Peter L. Berger

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Peter Ludwig Berger (March 17, 1929) is an Austrian-born American sociologist known for his work in the sociology of knowledge, the sociology of religion, study of modernization, and theoretical contributions to sociological theory. He is best known for his book, co-authored with Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (New York, 1966), which is considered one of the most influential texts in the sociology of knowledge, and played a central role in the development of social constructionism.


The Homeless Mind: Modernization and Consciousness (1973)[edit]

  • An individual is generally ready to admit that he is ignorant of periods in the past or places on the other side of the globe. But he is much less likely to admit ignorance of his own period and his own place, especially if he is an intellectual. Everyone, of course, knows about his own society. Most of what he knows, however, is what Alfred Schultz has aptly called “recipe knowledge”—just enough to get him through his essential transactions in social life. Intellectuals have a particular variety of “recipe knowledge”; they know just enough to be able to get through their dealings with other intellectuals. There is a “recipe knowledge” for dealing with modernity in intellectual circles; the individual must be able to reproduce a small number of stock phrases and interpretive schemes, to apply them in “analysis” or “criticism” of new things that come up in discussion, and thereby to authenticate his participation in what has been collectively been defined as reality in these circles. Statistically speaking, the scientific validity of this intellectuals’ “recipe knowledge” is roughly random.
    • pp. 4-5
  • The encounter with bureaucracy takes place in a mode of explicit abstraction. ... This fact gives rise to a contradiction. The individual expects to be treated “justly.” As we have seen, there is considerable moral investment in this expectation. The expected “just” treatment, however, is possible only if the bureaucracy operates abstractly, and that means it will treat the individual “as a number.” Thus the very “justice” of this treatment entails a depersonalization of each individual case. At least potentially, this constitutes a threat to the individual’s self-esteem and, in the extreme case, to his subjective identity. The degree to which this threat is actually felt will depend on extrinsic factors, such as the influence of culture critics who decry the “alienating” effects of bureaucratic organization. One may safely generalize here that the threat will be felt in direct proportion to the development of individualistic and personalistic values in the consciousness of the individual. Where such values are highly developed, it is likely that the intrinsic abstraction of bureaucracy will be felt as an acute irritation at best or an intolerable oppression at worst. In such cases the “duties” of the bureaucrat collide directly with the “rights” of the client—not, of course, those “rights” that are bureaucratically defined and find their correlates in the “duties” of the bureaucrat, but rather those “rights” that derive from extrabureaucratic values of personal autonomy, dignity and worth. The individual whose allegiance is given to such values is almost certainly going to resent being treated “as a number.”
    • pp. 55-56

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