History of the Institute of Social Research (Summary)
Ludwig v. Friedeburg
The Institute of Social Research could not have developed at any other
German university but that in Frankfurt am Main. A state university
like all its successors, its foundation had been approved in 1914 by
the sovereign responsible, the Prussian King Wilhelm II, but unlike
all the others did not have the approval of the respective state parliament
responsible for its financing. The reason was that the latter's conservative
majority disapproved of the plans for a university forged by this liberal
commercial city and some of its wealthy entrepreneur and banking families,
to set up a free university for all in the former free city annexed
by the Prussians in 1866 rather than a university after the Prussian
pattern. After all, the city reportedly had Jewish-democratic tendencies.
Funds from the state would not be forthcoming, therefore. Consequently,
the only solution lay in private sponsorship allied with the support
of the city a financing method which simultaneously ensured the new
university would retain a liberal outlook.
City and sponsors made a conscious decision against theological faculties,
creating in their stead a natural science faculty and, for the first
time in Germany, an economics and social sciences faculty. Within the
latter the academy for social and commercial sciences founded at the
beginning of the century continued to be active and the representative
building built by the Jügelstiftung in 1907 became the centre of
the university which opened in October 1914. That Frankfurt's Lord Mayor
Adickes succeeded in closely binding the patronage in the city with
its cultural policy was largely due to his cooperation with Wilhelm
Merton; the director of the firm Metallgesellschaft concerned himself
with the social issues arising from the "Gründerzeit".
He set up an Institute for Public Welfare charged with examining how
both the public and private sector could contribute to solving social
and economic problems. Adickes succeeded in binding this interest to
the university project, plausible enough with respect to the academy,
less so in the case of the university.
To ensure the liberalness of the university and counter what amounted
to discrimination of Jewish scholars in Frankfurt, in a departure from
the organization favoured by the state universities, the city and sponsors
were, via a council and its committee also involved in making appointments.
The equality of all denominations thus achieved new dimensions in Prussia.
Frankfurt made up for what its Prussian rulers had so long failed to
do. When war and inflation depleted funds, the city, later the state
of Prussia intervened. The Social Democrats who now formed part of the
government, overcame the rising resistance and joined forces with the
university's sponsors; in addition, they cooperated with the unions
to set up a labour academy for the education of union members.
In the period when medicine fused with chemistry and opened up new
horizons for research, the Berlin Ministry of Culture had begun to take
notice of the extraordinary talent of Paul Ehrlich whose prospects at
Berlin's university were scant. In 1899 an Institute for Experimental
Therapy was set up for him in Frankfurt, for which the city contributed
the land and building costs while the state covered operational costs.
A second building and a considerable sum of money for Ehrlich's therapy
research were donated by the widow of the Jewish banker Georg Speyer.
This new legal form of participation by the state, city and local sponsors
became a model for the later founding of the university, at which Ehrlich
who had meanwhile received the Nobel prize for his research work became
professor for the experimental therapy he had developed, and would have
become its first president had his health not prevented him from doing
Neurologist Ludwig Edinger, who had set up in Frankfurt as a general
practitioner and specialist for neurology was also to achieve distinction.
Edinger was convinced he would find the key to the understanding of
the brain functions in the anatomy of the brain. He lectured on his
experiences in doctors' circles, and this series of lectures was published
as a book which attained international recognition. On account of his
research work he was appointed head of his own neurological institute
at the beginning of the century within the Senckenberg Stiftung, which
he incorporated into the new university as one of the eleven founding
institutes with the proviso that it continued to be financed from donations.
The liberal programme of the foundation university which attracted
excellent scholars from all disciplines in the 1920s, particularly benefited
the interdisciplinaries and new subjects above all sociology. It was
in 1918 in Frankfurt that with the funds from a foundation the first
chair in sociology was established in Germany, and in 1919 the Minister
for Culture at the suggestion of the sponsor businessman Karl Kotzenberg,
pushed through the appointment of an outsider. Franz Oppenheimer was
one of the leading figures from the founding circle of historical sociology,
who, did not however, as a doctor come from the right family, namely
that of historical economics, and as a Jew despite his extraordinary
teaching success as a lecturer at Berlin University had, until then,
hardly had an opportunity to become a full professor, particularly since
he saw himself as a socialist. In reality he was a radical liberal,
who placed free competition above everything else. He wanted to free
capitalism from its harsh land ban and support of monopoly and strove
for a society of free, equal human beings in which everyone had free
access to acquiring land. No other scholar of that time has through
his students, among them Ludwig Erhard, exerted such a profound influence
on developments in the Federal Republic of Germany from the currency
reform on into the 1960s.
