The Sociology of Theodor Adorno reads like an anachronistic title for a book. This is not because the ink of Adorno’s last written word dried four decades ago. Many disciplines, notably philosophy and aesthetics, still cite his oeuvre as a timely source. It is Adorno’s sociology that seems so far out of touch with basic trends in contemporary social science as to no longer warrant attention. Adorno conceived sociology as a demarcated discipline insofar as ‘there are specifically sociological methods and . . . questions’ (IS 99) and insisted that this discipline required a concept of society. These convictions appear to clash head-on with present-day ideas for sociology’s cross- or post-disciplinarity (Urry 2000a: 199–200; 2003:124), its reunification with other disciplines as twenty-first-century historical science (Wallerstein 2000: 33–4) and its abandonment of the concept of society.1 At first glance, Adorno’s sociology promises little more than reactionary obstacles for the discipline’s advance into the new millennium.
But the issue is not so straightforward. Adorno’s sociology resonates consonantly with some of these developments. He never considered sociology as a conventional academic subject. Notwithstanding the specificity of sociological questions and methods, he assigned no defined, defining substantive field to them (IS 102). Adorno even deplored the ‘moats’ separating ‘scientific . . . disciplines’, which swallowed their ‘essential interest’ (IS 140), and deemed the exclusion of ‘economic questions’ about society’s ‘process of production and reproduction’ particularly precarious (SSI 504). Adorno conducted no sociological study without pushing or crossing sociology’s boundaries. What he refused to rely on was the intellectual’s ability to erase or ignore socially enforced disciplinary discriminations purely by dint of a resolution to do so (GS6 524, MM 21). Adorno’s work also raises no objections to present critiques of the concept of society as sociology’s central category, if what is at issue is the concept of the nation state (e.g. Beck 2000; Urry 2000b). His concept of society was that of capitalist exchange society. And even this concept, Adorno held, mainly created trouble for sociology. It is just that he understood conceptual problems as expressions of social problems and therefore rejected the relinquishment of the concept of society as all too swift an attempt to silence material predicaments calling for analysis.