Lazarsfeld's Legacy| A Socialism of Empiricism, Not Ideology: Paul Lazarsfeld and Commitment in Social Research

Joseph Malherek


Paul Lazarsfeld’s upbringing was infused with the revolutionary potential and moral commitment of early 20th-century socialism. He was virtually raised by the leaders of the Austrian Social Democrats who frequented his mother’s salons, including Friedrich Adler and Otto Bauer. Lazarsfeld’s coming of age perfectly coincided with the birth of the Austrian republic and the new possibility of building a rational, socialist society. The organization of social research toward progressive ends was, for Lazarsfeld, a moral calling as much as it was a profession. Beyond his talents as a quantitative sociologist, Lazarsfeld was able to command the devotion of his researchers and sponsors, such as Robert Lynd, in large part because of his social-democratic bona fides. Yet Lazarsfeld would clash with those colleagues who were most forthright in their leftist commitments, notably Lynd, Theodor W. Adorno, and C. Wright Mills. Focusing less on these well-documented episodes than on the character of Lazarsfeld’s research projects, this article takes the view that it was not socialism as political ideology but rather socialism as empirical practice that defined the Lazarsfeld corpus.


socialism, empiricism, sociology, social democracy, ideology

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