German Sociology

Erwin K Scheuch. Encyclopedia of Sociology. Volume 2. 2nd edition. New York, NY: Macmillan Reference USA, 2001.

“German Sociology” has two specific traits: It is part of the general humanities tradition of German culture—that is, it has a philosophical orientation—and it emphasizes epistemological reflection, favoring the understanding of human action through verstehen (intuitive oneness with the explanandum). This is the way in which Raymond Aron (1935) characterized sociology in Germany, studying it at the time of the Nazi regime, when it was mainly a memory and not a living field of knowledge or profession.

Since then a large number of books and essays in the United States have treated sociology as practiced in Germany, at least some of which broaden the image (Nisbet 1966; Fletcher 1971; Oberschall 1965, 1972; Schad 1972; Freund 1978). The dominant meaning of the intellectual commodity called German sociology—as continued in the works of Salomon (1945), Barnes (1938), Coser (1977), Zeitlin (1981), and especially Meja, Misgeld, and Stehr (1987)—is that of grand theory with a teleological meaning. This “German Sociology” is only a small part of sociology in Germany, but it is the aspect to which the intellectual community at large reacts; and it is reinforced by selectivity in translation and citation. For the social sciences in the United States, those parts of sociology in other countries which are least like American sociology are searched out as welcome completions.

The Classical Period

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. Of special importance were the exchanges among Albert Schäffle (1884), Ferdinand Tönnies (1887), Emile Durkheim (e.g., 1887), and Georg Simmel (1890). Durkheim first made a name for himself in France by reviewing German social science literature by authors such as Wilhelm Wundt and, especially, Ferdinand Tönnies, and was therefore attacked as a Germanophile. Tönnies’s distinction Gemeinschaft (community) and Gesellschaft (society) influenced Durkheim’s dichotomy mechanical and organic solidarity, and Tönnies in turn commented on Durkheim’s notion of the division of labor as the central element in social evolution (Gephardt 1982). Initially the builders of large “systems,” such as Ludwig Gumplowitz (1883), Gustav Ratzenhofer (1893), and Theodore Abel (1929), dominated German sociological literature.

In a review of the period up to 1914, Leopold von Wiese (1959) lists Ferdinand Tönnies, Max Weber, and Werner Sombart as the most important sociologists; the list should also include Alfred Vierkandt, Franz Oppenheimer, Alfred Weber, Roberto Michels, and Hermann Kantorowicz (Käsler 1984). 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 with Tönnies as president, Sombart as vice president, and von Wiese as the eminence gris. Simmel and Weber were considered to be the leading scholars within this academy, even though both had become merely observers. In 1912, after numerous editions, Tönnies’s Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, first published in 1887, at last achieved wide recognition among the educated public, paralleling the impact of Edward A. Ross’s Social Control in the United States.

The Weimar Period

Upon the reestablishment of sociology in 1919, von Wiese was able to retain bureaucratic control over the policy of the academy and largely over its conventions. 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. Von Wiese was instrumental in founding the first permanent research institute at the University of Cologne, Forschungsinstitut für Sozial- und Verwaltungswissenschaften, in 1919 (Alemann 1978), followed in 1923 by the Institut für Sozialforschung in Frankfurt (Jay 1973). In the early 1930s nearly all universities in Germany regularly offered courses in sociology, and by the mid-1920s the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Soziologie had begun to question the wisdom of opposing a degree curriculum in the universities.

The 1920s were a time of abrasive partisanship in German intellectual life. René König groups the various positions along a dividing line between left and right Hegelians, the Kantian tradition having paled in the humanities (König 1987). Left Hegelian translates into Marxism, but that itself was very heterogeneous. When Eisenstadt and Curelaru (1976, p. 122) and Zeitlin (1981, p. v) maintain that “a critical reexamination of Marxism” is a main focus of German sociology, this is an error; Marxists and non-Marxists mostly tended to ignore each other, although not in the 1920s.