Of no less importance in socio-political terms and hardly conceivable
at that time at any other place, was, in 1923 the setting up of the
first research unit for scientific Marxism at a German university by
the Weil family in the establishment of the Institute of Social Research,
including a chair. The idea originated from Felix Weil whose father
had increased the family fortune in corn trading in Argentina and having
returned for health reasons, had lived in Frankfurt since 1912. Felix
Weil studied economics here, began in 1919, the year of the revolution
to work on his doctorate in Tübingen, was ejected from Württemberg
because of revolutionary agitation, then received his doctorate in 1920
in Frankfurt on the concept of socialization. Together with Kurt Albert
Gerlach, a young economist who in 1922 was called from a chair in Aachen
to Frankfurt, and Friedrich Pollock, a friend from Max Horkheimer's
young days he developed the plan for an Institute of Social Research.
From the start social research as the task of the Institute meant more
than the expression implies today. The scientific, but also the practical
intention was the "knowledge and discovery of social life in its
whole entirety"; it was concerned with the network of "interactions
between the economic foundation, the political-legal factors down to
the final ramifications of intellectual life in community and society"
(Society for Social Research 1925, 12), as its first director, Gerlach,
declared in his inaugural memorandum in 1922. But it was not the interdisciplinary
cooperation as such but its main research interest, scientific Marxism,
which shaped the Institute. The money for building the Institute was
donated by Felix Weil from the inheritance left him by his mother, the
funds for staff and general upkeep by his father. The Society for Social
Research in 1922 entered in the Register of Associations as benefactor.
The building which was erected the following year opposite the university
but some distance away in the Viktoria-Allee, known today as the Senckenberganlage
was designed by Frankfurt architect Franz Röckle and was not at
all in the style of the bourgeois Westend architecture.
It united the new functionalism with the style of a Florentine palace.
Comparing it with the somewhat later IG-Farben house built by Hans Poelzig
in the style of a new functionalist Baroque castle on the northern edge
of the Westend quarter, Wolfgang Schivelbusch remarks: "The Institute
of Social Research and the I.G.-Farben building both marked in their
own way the departure from the bourgeois world of the 19th century,
which found architectural expression in the villas of Frankfurt's Westend.
In the Institute of Social Research the new world of monopoly capitalism
was subjected to theoretical observation and analysis, in the I.G.-Farben
building it was contributed to in the real economic sense. The strange
parallelism of the two buildings and the enterprises residing within
them continued far beyond the 1920s." (Schivelbusch 1985, 13).
After the war the administrative centre of the chemical industry became
that of the American Administration, with whose help the Institute of
Social Research received a new building, because the first had been
destroyed by bombs. And now Frankfurt University is moving into the
In 1924 the first director of the Institute of Social Research was
not as planned Gerlach, who died unexpectedly, but the father of Austro-Marxismus,
Carl Grünberg, who was already professor for political science
at Vienna University and whose numerous followers, from Max Adler and
Otto Bauer to Karl Renner and Rudolf Hilferding had a great influence
on social democratic politics in Austria. Grünberg took his Archives
of the History of Socialism and the Workers' Movement with him. He was
no less convinced than Oppenheimer that a new social order was necessary
and plausible, but unlike him he believed that socialism would supersede
capitalism altogether, and he saw his task as doing everything in his
power to promote this development, though not by involvement in day-to-day
politics or party politics, but rather through scientific work using
the Marxist research method.
Thanks to the stimulating atmosphere of the city the university flourished
in all its disciplines. During the 1920s Frankfurt experienced its intellectual
heyday, in the new university, but also in its societal and cultural
life, in the newspaper Frankfurter Zeitung and in Radio Frankfurt. Such
a cultural climate was nurtured by the city's social-liberal character,
which was continued convincingly in the Weimar Republic under the left-wing
liberal Jewish Lord Mayor Ludwig Landmann. Furthermore, the city's industrial
potential was increased by the incorporation of other communities, in
particular through large chemical plants such as in the district of
Hoechst. Modernization went hand in hand with social reform and infrastructure
politics, exemplary Ernst May's apartments for the "Neues Frankfurt",
and the city authorities actively supported democracy and the Republic
through public relations efforts. No citizens' grouping directed against
social democracy could have developed in Frankfurt, least of all with
an anti-Semitic colouring. The influential groups among the new middle
classes tended to support the social-liberal coalition; Frankfurt's
education and cultural policies were accordingly in keeping with republican
politics. The awarding of the Goethe prize to Sigmund Freud in 1930
was not in line with the traditional view of science, neither did it
rest easy with the prejudices of German nationalism. The Frankfurt Institute
of Psychoanalysis had, during this period, begun its research and teaching
activities in the rooms of the Institute of Social Research. The representatives
of city and state on the prize committee stood by their controversial
decision and notwithstanding the bitter resistance of the Goethe philologists
followed the arguments for Freud. In the words of Alfred Döblin
who represented the Prussian Academy of Arts, by awarding Freud the
prize the modern city of Frankfurt demonstrated that "it wished
to ease the infinitely difficult intellectual situation prevailing in
Germany" (Schivelbusch 1985, 110).
