Thinking Outside the Circle: The Geistkreis and the Viennese 'Kreis-Culture' in America
Center for the History of Political Economy at Duke University Working Paper Series 2022-01, January 2022
45 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2022
Date Written: January 3, 2022
Besides their ideas and social networks, émigré intellectuals bring with themselves practices for engagement with intellectual work. This article focuses on one such practice: the intellectual Kreis [circle]. It focuses on the Geistkreis, an interwar Viennese interdisciplinary intellectual circle. Based on archival research, the article uses a number of case studies to show that the Kreis was employed by the Viennese emigres as a mental scheme and as a recipe for action. It argues that the émigrés’ adherence to the Kreis-structure explains the friction between them and their hosts. By following the attempts of former Geistkreis members to create Kreis-like institutions in America, the article shows that the Kreis was more than mere organizational form. It represented an epistemical commitment to knowledge-making as a collective effort, and the preference of general theoretical knowledge over specialized research. It also entailed an intermingling of 'work' and 'life' that did not conform to American norms.
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