Adorno - Adorno's Sociological Methods

Adorno's Sociological Methods

Because Adorno believed that sociology needs to be self-reflective and self-critical, he believed that the language the sociologist uses, like the language of the ordinary person, is a political construct in large measure that uses, often unreflectingly, concepts installed by dominant classes and social structures (such as our notion of "deviance" which includes both genuinely deviant individual and "hustlers" operating below social norms because they lack the capital to operate above: for an analysis of this phenomenon, cf. Pierre Bourdieu's book The Weight of the World). He felt that those at the top of the Institute needed to be the source primarily of theories for evaluation and empirical testing, as well as people who would process the "facts" discovered...including revising theories that were found to be false. For example, in essays published in Germany on Adorno's return from the USA, and reprinted in the Critical Models essays collection (ISBN 0-231-07635-5), Adorno praised the egalitarianism and openness of US society based on his sojourn in New York and the Los Angeles area between 1935 and 1955.

One example of the clash of intellectual culture and Adorno's methods can be found in Paul Lazarsfeld, the American sociologist for whom Adorno worked in the middle 1930s after fleeing Hitler. As Rolf Wiggershaus recounts in The Frankfurt School, Its History, Theories and Political Significance (MIT 1995), Lazarsfeld was the director of a project, funded and inspired by David Sarnoff (the head of RCA), to discover both the sort of music that listeners of radio liked and ways to improve their "taste", so that RCA could profitably air more classical music. Lazarsfeld, however, had trouble both with the prose style of the work Adorno handed in and what Lazarsfeld thought was Adorno's "lack of discipline in ... presentation".

Adorno himself provided the following personal anecdote:

"What I mean by reified consciousness, I can illustrate – without elaborate philosophical contemplation - most simply with an American experience. Among the frequently changing colleagues which the Princeton Project provided me with, was a young lady. After a few days, she had gained confidence in me, and asked most kindly: “Dr Adorno, would you mind a personal question?”. I said, “It depends on the question, but just go ahead”, and she went on: “Please tell me: are you an extrovert or an introvert?”. It was as if she, as a living being, already thought according to the model of multi-choice questions in questionnaires.”

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