This article examines the intellectual scenery of interwar Vienna. It argues that its central institution was not academia, but rather the circles (‘Kreise’). The prominence of these circles can partly account for the creative outburst in the social sciences in interwar Vienna. The article also helps to explain the peculiar character of the knowledge produced in interwar Vienna which is just as much concerned with social and political issues as it is with more traditional scientific issues. The lack of formal institutions and the marginal position of the University of Vienna also had downsides. It caused uncertainty in terms of career prospects and professional identities, although the informal interaction within the circles full of rituals and alternative institutions could partly make up for this. The uncertain future for scholars ultimately contributed to the enormous wave of migration from Vienna, frequently even before the political situation became an acute threat.
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