Social theory and education policy
The legacy of Karl Manheim
This paper is based on a lecture delivered by Professor Geoff Whitty on 9 January 1997, the fiftieth anniversary of the death of the sociologist Karl Mannheim who held a chair at the Institute of Education. Professor Whitty quotes Sir Fred Clarke, the Director of the Institute who appointed Mannheim to his chair, as saying that educational theory and education policy that take no account of changes in the wider social order will be ‘not only blind but positively harmful’. He suggests that similar arguments apply today and that it therefore remains essential that Mannheim’s legacy is preserved in institutions such as the Institute of Education. He demonstrates the importance of exercising the ‘sociological imagination’ in relation to contemporary education policy and education research, drawing examples from literature on curriculum reform, marketisation and school effectiveness. He then discusses Mannheim’s own shift from ‘diagnosing the crisis’ to ‘prescribing the remedies’ and considers how far it is legitimate for contemporary social theorises and sociologists of education to make such a move. Finally, he reflects about how Mannheim’s notion of ‘democratic planning’ might be superseded by more genuinely democratic forms of education policy-making in the aftermath of recent neo-liberal policies of deregulation.