“In the 1920s there was no dominant figure in sociology, which evolved in a number of milieus with little common direction. Even within its local centers in the Weimar Republic there was practically no paradigmatic unity” (Lepsius 1987, p. 40). These local centers were Frankfurt, Cologne, Berlin, and (later) Leipzig. In this characterization of the Weimar turmoil, there are two omissions: Max Weber’s influence is not mentioned, and the Frankfurt School is bypassed. In both cases it is done for the same reason: at that time they were not very important for sociology. 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 Institut für Sozialforschung in Frankfurt did not see itself as an institute for sociologists. Felix J. Weill, who obtained the funds for the institute from his grain merchant father, would have preferred to call it Institute for Marxism, but it was then judged prudent to choose the neutral title Social Research. All of the members shared an aesthetic disgust with bourgeois society, though they themselves were from well-off-to-very-rich families, and they wanted to convert fellow intellectuals to this view. The most important effect of the institute until the 1940s, however, was to give younger social scientists a chance to develop their talents: Max Horkheimer, Karl August Wittfogel, Franz Borkenau, Leo Löwenthal, Herbert Marcuse, and Theodor Adorno. “Although without much impact in Weimar, and with even less during the period of exile that followed, the Frankfurt School was to become a major force in the revitalization of Western European Marxism in the postwar years” (Jay 1973, p. 4).

An End To Sociology

It is easier to name sociologists who did not emigrate as the Nazi regime came to power than to list the émigrés. Of all the sociologists with a reputation, only the social philosopher Hans Freyer welcomed the new regime. Werner Sombart, who during his lifetime took just about every political stance available, was in an anticapitalist anti-Semitic phase around 1933. It must have protected him when, in 1938, he ridiculed racism and the glorification of the people. Franz Oppenheimer and Eric Vögelin were eventually forced to emigrate, even though they tried to remain. Othmar Spann lost his professorship in 1938 and was imprisoned. Ferdinand Tönnies, whose show of opposition bordered on the suicidal, was ostracized. Alfred Weber was dismissed. Alfred Vierkandt had to cease lecturing. Alfred von Martin resigned. The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Soziologie was suspended in 1934 by von Wiese in order to avoid a takeover. 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 sociology worthy of its name (König 1978, p. 14).

A Second Beginning

Sociology after 1945 could not have been a continuation of a tradition; and even if it had been possible, it would not have been a discipline in which basic issues had been settled. This is especially true for the issue of professionalization, which translates into the question “What public are the sociologists addressing?”

Emigrants returning to Germany (René König, Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, Siegfried Landshut, Helmut Plessner, Arnold Bergsträsser, Emmerich K. Francis, and, much later, Norbert Elias) often had been influenced by developments in America. American sociology was most influential, since books from the United States often were the only ones available. The “Young Turks” of sociology born between 1926 and 1930—Karl Martin Bolte, Rainer M. Lepsius, Burkhart Lutz, Renate Mayntz, Erwin K. Scheuch, and Friedrich Tenbruck—studied the subject in American universities.

Three of the five research centers of the period of reconstruction were financed by foreign sources: the Sozialforschungsstelle Dortmund with funds from the Rockefeller Foundation; the UNESCO Institute for Social Research in Cologne, through the initiative of Alva Myrdal; and the Institut für Sozialwissenschaftliche Forschung in Darmstadt, with American government money. The trade unions established sociology as a “democratic discipline” in Hamburg at the Akademie für Gemeinschaft. Von Wiese reopened the institute in Cologne that later was integrated into the university. With generous financing from American sources, such as the government-sponsored Voice of America, the Institut für Sozialforschung in Frankfurt resumed operations. And in Göttingen, Hans Paul Bahrdt took up the tradition of industrial sociology of the late Weimar times and founded the Soziologisches Forschungsinstitut, Göttingen—the SOFI Institut. Thus, from the resumption of sociology in Germany, there was an infrastructure for empirical social research well connected to the international community. With the exception of von Wiese’s institute, however, it later proved to be impossible to integrate these institutes for empirical research into the universities, and therefore the UNESCO Institute, the Sozialforschungsstelle Dortmund, and the Darmstadt group ceased to exist.

Empirical social research at that time was largely understood to be an import from the United States. At the UNESCO Institute in Cologne and in Darmstadt, important community studies inspired by American studies of the 1930s and 1940s were carried out. The reports by Renate Mayntz and Erich Reigrotzki are still very much worth reading. Parallel to this, survey research was developed as a commercial service; here, too, the American standards of the time were immediately imported. Of great influence were the survey units that the American and British governments had begun as their troops moved into Germany. It was in these survey units that the core personnel of the later German institutes learned their techniques (Scheuch 1990b).

