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.


Invitation to Sociology (1963)[edit]

  • There are very few jokes about sociologists.
    • p. 11
  • The game of sociology goes on in a spacious playground.
    • p. 29
  • We have as many lives as we have points of view.
    • p. 71
  • At a certain age children are greatly intrigued by the possibility of locating themselves on a map. It appears strange that one's familiar life should actually have all occurred in an area delineated by a set of quite impersonal (and hitherto unfamiliar) coordinates on the surface of the map. The child's exclamations of "I was there" and "I am here right now" betray the astonishment that the place of last summer's vacation, a place marked in memory by such sharply personal events as the ownership of one's first dog or the secret assembling of a collection of worms, should have specific latitudes and longitudes devised by strangers to one's dog, one's worms, and oneself. This locating of oneself in configurations conceived by strangers is one of the important aspects of what, perhaps euphemistically, is called "growing up". One participates in the real world of grown-ups by having an address. The child who only recently might have mailed a letter addressed "To my Granddaddy" now informs a fellow worm-collector of his exact address – street, town, state and all – and finds his tentative allegiance to the grown-up world view dramatically legitimated by the arrival of the letter.
    • p. 81

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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