world. One criticism of his work came from Lloyd Spencer who exclaimed that Mannheim’s collection of essays contained vagueness and inconsistency (Sim & Parker, 1997). There are great points to learn and absorb from both the perspectives of both sociologists. The purpose of this document is to consider their similarities and differences. They had the same desires which were to develop a greater understanding of the world and what drives the social conditions that exist. They shared commonality with regard to who was an influence on them. Lastly, they were both well-known educators. The differences between the two of them serve to be even more interesting. They emerged in different periods of time. They had a different way of viewing people and culture which was likely shaped by their own personal experiences.
Karl Mannheim was born in Austria Hungary on March 27, 1893 and died in London England on the ninth day of January in 1947. He withstood much criticism for his writings and points of view. He was a major figure in the creation of Sociology as a field of study. It came to be known as the “relationship between human thoughts and the conditions of existence in general”(Joven, 2011). Mannheim believed that social conflicts are brought about by different schools of thought and the people operating in those diverse schools of thought act on these different beliefs as they fall into different groups of society. In other words, (plainly speaking), the girls with the nice clothes and straight hair with wealthy parents, might look down on the other girls in the school with torn rags for dresses and unkempt hair who have a poor home environment. The wealthy girls just believe that they are better than and entitled to better treatment than the other girls. This is what Karl Mannheim observed in his society and it played itself out in political, social and religious settings. The difference emphasized here is that the technological advancements available for use in the time of Baudrillard were not available in the days of Mannheim. Therefore, his points of view about the way people used and resources and interacted with them would be entirely different than that of Baudrillard. What they did have in common however, is that they both had a way of highlighting the selfishness of human beings no matter how it was illustrated.
Unlike Mannheim, Jean Baudrillard explored the world through photography. He wrote books that addressed the issues of his current day. He wrote about how reality and what is not real have merged and have become indistinguishable. This is due to the fact that media, mass communication and mass consumption on the part of people have destroyed cultural values. In other words, people are living in simulations rather than true reality. Jean has written several books including, The System of Objects and Consumer Society. He emphasizes in this book that people buy identities not just material goods. Meanwhile, the person overspending their money (even if to their own detriment) really meets the needs of the business while convinced that they are serving their own needs. His most famous book is entitled, “America”. In Jean’s opinion, America is synonymous with an open desert. In this desert, a huge open forum made up of many cultures exists where that which is real and that which is not real have become totally merged together. This merger is to such an extreme that there is no way to tell them apart. Today’s hyper stimulation from media and coercive advertising has injured the human capacity to extend the imagination.
A good example of this is the children’s toys on the market now. They are overloading on the sensory organs. To follow with Baudrillard’s ideas, a better toy to give a child would be a few sticks and a few blocks. They might build something amazing with it using their innate and creative imaginations. They might breathe animated life into one of the sticks who becomes the ruler of the all blocks and balls. Instead, children are hyper stimulated with violent games and they are not conscious of the painful reality that handling weapons can carry with them. They cannot tell the difference between what is real and what is not. Although Baudrillard didn’t comment on children exactly and specifically, applying his thoughts and ideas would warrant reduction of the hyper stimulation that he criticized in his works. In this is not so much contrary to the thoughts of Mannheim as much as it is only different. Mannheim was fascinated and critical of human thoughts as it related to their conditions and their view of the world around them. He observed the behaviors that were brought about by the situations that people find themselves in. Whereas, Baudrillard was convinced that people were not really aware of their own reality. Not because they were blissfully ignorant “but because we are over-informed in many ways”. (Dutton, 1990)
In conclusion, these two brilliant sociologists had quite a few things in common. They both held highly respected teaching positions at prestigious academic institutions. They both had well solid views of people in society and how people came to live and operate in their individual worlds. They were observant and analytical about how people shaped the world at large through their interactions with each other and management of circumstances and resources. Their different points of view were not in direct contrast with one another. Rather, they were a sharp indication of the time periods in which they grew up and were educated. They were both influenced to some degree by Karl Marx and they both served as powerful influences on other social scientists and theorists. Personally, since the current state of the world is most familiar, it is easier to identify with the perspectives of Jean Baudrillard. It is absolutely true that the media dilutes facts and diverts massive audience attention to superficial events in order to medicate or confuse them about what is really going on. There is no disputing the fact that, “we live in a world where there is more and more information, and less and less meaning.”(Glaser, 2012). As a result, young people are more concerned with the Hip Hop Awards, than the major issue that has caused the U.S. government to shut down. It is easy to identify with Karl Mannheim’s view. Social classes and mistreatment endured by the proletariat (lower class working folks) still exists today.
Baudrillard, J. (1985). The masses: the imposion of the social in the media. New Literary History, 16(3), 577-589.
Dutton, Denis, "Jean Baudrillard", Philosophy and Literature 14 (1990) 234-38
Glaser, S. F. (2012). Jean baudrillard - simulacra and simulations - viii. the implosion of meaning in the media . Informally published manuscript, Graduate and Post Graduate Studies, The European Graduate School, Switzerland. Retrieved from http://www.egs.edu/faculty/jean-baudrillard/articles/simulacra-and-simulations-viii-the-implosion-of-meaning-in-the-media/
Joven, K. (2011, July 5). Karl Mannheim. Retrieved from http://prezi.com/sooeq4qzapsx/karl-mannheim/
Karacsony, A. (2008). Soul life knowledge: They young Mannheim's way to sociology. Studies in East European Thought, 60, 97-111. doi: 10.1007/s11212-008-9040-4
Mannheim, K. (1936). Ideology and utopia: An introduction to the sociology of knowledge. London: Toutlage and Kegan Paul
Sim, S., & Parker, N. (1997). The a-z guide to modern social and political thorists. (1st ed.). Routledge.