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Im Blickpunkt - Sociology in the Weimar Republic

By Archivportal-D

In the "In Focus" section, we present special highlights from archives that are represented in Archivportal-D. These selected archival items provide insight into the holdings and offer research suggestions for a possible search in Archivportal-D or in the thematic portal "Weimar Republic". This month we are pleased to present a contribution by Dr. Sebastian Klauke (Ferdinand-Tönnies-Gesellschaft e. V., Kiel). In the information on further research options below, we refer to our object gallery on the main page of online collection, where we present further sources on this complex of topics.


The activities of the German Sociological Association (DGS), founded in 1909 by Georg Simmel, Ferdinand Tönnies and Max Weber among others, were interrupted by the First World War. Sociology had not yet established itself as an independent academic discipline during this period. The establishing of decidedly sociological chairs did not follow until 1919: Franz Oppenheimer became professor at Frankfurt University and in Cologne Max Scheler and Leopold von Wiese occupied corresponding positions. Wiese was also responsible for the first sociological journal, the Kölner Vierteljahrshefte für Soziologie (Cologne Quarterly Journals for Sociology), which was published from 1921 on, and was active in the Cologne Institute for Social Research, which was founded in 1918/1919. Other specialized journals followed. Sociology developed into an academically anchored discipline, which was also politically pushed in this way. During the Weimar Republic, sociological chairs were established at a total of 18 universities, filled by 34 people. Ferdinand Tönnies, the best-known sociologist of the Weimar period, was awarded a lectureship in sociology at Kiel University in 1921, but did not receive his own chair.

From a theoretical point of view, the theory of relations founded by Wiese, which focused on the analysis of interactions between people, was particularly influential in the Weimar Republic, although it disappeared into insignificance after 1945. Other important sociologists during the 1920s and early 1930s were Ferdinand Tönnies, Alfred Weber, Karl Mannheim, Werner Sombart, Alfred Vierkandt, Hans Freyer, Theodor Geiger, and Andreas Walther. In the process, various thematic orientations unfolded, and sociology experienced an enormous differentiation in terms of content: Alfred Weber in Heidelberg, for example, represented a sociology of culture, Andreas Walther in Hamburg pursued an empirically oriented sociology, and the sociology of knowledge emerged around Karl Mannheim. At the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research, critical theory emerged under the institute's director Max Horkheimer from the early 1930s on.

In addition to the universities, non-university locations were important for the development of sociology, for example, the German School of Politics in Berlin or the Academy of Labor in Frankfurt.

Vorlesungsverzeichnis der Deutschen Hochschule für Politik

Course Catalogue of the German School of Politics, Department of Sociology and Social Policy (Summer Term 1921), BArch, R 1501/113523.


After lengthy deliberations and preparations since 1919, the DGS reestablished in 1922. Ferdinand Tönnies became its president and remained in function until 1933, von Wiese was its secretary during this time. Access to the DGS was strictly limited and worked by co-optation under a patronage system. The political spectrum of its members ranged from convinced democrats, liberal thinkers and Marxists to rightwing intellectuals, such as Carl Schmitt.

Aufklärungsschrift von Franz Oppenheimer zur Sozialisierung

Information pamphlet by Franz Oppenheimer on the concept of "socialization". Werbedienst der deutschen sozialistischen Republik, Nr. 49, 1919. Landesarchiv Baden-Württemberg, Abt. Hauptstaatsarchiv Stuttgart, E 135 b Bü 563.


The DGS and its members were the dominant players in sociology as an independent discipline. Since 1926, there were also thematic subgroups for topics such as methodology, natural law, sociology of knowledge, and sociography. International connections occurred through corresponding members from abroad as well as through the participation of individual DGS members in international meetings and congresses. Beyond the DGS, sociologists also intervened in social and daily political debates and sometimes saw themselves as public intellectuals who also gave public lectures. Tönnies, for example, also engaged in the Reich's draft school act.

Anträge zum Entwurf eines Reichsschulgesetzes

Motions on Section 20 of the Draft Reich School Act (Confessional School). - Handakten Staatssekretär Dr. Pünder: Bd. 2, 1928. Bundesarchiv, BArch R 43-I/792a.


The third Sociologists' Conference was held in Jena in 1922, followed by others at intervals of two years each, the last in Berlin in 1930. Thematically, these events were rarely concerned with daily political and social developments, although public intellectuals such as Tönnies certainly raised their voices against the rise of the National Socialists. In Jena, the focus was on the "Essence of Revolution," while the other topics of the Sociologists' Conferences were "Sociology and Social Policy" and "Science and Social Structure" (1924), the "Essence of Democracy" (1926), "Competition" (1928), and finally "Press and Public Opinion" (1930).

An eighth Sociologists' Conference, which was to take place for the last time in Kiel in April 1933, was no longer held. While Leopold von Wiese was still striving for the free "enforced conformity" of the DGS, it was finally "shut down" by Hans Freyer. During the period of National Socialism, mainly empirical social research was carried out, theory played largely no role, but by no means did sociology disappear as a science. About two thirds of the sociologists had to flee.

The DGS was reestablished in 1946, and in September of the same year the eighth Sociologists' Conference was held, in which Leopold von Wiese played a leading role.


This text is a scholarly contribution to the "In Focus" series. We would like to thank Dr. Sebastian Klauke (Ferdinand-Tönnies-Gesellschaft e. V., Kiel) for making it available to us.


Links to the sources in the online collection

Tätigkeit der Deutschen Hochschule für Politik

Franz Oppenheimer: Sozialisierung

Reichsschulgesetz - Handakten Staatssekretär Dr. Pünder: Bd. 2


Research Options

If you are interested in further sources on Reichszentrale für Heimatdienst in the Deutsches Reich, use the A-Z Index to select Soziologie and Sozialpolitik and combine this thematic keyword for instance with the Deutsches Reich geographical index.

In the object gallery on the front page of the online collection you can find more sources related to the keywords Soziologie, Sozialpolitik and Universität.