Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

“To the extent that class is real, it is itself already ideology” (Adorno)

On the Cultural Composition of a Basal Category of Society

Dr. Eva BlomeDr. Patrick Eiden-Offe, Prof. Dr. Manfred Weinberg


In 1968, in his “Remarks on Social Conflict Today,” Theodor W. Adorno asserts, with reference to the American sociologist Lewis A. Coser, that social conflicts “[are] not dysfunctional and disintegrative for the social system, not to be considered exclusively as anomalies, but rather as motors, which care for the ‘conservation, adjustment or adaptation of social relations and social structures.’” If the concept of class marks the division of society into antagonistic groups on the basis of their socio-economic positioning, then the connection between class and social integration can hardly be understood more concisely.

At the same time, in every theory for which the concept of class is central, it is unclear how and with which scientific methods the concept can be adequately determined. The three projects of this research initiative will take seriously and further develop on a cultural-theoretical level Adorno’s double diagnosis of class as just as “real” as it is “ideological.” Class, as will be demonstrated, is a concept that is necessarily culturally (“ideologically”) manufactured, and (only) so can accomplish its “real” integrative capacity for order.  That the category of class contains the promise to deliver theoretical access to the “hard” base mechanisms of society has historically prevented an understanding of the fundamental cultural aspects of class. Because the cultural status of the concept has not been explained, class has fallen out of discussions in literary and cultural studies.

The theoretical-strategic gambit of the project is thus: We are not interested in an unconditional re-establishment of the category of class, but rather in a theoretically tenable survey and recasting of those open places which such new class concepts as “precariat,” “intellectual proletariat” and “underclass” signal. Thereby a new convergence of cultural studies and sociological research will become visible. The vagueness of current debates will also be anchored in a secure cultural foundation.

Manfred Weinberg: Proletarian Autobiography

The project – building on a already existing study of Goethe’s Poetry and Truth, and the narrative strategies of the po(i)etic construction of identity – will investigate the relationship between individuality and class in worker autobiographies whose legitimization follows decidedly from reference to the concept of class.  As autobiographies, the texts cannot avoid profiling individuality, but want at the same time to propagate class consciousness. A narratological analysis of these texts will show the contradictions of the integrative concept of class.

Eva Blome: Class and Education. On the Narrative Formation of Social Dynamics

Proceeding from the observation that social inequality in modern Wissensgesellschaft derives increasingly from an unequal access to educational resources, the project investigates the discursive and narrative foundations of the interplay of the cultural concepts of “education/formation” and class since the Age of Goethe.  The integrative and disintegrative force of “education” will be thereby accentuated insofar as it both relates to the process of the acquisition of competencies, and thus can accentuate the emancipation from class affiliation, and can also mark the result of this process, and thus can contribute to the differentiation of classes. The narrative formation of these social dynamics leads through a comparative analysis of literary and theoretical texts from the contexts of the Bildungsroman tradition, the Vormärz, the worker’s movement after 1848, and theoretical Marxist writings.

Patrick Eiden-Offe: Class. On the Compulsive Figuration of Social Reality

The project investigates classical texts of the Marxist theoretical tradition (Marx, Lukács, Luxemburg, et.al.) to reconstruct the figurative composition of the category of “class.” It will analyze the rhetorical and narrative strategies which are employed to legitimate the Marxist thesis of the division of society into antagonistic classes and which erect “class struggle” as a generative conflict which constitutes social reality in the first place. The project will show how the theories play out, on the one hand, the flexibility of a figurative use of the concept of class, and how they, on the other hand, attempt to dissimulate this condition with reference to their putative scientificity. The investigation will also encompass figures and concepts, which emerge in current political debate about the “return of class society”, such as “the precariat” and “the multitude.”


Eva Blome, Patrick Eiden-Offe, Manfred Weinberg: Klassen-Bildung. Ein Problemaufriss. In: Internationales Archiv für Sozialgeschichte der deutschen Literatur (IASL). 35, 2 (2010), 158–194.