The 1950s were characterized by a coexistence of professors who had learned sociology largely on their own before 1945 and a larger number of sociologists born between 1926 and 1930 who were virtually identical in skill and outlook with their American contemporaries. For this generation Weimar sociology was forgotten, and the classics were read with an American selectivity and perspective.

By the end of the 1950s sociology—in terms of chairs, curricula, students, and volume of empirical research—had surpassed the level of 1933. Much against the wishes of von Wiese and Horkheimer, 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. The sections for industrial sociology (for the more theoretically minded) and for methodology (for the mainly empirically oriented) offered an alternative to the plenary meetings that were still dominated by professors who were the last academic mandarins of German tradition. In research nearly everyone who later influenced the discipline worked on social stratification, which as a central topic succeeded the community studies of the first half of the 1950s. Among the Young Turks and their following a structural functional approach was the common paradigm, and Talcott Parsons was held to be the great theorist of the time.

Sociology was a deeply divided discipline. One dividing line pitted those who had emigrated against sociologists who had supported the Nazi regime. Hans Freyer, Arnold Gehlen, and Helmut Schelsky were accused of collaborating with the regime; Gunter Ipsen did more than that; and Karl-Heinz Pfeffer and Karl Valentin Müller were justly denounced as racists. In 1960 the German Sociological Association nearly split along the dividing line between collaborators with the Nazi regime and the majority led by former immigrants.

However, it was not possible simply to dismiss Gehlen and Schelsky as former Nazi sympathizers. While they had been exactly that, they now did important scholarly work. Gehlen developed an anthropology that included perhaps the best approach to the analysis of social institutions, and Schelsky had initiated many important studies on youth, the family, and social stratification. The two men published a textbook in sociology that saw four editions within three years (Gehlen and Schelsky 1955).

The second dividing line ran between the Frankfurt Institute and all others. Horkheimer, Adorno, and Pollack had been successful in the United States, the home of modern sociology. By now their Marxism had toned down to a variant of left Hegelianism that they christened “critical theory.” Initially a political camouflage, it now characterized the retained commitment to cultural criticism of bourgeois society. The combination of Marxism with cultural criticism proved to be a winning message with the cultural establishment.

The opposition to Schelsky/Gehlen and Adorno/Horkheimer crystallized around René König, whom von Wiese had invited to Cologne. Originally a pure humanist—he wrote what is considered the standard monograph on Niccolo Machiavelli (1941)—in exile he had identified with the post-Durkheim school in France. Upon returning to Germany in 1950, he recognized the need to familiarize the young generation of sociologists and sociology students with mainstream American sociology. Although himself not a quantitatively minded scholar, he encouraged quantitative social research as an antidote to the temptations of speculative grand theory. Knowing his personal preference for cultural anthropology and French culture, it is ironic that he was the key figure in thoroughly Americanizing the larger part of an academic generation in sociology.

König’s Soziologie heute (Sociology Today, 1949), a sociological rendering of existentialist philosophy, was the first postwar best-seller in sociology. The dictionary of sociology that he edited (1958) brought together most of the Young Turks and became the largest selling sociology book ever in Germany, with more than twenty editions and almost half a million copies. Most important for the profession, however, was the two-volume handbook of empirical social research (1962) that he edited, conceived along the lines of Gardner-Lindzey’s Handbook of Social Psychology (König 1962). The handbook is still a standard for empirical sociology and has gone through several editions. All of these works were translated into English, French, Spanish, and Italian, and some into Japanese as well.

The different positions in the first phase of sociology after 1945 were sorted into three “schools” that were to constitute sociology in Germany: the Frankfurt School, the Cologne School, and the Schelsky school. Within the discipline the Cologne school set standards for curricula and research, the Kölner Zeitschrift being stronger than the Dortmund-based Soziale Welt. The readers of these two largest social science journals do not overlap much. Kölner Zeitschrift is the journal for the discipline, while Soziale Welt is for practitioners of social science in bureaucracies and the helping professions. Thus, the publics of the three “schools” were different and have remained so: the Frankfurt school for the cultural intelligentsia; the Cologne school for social scientists; the Schelsky school for practical applications in welfare and bureaucracy. It was largely the pressure from the respective audiences more than the preferences of the professors that for a long time caused sociology in Germany to be divided into these three camps.