In this intention the two Prussian Ministers for Culture Carl Heinrich
Becker and Adolf Grimme supported the city wholeheartedly during the
Weimar Republic. This support manifested itself, for instance in the
appointment of successors to the chairs in sociology. The candidates
were once again outsiders and were of greater significance for the social-scientific
discourse in the university and the intellectual culture in the city
than the first generation. Karl Mannheim's support of republican constitutional
politics and the special role of sociology in the political enlightenment
led the registrar and Minister of Culture to assert his candidacy despite
initial resistance as the follower of the professor emeritus Oppenheimer.
From Heidelberg he brought with him Norbert Elias, a scholar roughly
his own age, of Jewish descent like himself, who was working on his
comprehensive analysis of courtly society and who played a central mediatory
role in Mannheim's teaching activities.
At the same time another young private professor of philosophy, Max
Horkheimer, was appointed as new director of the Institute of Social
Research in place of Grünberg who was ill. However, Horkheimer
could not, as the sponsors wished, take over Grünberg's vacant
chair in the economics and social sciences faculty, which had chosen
the respected economist and politically active republican Adolf Löwe
from the Kiel Institute for World Economy. Subsequently, the creation
of a new chair in the faculty for philosophy, which insisted on naming
it chair in social philosophy, made Horkheimer's appointment possible.
Since his youth he had been a friend of Friedrich Pollock, who had worked
in the Institute of Social Research from its foundation. Horkheimer
took up the project of a materialistic societal theory differently than
Grünberg. Cooperation between the specialists, the sociologists
and economists, historians and psychologists should be guided through
philosophical reflection, determined by the formulation of questions
from a social philosophy understood as a societal theory. It was starting
from this premise that he began the Journal for Social Research together
with Löwenthal and Pollock, Fromm, Grossmann and Adorno.
In the empirical research of the Institute the emphasis was to be on
theoretical outlines and individual experience. Horkheimer wanted "to
pursue the great philosophical questions using the most finely honed
scientific methods, reformulate the questions during the work on the
subject, state things precisely, think of new methods and yet never
lose sight of the general." In his inaugural speech he referred
to the example of a study begun by the Institute on a social group that
was especially important and characteristic in societal-theoretical
terms, namely the qualified workers and employees in Germany. The findings
of the study were, at the beginning of the 1930s, suitable to "influence"
and "change" not only the theoretical considerations, but
also their relationship to societal practice. (Horkheimer 1931, 11)
They demonstrated that it was illusionary to entertain any hope of a
wider base for resistance in the event of a fascist takeover. As such
they confirmed Horkheimer's premonition of the imminent disaster and
strengthened him in his resolve to prepare for the Institute's emigration.
Via Geneva and Paris he led the Institute to Columbia University New
York. Since the university was organized as a foundation, it meant the
private funds for its upkeep which were got out of Germany in good time
not only ensured the Institute's survival after its expulsion, but also
enabled the unique interdisciplinary cooperation between its members
in the USA and the continued publication of the Journal for Social Research.
The comprehensive studies that followed in the United States itself
on authority and the family, and above all the studies on prejudices
and authoritarian personality structures sharpened critical insights.
However the course of history during that epoch, the enormous rise in
destructive potential in the developed industrial societies served to
change the theoretical view. Finally, came their virtually hopeless
Dialectics of Enlightenment.
In Frankfurt the National Socialist regime expelled one third of the
university's teaching staff for racist or political reasons including
leading representatives of their respective subjects. The expulsion
and then annihilation of the German Jews had a particular effect on
both the university and the city. It deprived them of the most important
group among the supporters of their liberal-democratic culture. Following
the collapse of the regime in the Western zones efforts were made there
to latch onto pre-war orientations and structures, a striving for continuity
determined societal development. Also in Frankfurt but with a clearly
other trend. The development here represented a deviation from the German
special way. The city which had been largely destroyed was rebuilt by
a radical democratic coalition in which the Social Democrats under Walter
Kolb as Lord Mayor took the reins, but together with a left-wing liberal
CDU, with Georg Klingler as treasurer. The Free Democrats in Frankfurt
also remained left-wing liberal, unlike the opposition role of their
regional party vis-à-vis the large coalition in Wiesbaden with
its radical-democratic colouring.
