Thinking Outside the Circle: The Geistkreis and the Viennese “Kreis-Culture” in America


Ohad Reiss-Sorokin


Publication Number: 2022-01

Publication Date: Tuesday, January 4, 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.