The Time of Expansion

The second most formative decade was the 1960s. It marked a return to important subjects of the classics and to some authors of that time. The Americanization of the discipline had peaked.

After the vituperous quarrels in the Deutsche Gesellschaft in the 1950s it was agreed to meet in closed session at Tübingen in 1961, to discuss basis issues in a purely scholarly atmosphere. Unexpectedly this led to a controversy between two radically different views of social science, the chief protagonists of which were Theodor W. Adorno and Karl Popper (Adorno 1962), between science as a vehicle for emancipation and a scientific view of science. Popper’s work is in the philosophy of science rather conventional sociology. For Adorno empiricism means supremacy of instrumental reasoning, which subjugates reason to the rule of facts; empiricism is tantamount to “treating facts as fetishes” (Adorno 1969, p. 14). This dispute was continued by two nonsociologists—the economist Hans Albert and the philosopher Jürgen Habermas—as the “positivism controversy,” Habermas representing the Frankfurt school of critical theory and Albert the Cologne school of neopositivism (Adorno 1975). This was a revival of the methodological controversies in the Verein für Socialpolitik in the decade prior to 1914.

The controversy between Habermas und Albert occurred during the 1964 sociology convention that was dedicated to the rediscovery of Max Weber. The topic that sent shock waves throughout the cultural establishment (Stammer 1965) was the revival of the debate on value judgments as part of science. The “radical” sociologists who began to appear at this time took as their central argument the charge that positivism was blind to the forces its research served.

The repercussions were much larger: the arguments of critical theory against positivism became a credo among the cultural intelligentsia. It is important for an understanding of sociology in Germany that this old controversy did not spring from developments within the discipline; rather, it became an unavoidable topic because the intellectual environment forced it onto sociology.

Meanwhile, a seeming alternative to the Cologne and Frankfurt Schools, though closely related to the latter in its concerns, became the major intellectual success: Ralf Dahrendorf with his Gesellschaft und Demokratie in Deutschland (1965). How was the Nazi regime possible? Could it reappear in a different guise? This topic keeps emerging in Germany as a central focus in intellectual attempts at self-analysis. In the 1980s the intellectual public expected answers from a controversy among historians; in the 1960s the expectations were focused on sociology and Dahrendorf.

Dahrendorf, trained as a philosopher, is a self-taught sociologist. By temperament he is a moralist, as is evident in his dissertation exploring the idea of justice in Marx’s thought (1954). He was subsequently among the Young Turks who concentrated on industrial sociology, and published an immensely successful book on the subject (Dahrendorf 1956) that overshadowed a more original monograph by Heinrich Popitz, Hans Paul Bahrdt, Ernst-August Jüres and Hanno Kesting (1957) that is yet to be recognized internationally as a classic. Among younger sociologists Dahrendorf became a central focus of controversy as a result of his long essay on role theory, in which he characterizes modern society as a cage of obligations that prevent individuality from asserting itself (Dahrendorf 1959b). While the profession largely rejected this notion as a misperception of role theory and economics, the book Homo Sociologicus remained for decades the most popular sociological treatise among students (Dahrendorf, 1959b). An essay on chances for complete social equality was Dahrendorf’s contribution to the topic of social stratification (Dahrendorf 1961), then dominant among the Young Turks. A much more important publication for an understanding of his concerns is his treatment of the United States as the one case where presumably there was an attempt to construct a society in the spirit of the French Enlightment (Dahrendorf 1963). Characteristically, Dahrendorf takes as his point of departure a source of general intellectual importance, in this case Alexis de Tocqueville’s report on the United States in the 1830s.

As Adorno had introduced the concerns of the cultural public into the profession, so Dahrendorf did the same for the intelligentsia concerned with public affairs. In the English-speaking world he is often included in sociological curricula as a conflict theoretician, but there is no conflict theory in his writings, except for an attempt at a taxonomy of conflicts. The label conflict theoretician was affixed because of his criticism of Talcott Parsons, whose structural functionalism he accused of glorifying social harmony. Dahrendorf’s central theme is to explore the chances for the values of British liberalism to become the guiding principle in society. In practical life this orientation met with mixed success.

