Before World War II the intellectual climate of American sociology was congenial to the growth of a sociology of knowledge akin to Mannheim's. Yet in the postwar period American sociologists committed themselves to ahistorical theory, positivist methodology, and team research; their “scientistic” sociology did not permit the historicism, relativism, and holism necessary to Mannheimian analysis. Currently, however, convergent trends in a number of disciplines—not only sociology but also philosophy, anthropology, literary criticism, and the histories of ideas, science, and art—favor a revival of the Mannheimian program. Analysts of culture now seek to integrate the sociological goals of “explanation” and “understanding”—the formulation of quasilaws of behavior, based on identification of the social structural elements of culture production, and the interpretation of the subjective meaning of culture, based on recovery of actors' intentions. Their research program requires investigation of the peculiar sociohistorical circumstances that condition actors' perceptions, necessitating attention to the cognitive content of culture. This article surveys both the theoretical justifications for such a research program and recent exemplifications of it, focusing on anlyses of what Mannheim termed “objective culture”—such symbolic vehicles for conceptions as religion, the arts, science, and political thought that acquire independent existence, becoming subject to diverse interpretations.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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