By: Okky Madasari

Through Ideology and Utopia (1929), considered as one of the most influential introduction to sociology of knowledge, Hungarian sociologist Karl Mannheim investigates how men think and how thinking functions in public life and in politics as an instrument of collective action. Mannheim systematically explains how two main modes of thinking grow in public life. The first is “ideology”, and the second is “utopia”. To be able to grasp the present state of thought, we should start by understanding what is “ideology” and “utopia” proposed by Mannheim.

The term “ideology” has always been associated with Marxism. Nevertheless, Mannheim believes that “ideology” goes farther back in history before Marxism, and ever since new meanings of the word have emerged and have taken shape independently of it.

In general, there are two distinct and separable meanings of the term “ideology”. First, the particular conception of ideology is implied when the term denotes that we are sceptical of ideas and representations advanced by our opponent. They are regarded as more or less conscious disguises of the real nature of a situation, having distortions all the way from conscious lies to half-conscious and unwitting disguises. This conception of ideology does not fit the second meaning of “ideology” that is more inclusive called as the total conception of ideology.

While the particular conception of “ideology” makes its analysis of ideas on a purely psychological level, assuming that both parties are lying, the total conception of “ideology” extends to the process of development of a philosophy of consciousness that involves historical and sociological aspects.  The historical –social process of te total conception of “ideology” seen clearly when we learn about how “class” replaced “folk” and create “class consciousness” or “class ideology” instead of “folk spirit” or “folk ideology”. Thus the development of the ideology requires synthesizing and integrating process and only when the ideas can be operated or realized it can be an ideology. This point, it makes the distinction between “ideology” and “utopia”.

In utopian state of mind, everything is incongruous with the the state of reality. However, we should not regard every state of mind which is incongrous as utopian. Only when they pass over into conduct, tend to shatter, either partially or wholly, the incongrious mind becomes utopia. While ideology needs to syntesize and integrate reality, utopia mind transcends reality and at the same time breaks the bonds of the existing order.

Another distinction between “ideology” and “utopia” is the subject or which group of men poses or presents the mode of thinking. For ideology, it is always the dominant or the ruling group that capable to generate ideas into ideology and realise it within society. Meanwhile, the utopian state of mind represented by the oppresed group.

Developement of Sociology of Knowledge

The approach of sociology of knowledge does not start with the single individual and his/her thinking, but it begins with comprehension of thought in the concrete setting of an historical-social situation. In other words, it is not about the single individual, but how men in certain groups think and how the thought has been developed by the situation in which the groups are existing.

Mannheim argues that men living in groups do not merely coexist physically as discrete individuals. They do not confront the objects of the world from abstract levels of a contemplating mind as such, nor do they do so exclusively as solitary beings. On the contrary they act with and against one another in diversely organized groups, and while doing so they think with and against one another.

Thought – as an object of the sociology of knowledge – takes place in a context, shaped by values, and collective-unconsciousness, volitional impulses. Thus the main problem raised by sociology of knowledge is the control of collective-unconsciousness.

Collective-unconsciousness starts with false-consciousness; the problem of the totally distorted mind which falsifies everything. It takes the form of an incorrect interpretation of one’s own self and one’s own role. The basis of the unconsciousness could be myths, tradition, or even mass-faith in a leader that make men fail to develop self-consciousness.

Collective-unconsiousness existing in every society and basically it was in political struggles that for the first time men became aware of the unconscious collective motivations which had always guided the direction of thought.  Mannheim clearly states that our problem is not the truth but the unconscious motivation.

Mannheim suggests that both “ideology” and “utopia” concept should be seen and understood by questioning of political discussion. In political discussion, ideas were more clearly representative of certain groups, the social and existential determination of thought became more easily visible. Thus, we always need to unmask, to reveal, the motivation – or rather the historical – social process that born born the ideas out.

To reach the progressive understanding of the sociology of knowledge, we should not only unmask our opponent’s ideas, but also do the same to our’s ideas. While it is clear that interest and purposes can not be taught, the structural relationship between judgement and point of view between social process and the development of interest are possible. It is the main key of objectivity of knowledge. And for this we need the role of intellectual who is not attached to any groups and represent the static intellectualism, rather the intellectual who is capable to think in dynamic and synthesis ways.

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