In the 1970s Dahrendorf returned to England to become the first foreign president of the London School of Economics. He later became a professor at Oxford and remains a respected commentator on public affairs with a continuing interest in sociology as an intellectual endeavor. Although frequently in error in his statements that have empirical content, he is invariably sensitive in choosing topics that relate the discipline to an intellectual public.

The mood of the times was moving away from the liberal creed of Dahrendorf. The controversies in the United States, stimulated by the Vietnam intervention, were taken up by politicized students in Germany. Marxism was believed to provide answers that the liberal promise of the postwar Western world apparently could not. The varieties of Marxism were studied with religious fervor.

At the 1968 convention of the German Sociological Association demands for an alternative to mainstream sociology, especially the “Cologne Americanism,” exploded. Adorno had chosen as the congress’s theme, “Late Capitalism or Industrial Society”—alternative ways of conceptualizing the same reality. The term “late capitalism” was favored by Neo-marxists as implying that the demise of bourgeois society was imminent. It also implied that the notion of a basic sameness of all industrial societies—that the United States and the Soviet Union were structurally related as industrial socieites—was wrong. The Neo-Marxist conceptualization “late capitalism” and, by contrast, critical theory implied that the social orders of the Soviet Union and the United States were dedicated to a different telos, and that this difference was what mattered most (Adorno 1969).

With the May 1968 uprising in Paris, the student movement in Germany turned into a crusade for leftism as the mandatory creed on campus, and specifically for sociologists. For a moment the adherents of the Frankfurt school could see the student movement as the realization of their hopes. Max Horkheimer had always rejected any methodological constraints on philosophizing, and on any scholarship. Methodology would restrict science to the factual, while for Horkheimer, Adorno, and Bloch the prime goal of scholarship was creative utopianism. According to Horkheimer, it was now up to science to provide the answers given earlier by religion (Horkheimer 1968). The student movement, however, accused the Frankfurt school of running away from reality, and critical theory of having only negative messages and no direction for positive action. Adorno had always maintained this view (Adorno 1969). Deposing a ruling class would not change the basic character of relations that were permeated with instrumental reasoning; there was no longer a revolutionary subject to realize the cause of emancipation. After some very ugly clashes, Adorno died in 1969. Dahrendorf turned against the student movement, as did such well-known sociologists as Helmut Schelsky and Helmut Schoeck. Erwin Scheuch’s Anabaptists of the “Affluent Society” (1968) became a best-seller. Even Habermas, irritated by the uncompromising nature of the New Left, severed his connection by diagnosing its “left fascism” (Habermas 1969).

In the turbulent years that followed 1968, sociologists were more concerned with reacting to the New Left than with developments of their own. Sociology had been utterly surprised by a student movement that it neither predicted nor understood. Rainer Lepsius contrasts this situation with the immediate success of empirical sociology in analyzing the right-wing protest NPD party (National-Demokratische Partei Deutschlands) of the late 1960s (Lepsius 1976, p. 7).

The public, however, identified sociology with the New Left. An explosion of leftist literature, using sociological terminology, buried the output of sociologists. The public image of sociology became one of a haven for radicals opposed to bourgeois society. For about ten years after 1968, sociology became the quarry for cultural discourse. Academic fields that were based on shared beliefs in civil society and cultural values—such as pedagogy, art appreciation, literary criticism, and political education—had their criteria damaged, even destroyed. Sociology was used to provide an alternative rationale: service to the cause of emancipation from bourgeois society. Tenbruck (1984) has charged that sociology had “colonized” the humanities, and even life in general. It actually was the other way around: as the humanities lost their belief in civil society, they raided sociology for arguments in the name of society. Professional sociology completely lost control over the use of its vocabulary—with disastrous results for the self-selection of students of sociology and the standing of the field in the world of scholarship.

The student protest movement, and various alternative cultures loosely associated with it, became a regular part of public life in Germany, as it had in the United States. It became fashionable to call a great number of protest forms sociology while denouncing the profession carrying out “normal science” (Kuhn 1970) as “bourgeois” sociology. Sociologists were asked to react to fashionable topics of the day, such as permissive education, Third World dependency, mind-expanding drugs, feminism, gay power, autonomous living. Many of the newly appointed professors went along, contributing to the erroneous public impression that sociology was spearheading the cultural revolution in the name of anticapitalism. The opposite was true: sociologists often caved in to demands from the protest movements.

