Dahrendorf, Ralf

Dahrendorf, Ralf

Bio: (1929-2009) German-British sociologist. Ralph Dahrendorf received his doctorate in sociology from Hamburg University in 1952, and his second doctorate from the London School of Economics in 1956. Dahrendorf taught at the German universities of Hamburg, Tübingen, and Constanta, and in Great Britain where he was the dean of the London School of Economics (1974-1984) and warden of St. Anthony's College at the University of Oxford (1987-1997).

From the beginning of his career, Dahrendorf studied social conflicts, classes, and relations of authority and power. In his book Class and Class Conflict in Industrial Society (1959, in German 1957), he concludes that the manual working class was going through the process of increased stratification. The differences in wages, prestige, and job security between unskilled and semi-skilled, on the one hand, and skilled manual workers, on the other, were constantly increasing. This stratification led to a decrease in solidarity within the working class and the emergence of different interests, as skilled workers struggle to maintain their better position. The stratification of the working class and the increase of intergenerational mobility lead to a decline in class solidarity and a reduction in class conflicts in society. He believed that the development of trade unions and negotiating and arbitration bodies between workers and employers would lead to the development of industrial democracy and the reduction of class conflicts.

In the same book, Dahrendorf argues that in modern society the main source of conflicts are relationships of power and authority. Every society always has both a static and a dynamic component and what unites both components are the forces of integration and conflict. Both forces are equally important for every society. A dynamic component can have its source inside or outside the social system. The key assumption is that the relations of power and authority have a decisive influence on social dynamics and changes, as well as on social conflicts. Authority, for Dahrendorf, is one of the key concepts of sociology. Authority is associated with legitimate Authority, primarily with the formal position in the hierarchy itself, while power is the relationship of a particular person who occupies a position of authority with those who are subordinate to him.

Positions of authority are those that are expected and that are obliged to carry out forced subordination. Such positions are located within various institutions: the state, schools, companies, churches, etc. Positions of authority serve to achieve integration because they ensure compliance with and respect for social norms. However, the same positions of authority that should ensure integration can be the starting point for conflict. There are different interests within organizations, and if those in positions of authority work in the interest of their own partial interests, then conflicts can arise. When different interests are manifested, an interest group can be created, and when an interest group starts fighting for its interests, then it becomes a conflict group.

In Homo sociologicus (1965a), Dahrendorf studies social roles and considers them to be patterns that shape our behavior in a constant and pervasive way. However, roles, according to Dahrendorf, are not inherently integrative, because individuals who perform some roles may not accept them or accept them only partially. In later works, he recognizes that at the end of the twentieth century, a large subclass emerged in developed economies, which is a consequence of the loss of well-paid manual jobs due to mechanization of production. He believes that members of this class are not full citizens, because they lack the economic security to achieve that. Dahrendorf studied class conflicts in industrial societies and concluded that, although they are ostensibly about production and property, relations of domination are a real source of class conflicts.

Main works

Soziale Klassen und Klassenkonflikt in der industriellen Gesellschaft (1957);

Homo sociologicus: Ein Versuch zur Geschichte, Bedeutung und Kritik der Kategorie der sozialen Rolle (1965);

Gesellschaft und Demokratie in Deutschland (1965);

Essays in the Theory of Society (1968);

The New Liberty (1974); 

Pfade aus Utopia: Arbeiten zur Theorie und Methode der Soziologie (1974);

The Crisis of Democracy (1975); 

Lebenschancen: Anläufe zur sozialen und politischen Theorie (1979);

The Modern Social Conflict (1988);

Betrachtungen über die Revolution in Europa (1990);

Versuchungen der Unfreiheit: Die Intellektuellen in Zeiten der Prüfung (2006).

Works translated into English:

Society and Democracy in Germany (1967, in German 1965); 

Life chances: Approaches to Social and Political Theory (1979, in German 1979); 

Reflections on the Revolution in Europe (2017, in German 1990);

Class and Conflict in an Industrial Society (2022, in German 1957);

Homo Sociologicus (2022, in German 1965).

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