The city of Frankfurt and the new state of Hesse were also responsible
for reinstating sociology at Frankfurt University. The main concern
was that the Institute of Social Research return and resume its work
in Germany. Whilst exiled sociologists and representatives of the political
sciences generally stood a better chance of being called back than scholars
from other disciplines due to the vacuum that existed and the efforts
to establish democratic-political education, the efforts by the city
and the state, supported by the American Administration to bring the
expelled sociologists back to Frankfurt were unprecedented. Julius Kraft
later taught again at the faculty for economics and social sciences
whilst Gottfried Salomon rejoined the faculty for philosophy. Horkheimer,
Pollock and Adorno returned earlier to continue their joint work. In
1950 at the insistent invitation of city and state the Institute of
Social Research was again set up as a private foundation using public
funds and simultaneously as sociology seminar of the philosophy faculty
at Frankfurt University.
The new Institute building was erected diagonally opposite the ruin
of the first one, on the corner plot of Senckenberganlage and Dantestraße
and site of the former villa belonging to consul Kotzenberg which was
likewise destroyed by bombs. It was financed from the McCloy fund, donations
from the city of Frankfurt and contributions from the Society for Social
Research, which had meantime been re-entered in the associations register
from which it had been struck by the National Socialist regime. Designed
by Frankfurt architects Alois Giefer and Hermann Mäckler the building
reflected the modest functionalism of the early 1950s, its outer walls
clad in muschelkalk plates, the entrance hall and the storeys in the
stairwell with Solnhofen stone. To exploit to the full the prescribed
height of the neighbouring villas from the pre-war period, a veranda-like
glass structure topped the three-storey building rather than a gable
roof. Alongside the study rooms for the scientists, it housed lecture,
seminar and library rooms, as well as a Hollerith machine for empirical
research. The latter had already begun on the Institutes return to Germany,
in the cellar of the ruins of the old Institute. The subject was the
relationship between German ideology and democratic culture in post-war
society. Using group discussions, an investigative method developed
by the Institute, opinions and attitudes of characteristic groups in
the West German population on political issues were to be ascertained,
to determine which ideologies shaped public opinion and how group opinions
are formed and assert themselves. The central research interest was
a societal theory on the development trends of late capitalism and its
conformist and authoritarian personality characteristics. In quickly
resuming its empirical social research the Institute, which as a private
foundation was part of the university and also assigned with the sociology
seminars within the philosophy faculty, also won the support of younger
staff to combine students' societal-theoretical education with empirical
training. The discussion of empirical research work and practical exercises
on social-scientific research methods were thus part of the curriculum
immediately after the Institute's return. As such, sociology in Frankfurt
once again began to meet the particular requirement which had distinguished
it at both faculties during the 1920s, of combining critical general
societal reflection with empirical research it had conducted itself,
in order to further sociological knowledge.
On the occasion of the official opening of the Institute on November
14, 1951 in the new building, Horkheimer emphasized the desire for continuity.
To remind his audience of the ongoing objectives of the Institute's
work, he repeated part of the inaugural lecture he held twenty years
earlier on accepting the post of director, stating that the goal was
"to organize studies based on current philosophical issues, on
which philosophists, sociologists, economists, historians, psychologists
would unite in continual interdisciplinary cooperation". More important
still than a professional training for sociologists, was he believed
the task of "making social science education an element in the
academic study of those who would in the future be active as teachers,
politicians, journalists, doctors, even jurists, and in other influential
areas. We see in social science an element of that current humanism,
whose development is connected to the question of mankind's future."