Even in a less turbulent intellectual environment, the period between 1968 and 1973 would have been most unsettling, because it was a period of unique expansion. By the mid-1960s social democratic state governments had been convinced by proponents of the Frankfurt school that sociology should be included in the curricula of secondary education. The profession was divided on this, and as late as 1959 Dahrendorf counseled against the inclusion of sociology in degree curricula even at universities. With the youth, however, sociology was a huge success; many teachers were needed, and that meant many more professors. In 1968 there were fifty-five tenured positions as professor of sociology in the Federal Republic of Germany; in 1973 there were 190 (Lamnek 1991). From that year, the rate of expansion levelled, and by 1980 there were 252 “chairs” (Sahner 1982, p. 79).

Lepsius modified this feeling of an avalanche of sociology overwhelming academe (Lepsius 1976, p. 12). At the beginning of the 1970s, sociology had 1.3 percent of all the positions in university budgets, no larger a share than ten years earlier; 1.2 percent of the students took a major in sociology, also the percentage before the expansion; public money for sociological research had always hovered around 1 to 2 percent of all grants. The universities had expanded with explosive rapidity, and in this general explosion sociology merely kept its former share.

As a discipline, sociology, however, was among those least prepared to keep its place during an expansion that within a few years quadrupled the number of students in the Federal Republic. Consequently a great many sociologists were appointed to tenured positions who in other times would not have been. In this process the discipline lost cohesion and common scholarly standards.

The Consolidation

After 1968 the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Soziologie was taken over by the Young Turks; from their ranks Dahrendorf, Scheuch, and Lepsius were successively president. The leadership of the association was tired of conventions serving as forums for all kinds of protests, thus further damaging the reputation of the field. Consequently, biannual sociological conventions were suspended until 1974, when a meeting was held in Kassel. While the field had a Babel of views, there was now agreement to coexist.

At the Kassel convention of 1974, a custom was started called Theorievergleich (comparison of theory). This is in reality a juxtaposition of sociological “denominations,” not a weighing of alternative theoretical propositions (Lepsius 1976, sec. II). At that time four such denominations were defined: (a) behaviorism, the chief proponent of which in Germany was Karl-Dieter Opp; (b) action theory as represented by Hans-Joachim Hummel; (c) functionalism and systems theory, with Niklas Luhman as its prominent representative; and (d) historical materialism, which translates into Marxism. Somewhat later, parts of behaviorism and action theory amalgamated to become rational choice; two German-speaking Dutch sociologists, Reinhard Wippler and Siegwart Lindenberg, are its best-known proponents. Phenomenological sociology has been successful especially among young sociologists, with Jürgen Helle as the chief representative.

The lines between these denominations keep shifting as new variants emerge. In general, though, this approach to theory—to choose a topic such as evolution and then listen to what each denomination has to say about it—appears to have spent itself.

Concern with theory in Germany again means reacting to theory builders, a most dissimilar pair of whom dominated the scene in the 1970s and early 1980s: Jürgen Habermas and Niklas Luhmann. Luhmann is a self-taught sociologist who studied law and became a career administrator. His first specialty was the sociology of organization, which showed a strong influence of Chester I. Barnard. Subsequently Luhmann analyzed phenomena of the Lebenswelt (the key term of phenomenology for the world of immediate, unreflected experience—in contrast to the world that science portrayed) at that time influenced by the phenomenologist Edmund Husserl, as in Luhmann’s monograph on trust as the basis for social cohesion. Luhmann later met Talcott Parsons, whose work he understood from the perspective of a systems theorist. From then on, he focused on pure theory, going so far as to reject the application of theoretical statements to the empirical world, declaring empirical evidence to be irrelevant for his theoretizing (Luhmann 1987). Since Luhmann writes prolifically in English, his views should be well known outside Germany.

