This book provides an invaluable introduction to his historical and conceptual engagement with sociology.
Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969) was a prominent member of the Frankfurt School and one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century in the areas of social theory, philosophy and aesthetics.
23 April 19681
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Perhaps I may be excused for being, quite simply, delighted to see you present in such numbers at this introductory lecture. It would be disingenuous of me to conceal it - either from you or from myself. And I appreciate the confidence you show in me by being here, especially in view of certain voices which have been raised in the press of late,2 which, I am sure, have come to your notice as much as to mine. On the other hand I feel obliged, just because . [Shout from the audience: 'Speak up!'] Well now - isn't the loudspeaker working? - On the other hand I feel obliged, just because there are so many of you, to say a few words about the career prospects for students of sociology.
At the conference of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Soziologie3 a number of speakers complained that the Gesellschaft4 had failed to give you useful information on employment prospects for sociologists. I would point out that my colleague in Hamburg, Heinz Kluth,5 the Chairman of the Committee for Higher Education, has in fact taken great pains in that matter. However, I think I should also put before you some of the material we have in Frankfurt, however inadequate it may be, because it will help those of you who really are beginners to make a free choice on whether you want to study sociology, especially as your major subject. I have to tell you that the career prospects for sociologists are not good.6 It would be highly misleading to gloss over this fact. And far from improving, as might have been expected, these prospects have actually got worse. One reason is a slow but steady increase in the number of graduates; the other is that, in the current economic situation,7 the profession's ability to absorb sociology graduates has declined. I should mention here something I was not aware of earlier, and have only found out since becoming closely involved in these matters. It is that even in America, which is sometimes called the sociological paradise, and where sociology does, at least, enjoy equal rights within the republic of learning, it is by no means the case that its graduates can effortlessly find jobs anywhere. So that if Germany were to develop in the same direction as America in this respect, as I prognosticated ten years ago, it would not make a significant difference. The number of students majoring in sociology has risen to an extraordinary degree since 1955.8 Let me give you a few figures: in 1955 there were 30 sociology majors, in 1959, 163; in 1962 there were 331, in 1963, 383; now there are 626. In view of this I should be professionally blinkered indeed if I were to tell you how wonderful it is that so many of you are studying sociology!
If you compare the expectations and wishes of students with the professions they actually later adopt, the results are even worse. For example - and this is very interesting - only 4 per cent of sociology students originally wanted to work at a university, whereas 28 per cent of graduates have been absorbed into higher education. In other words, the university, which produces sociologists, is also their main consumer, their primary customer. This is a situation which, making somewhat free use of the language of psychoanalytic theory, I have called incestuous [Laughter], In my opinion, this is not a desirable state of affairs. On the other hand, only 4 per cent of students (I'll only give you a few figures, so that we don't spend too long on these matters) originally intended to go into market and opinion research, whereas 16 per cent have actually entered that profession. By contrast, a relatively high number - 17 per cent - wanted to work in journalism, radio and television, but only 5 per cent of graduates have found employment there. With regard to industrial and company sociology, 3 per cent wanted to adopt this profession and 4 per cent have actually taken it up - a somewhat better ratio.
I won't trouble you further with these findings, but they do show you the broad picture. Herr von Friedeburg9 has put forward the - very convincing - hypothesis that the role of sociology today is essentially educational. This gives rise to obvious contradictions between educational requirements and wishes, on one hand, and the possibility of finding employment, on the other. There is always a certain tension between these two factors, and I would think this a subject not unworthy of investigation by critical sociology. The question such a study would have to address is how it has come about in society that, in general, professions which give little satisfaction, which are taken up as a kind of sacrifice to society, which go against one's nature, are better remunerated, socially, than those in which one follows what, in more humane times, was called the 'human vocation'.10 Naturally, I am not speaking here about manual work but about the so-called 'mental' or 'intellectual' professions - the professions one imposes on oneself, practises against one's own inclination. This has some bearing on the issue I am discussing. It also modifies somewhat our understanding of the educational needs within sociology. If the aim of that discipline is examined very closely, it turns out, I believe, to be something quite different to the traditional idea of education. This aim, finally, is the need to make sense of the world, to understand what holds our very peculiar society together despite its peculiarity, to understand the law which rules anonymously over us. One hears much talk about the concept of alienation - so much that I myself have put a kind of moratorium on it, as I believe that the emphasis it places on a spiritual feeling of strangeness and isolation conceals something which is really founded on material conditions. However, if I were to permit myself to use this term one more time, I would say that sociology has the role of a kind of intellectual medium through which we hope to deal with alienation. This is, of course, a very difficult question. To the extent that one seriously pursues the goal implicit in such a concept of sociology, one estranges oneself from practical purposes, from the vocational requirements of society. It is extraordinarily difficult to reconcile truly profound sociological knowledge with the professional demands to which people are subjected today. One of the difficulties of sociology - and this brings me to the problem which will concern us today - is to combine these very divergent desiderata; that is, to perform socially useful work, as Marx most ironically calls it, on one hand, and to make sense of the world, on the other. By now, these two requirements have probably become almost incompatible. Earlier - as I can still remember very well - it was the most serious and wide-awake students who were most troubled by this dichotomy. Today this fact - that the better one understands society, the more difficult it is to make oneself useful within it - has probably become a regular part of the consciousness of the intellectually progressive sector of students, and at any rate, I expect, of those in this hall today. A contradiction of this kind - that the more I understand of society, the less I am able to participate in it, if I may put it so bluntly - cannot be attributed simply to the subject of knowledge, as it might appear to naïve awareness. On the contrary, this impossible, contradictory aspect of the study of sociology is deeply bound up with the object of sociological knowledge - or, as I would rather put it - of social knowledge. Nor should you blame us, as sociologists, for being unable to reconcile these two incompatible factors. The inhomogeneous nature of sociology is something you will have to come to terms with from the outset. And you will have to try - consciously, not with a clouded vision unable to distinguish between what lies on either side of the dividing line - to acquire both the sociological skills and knowledge you need for your livelihood, and, at the same time, the insights for the sake of which, I suspect, most of you have decided to study sociology.
I know that one of the complaints which many of you - at least, I assume many of you were present on that occasion - made against the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Soziologie, for whose policies I am no longer responsible11 [Applause], was that it had failed to provide you with study guidance or a proper syllabus. Let me just say here - without wanting to minimize any omissions which may have occurred, for I am, heaven knows, no apologist for that learned body - that up to a point the discipline itself is responsible for those omissions. It is responsible in the sense that a continuity of the kind which is possible in, let's say, medicine or the mathematical natural sciences, or even, to an extent, in jurisprudence, is not possible in sociology. It cannot be promised, nor should it be expected.
So if you expect me, in these lectures, to explain how you can best plan your course of study, I am not quite equal to the task. At this university we have taken some care to ensure that you will find out about the things which are tested in the sociology exam, or at least hear something about them. But there is no royal road in sociology which would enable you to be told what are, first of all, the subject matter of sociology, then its main fields, then its methods. Or at least my own position, that I neither can nor wish to...