(Institute of Social Research 1952, 10) The fact that Horkheimer and
Adorno not only considered social science could develop in this manner
and be taken up by a new generation of students in a Germany devastated
by war, but also that its chances of success were greater than in the
United States was one of the decisive motives for their return.This
motive shaped how teaching was resumed in Frankfurt, but was also behind
the unusual intensity with which philosophy professors set up a seminar
course for sociology. A further motive was that it would provide a sure
opportunity for joint theoretical work. However, Horkheimer was to have
little time for this. The privileges endowed on him by a chair in philosophy
and sociology were, in the following years, offset by his duties as
dean, president, and Institute director, but also as visiting professor
in America. It was not by him but for him that the first volume of the
Frankfurt Contributions to Sociology was published. This commemorative
publication entitled Soziologica for his 60th birthday contained contributions
which had originally been collected for a new publication of the Journal
for Social Research. The Amsterdam edition of the Dialectics of Enlightenment
was available in bookshops. Horkheimer did not have other works produced
during his exile published again for decades. Unlike Adorno whose Philosophy
of Modern Music appeared in Germany in 1949 and in 1951 Reflections
from Damaged Life with the new title Minima Moralia which was a continuation
of the philosophical fragments. Pollock published the book about Group
Experiment and likewise published in the Frankfurt Contributions to
Sociology an early work which assessed the economic and social implications
In the following decades that saw the revival of social science in
Frankfurt, the Institute developed two new research areas in industrial
sociology and educational sociology. The societal-political struggles
during the 1950s over the laws on shop rules and worker co-determination
provided the occasion for the first industrial sociological study on
the working atmosphere in the coal and steel industry. It was followed
by studies on the fluctuation in coal mining and then, in cooperation
with Burkart Lutz, European studies on the limits of wage incentives
in an increasingly mechanised industry.
In educational sociology the main interest focused on the connection
between university and society. Studies had been carried out with students,
university lecturers, and non-academics in industry and commerce since
the early 1950s. The most important study in which Jürgen Habermas
participated concerned the relationship between Student and Politics.
This was later followed by research work on the effectiveness of political
education in schools.
A growing number of students who received their theoretical education
in the sociology and philosophy seminars by Adorno and Horkheimer took
part in these studies. In the 1960s Adorno's influence spread way beyond
that of influencing science and knowledge of art, to an element of European
political culture. After numerous publications on philosophy, sociology
and theory of music in 1966 he published his Negative Dialectics. In
America interest focused on Herbert Marcuse who in 1964 had his studies
published on the ideology of the advanced industrial society entitled
One-Dimensional Man. The studies in Frankfurt and Berlin on the reform
and democratization of the universities played an important role for
the growing student protest movement also developing in Germany. The
great demand for it by students led to Dialectics of Enlightenment being
republished and in this climate Alfred Schmidt published a series of
Horkheimer's important works from the 1930s entitled Critical Theory.
Since following Germany's material recovery there was a revival of interest
in the problems of societal development, the "Kritische Theorie"
attracted worldwide interest and became associated with The Frankfurt
After Horkheimer's retirement Adorno had directed the Institute in
the 1960s until his sudden death in August 1969. In the 1970s studies
on the unions led by Gerhard Brandt formed the main thrust of research,
the subject of incentive-wage systems was taken up again and research
on women established itself as a major study topic. There followed studies
on economic and social determinants of working-time policy, socio-industrial
research on the impact of using computers in production, as well as
studies on industrial rationalization during the Weimar Republic, under
National Socialism and during the state socialism of the GDR and Hungary.
Since the 1980s political sociology has again assumed importance for
the Institute's research work which turned towards aspects of the democratic
culture in West and Eastern Europe; after the fall of communism it devoted
itself to the resurgence of right-wing extremists and the democratic
self-image of students. At the same time studies were begun on the modernization
in the city of Frankfurt, which examined the changing relationship between
social rationalization and subjective acquisition of social change.
In the course of the universities reform in 1973 a new statute replaced
the board of directors which had, to date, been run the Institute by
an Institute council made up of equal numbers of directors and staff
representatives. In 1997 the directors were replaced by a committee
of scientists chaired by the executive director, as of 1975 Ludwig v.
Friedeburg. The other committee members are Helmut Dubiel, Adalbert
Evers, Ute Gerhard, Axel Honneth and Wilhelm Schumm. Since then the
Institute's research programme has been divided into three main areas:
democratic culture, social state and democracy, capitalistic modernization
and the future of work. The first subject area aims researching the
dangers and paradoxes in the development of civilian states of societies
as exemplified in the conflict of the sexes in liberal democracies,
in ethno-centric, racist and sexist forms of discrimination and in the
opportunities and risks inherent in transnational civilian-socio developments.
The empirical work in the second main area examines the problems and
opportunities presented by social integration when the traditional form
of social state is being eroded, in particular it examines social exclusion,
non-state actors in social politics, welfare cultures and the relation
between the sexes, but also the institutionalization of care provision.
Research work in the third major area looks at new corporate forms,
the internal marketing of companies and the dialectics of participation,
as well as industrial relationships in global capitalism.
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Rekonstruktion von den Anfängen im Horkheimer-Kreis bis Habermas.
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Jutta. Computer und Arbeitsprozeß. Frankfurt/New York 1978.
Eckart, Christel/Jaerisch, Ursula G./Kramer, Helgard. Frauenarbeit
in Familie und Fabrik. Frankfurt/New York 1979.
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