Institute for social research in frankfurt turns 100

Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt turns 100

Frankfurt/Main (dpa) – Whether it's about the conflict of goals between economy and ecology or the trench warfare over the gender star – the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research (IfS) wants to be in the 100. In the 50th year of its existence, the company will continue to contribute to a better understanding of itself.

The institute celebrates its birthday in 2023 with events for various target groups. A major ceremony with prominent figures from science and politics is scheduled for 23. January.

Former directors have set the bar high for the institute's work. The house opposite the Senckenberg Museum is inseparably linked with the names Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer connected, but Jurgen Habermas was also connected to the Institute. For today's research work, this is "both a capital and a mortgage," says the current director, Stephan Lessenich: "As far as intellectual equity is concerned, we have good reserves." The task, however, is to preserve the stance of critical theory without letting looking back obstruct the view of what is new: "We will have to find other answers."

When it was founded with private funds in 1923, the IfS was "quite clearly a Marxist research institute," as Lessenich explains. Even today, central concepts of enlightened Marxism are important for the work of the institute, he said. "Concepts such as crisis, resistance, ideology, or critique are still relevant to critical social analysis today."

Under Horkheimer, the Institute formed what became known as Critical Theory and was also referred to as the Frankfurt School in foreign descriptions. Marxism gave way to, according to the historical self-description of the IfS, "social-philosophically oriented social criticism". In 1933, the Gestapo closed the institution – because of "anti-state efforts". Exiles continued in Geneva and New York. In 1949, the researchers returned to Frankfurt, and in 1950 the institute was re-established as a private foundation with public funds.

In the post-war period, the focus was on how the Nazis came to power, how democracy can be promoted and what endangers it. During the student movement, Adorno got caught between the fronts. In 1969, female students provoked him in the lecture hall with exposed breasts. The rumor that the "bust assassination" led to his death shortly thereafter was among the most popular anecdotes among Frankfurt's ex-students. After Adorno, Ludwig von Friedeburg made his mark on the IfS, and from 2001 Axel Honneth was at the helm.

Its main theme was the "paradoxes of modernity," but after 20 years this leitmotif is to be replaced in the anniversary year by a new research program, which is currently being worked out. The concept of contradiction will play an important role here, Lessenich announces. For one thing, he's referring to "the hard-core contradictions" in our society, such as the conflicting goals of ecology and economy. On the other hand, he also means the contradiction in society they can cause. "The clearer the contradictions that underlie our model of society become, the more likely it is that people will disagree."

On the other hand, one could look at the contradiction of individual population groups and try to uncover in which social contradictions they are rooted. As an example, Lessenich cites the controversy over Native American costumes, the protest against the gender star, or the rejection of refugees. Science, he said, can help "move away from surface phenomena" and "illuminate underlying structural developments".

"Critical theory was never for the ivory tower, but always also a social project," Lessenich emphasizes. He considers sociology alone as internal communication in the scientific enterprise to be an "aberration". Adorno gave radio lectures – Lessenich thinks about podcasts and blogs. Finally, he said, the institute, which is funded with public money, also has an obligation to the public. In 2021, the state of Hesse has increased its co-funding by 250.000 euros to just under 900.000 euros a year raised.

"The state has decided to significantly increase the institute's basic funding because it needs the critical social science that the IfS, which is unique in Germany, is doing right now," Science Minister Angela Dorn (Greens) told dpa. "We need sophisticated social science, humanities, philosophical thinking to help us reflect critically."