It will be helpful to note his shift in emphasis over the years. The central notion was first functional differentiation as the guiding principle in evolution. This results in an increasing competence of the system if the functionally differentiated areas are allowed to develop their area-specific rationality (Eigenlogik). The economy is seen as a prime example of an Eigendynamik, provided it is not shackled by attempts at political or ethical guidance. Differentiated systems, according to Luhman, need constant feedback to permit a creative reaction. Luhman conceptualizes these feedbacks as selbstreferenzielle Prozesse (self-referential processes). More recently he has become interested in chaos theory and has given self-organization—which he calls Autopoiesis—a central place in explaining system functioning. It appears that the interest in Luhman has increased as his writings have become more abstract and his terms more outlandish—something he does self-consciously, since he can be a lucid writer.

This is less true for Jürgen Habermas, a philosopher who is self-taught in sociology. He calls his approach critical sociology, a choice that expresses his initial indebtedness to left Hegelianism of the Frankfurt school. While he has included Marxist terminology in his writings, he is probably best understood as a sociological disciple of the idealistic philosopher Fichte. In this perspective society is a problem for man’s true calling: emancipation. He understands emancipation in the spirit of the French Enlightenment. The characteristic element of Habermas’s “critical sociology” is doppelte Reflexivität (double feedback): the sociologist reflects on the context of discovery, and again on the context of utilization of his findings. With this attitude Habermas approaches the problematic relationship between theory and praxis (a Hegelian variant of practice) at a time when human existence is determined by a technological Eigendynamik. Habermas’s writings, available in translation, are internationally known. Viewed over a period of around thirty years, it seems that he is sliding into a position of Great Cultural Theory, of the kind like Pitirim Sorokin’s. And in becoming a synthesizer, he becomes more empirically minded, as Luhman ascends into the more abstract.

Sociology As “Normal Science”

While practically all German universities offer degrees in sociology up to the doctoral level, there are some centers in terms of number of students, research facilities, and number of teaching personnel. In terms of faculty size, these centers are Bielefeld, Berlin, and Frankfurt, Munich, Cologne, and Mannheim. If one includes among the criteria the number of degrees granted, then Bochum, Hamburg, and Göttingen must be added as centers.

There is now a very developed infrastructure for empirical research. In addition to many public service research institutes both inside and outside universities, there are some 165 commercial institutes for market and social research, the largest employing 600 academics and having a business volume of 90 million dollars. There is an academic network of three service institutions with a yearly volume of ten million dollars from the budgets of state and federal governments: the Informationszentrum, in Bonn, providing on-line information on research projects and literature abstracts; ZUMA, Zentrum für Umfragen, Methoden und Analysen, in Mannheim, doing some of the work of NORC, National Opinion Research Center, Chicago, and helping anyone in need of methodological support; and the Zentralarchiv in Cologne, which provides data for secondary analysis, as the Roper Center in the United States does. All three together form GESIS, Gesellschaft sozialwissenscaftliche Infrastruktureinrichtungen, Bonn, a package that can be used by the mostly small research institutes of German universities. There are also larger institutes, the biggest in terms of number of academics employed being the Deutsche Jugendinstitut (German Youth Institute) and the largest in terms of finance (eleven million dollars) being the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin (Social Science Center in Berlin). All have regular budgets from tax money.

There is a yearly survey on work in progress, and between 1978 and 1988, 29,000 research projects were reported. The Zentralarchivs keeps a count on quantitative research, and limiting its attention only to such work where data are in machine readable format, the yearly academic production in quantitative research is around 900 projects. The preferred method is the personal interview, which during the years had a share of 50 percent for all projects where quantitative data were collected. The doorstep interview is being replaced by the telephone interview, although to a lesser extent than in the United States.

Among the more than 1,000 members of the German Sociological Association the attention given to applied fields is dominant. A content analysis of journal articles shows that only 15.4 percent of all published manuscripts—the rejection rate is around 80 percent of all articles submitted—deal with theory. The most important applied fields are (in order of frequency) industrial sociology, social psychology, methods of quantitative research, sociology of politics, and sociology of the family. All these have shares in publications above five percent. Twenty other fields of sociology contribute altogether 50 percent to journal publications (Sahner 1982).

Heinz Sahner’s (1991) content analysis of the theoretical paradigms used in journal articles between 1970 and 1987 found the expected correlation with the intellectual climate. Marxism declined rapidly from the late 1970s, and it never dominated in German professional journals. Structural functional sociology is still the single most important theoretical paradigm, with phenomenological approaches gaining steadily. Even more so than earlier, sociology in Germany is now a multiparadigm field, including as a prominent part, “German Sociology.”