Peter L. Berger

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Peter Ludwig Berger (March 17, 1929 - June 27, 2017) was 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.


  • Secularization theory is a term that was used in the fifties and sixties by a number of social scientists and historians. Basically, it had a very simple proposition. It could be stated in one sentence. Modernity inevitably produces a decline of religion.

Invitation to Sociology (1963)


Peter L. Berger (1963), Invitation to Sociology: A Humanistic Perspective, Doubleday.

  • I shall admit frankly that, among the academic diversions available today, I consider sociology as a sort of 'royal game'.
    • Preface
  • The same processes that generate consensus can be manipulated by a social group worker in a summer camp in the Adirondacks and by a Communist brainwasher in a prison camp in China.
    • Chapter 1, "Sociology as an Individual Pastime."
  • The sensible person reads the sociological journals mainly for the book reviews and the obituaries, and goes to sociological meetings only if he is looking for a job or has other intrigues to carry on.
    • Chapter 1
  • In science as in love a concentration on technique is quite likely to lead to impotence.
    • Chapter 1
  • We are not interested in excommunicating anyone. The game of sociology goes on in a spacious playground. We are just describing a little more closely those we would like to tempt to join our game.
    • Chapter 1
  • Perhaps some little boys consumed with curiosity to watch their maiden aunts in the bathroom later become inveterate sociologists. This is quite uninteresting. What interests us is the curiosity that grips any sociologist in front of a closed door behind which there are human voices.
    • Chapter 1
  • Like [John] Wesley, the sociologist will have to confess that his parish is the world.
    • Chapter 1
  • The game of sociology goes on in a spacious playground.
    • p. 29
  • At least within our own consciousness, the past is malleable and flexible, constantly changing as our recollection reinterprets and re-explains what has happened.
    • p. 57 ; Cited in: Robert Benjamin Smith, ‎Peter K. Manning (1982), Qualitative methods. p. 64
  • 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 Social Construction of Reality, 1966


Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann (1966) The Social Construction of Reality, New York, Anchor Books; The Penguin Press, 1967; Penguin University Books 1971; Peregrine Books 1979; Pelican Books 1984 ; Penguin Books 1991.

  • The present volume is intended as a systematic, theoretical treatise in the sociology of knowledge. It is not intended, therefore, to give a historical survey of the development of this discipline, or to engage in exegesis of various figures in this or other developments in sociological theory, or even to show how a synthesis may be achieved between several of these figures and developments. Nor is there any polemic intent here. Critical comments on other theoretical positions have been introduced (not in the text, but in the Notes) only where they may serve to clarify the present argument.
    • p. 7; Lead paragraph of preface
  • The basic contentions of the argument of this book are implicit in its title and sub-title, namely, that reality is socially constructed and that the sociology of knowledge must analyse the process in which this occurs.
    • p. 1 (1999; 13)
  • It will be enough, for our purposes, to define 'reality' as a quality appertaining to phenomena that we recognize as having a being independent of our own volition (we cannot 'wish them away'), and to define 'knowledge' as the certainty that phenomena are real and that they possess specific characteristics.
    • p. 1 (1999; 13)
  • Compared to the reality of everyday life, other realities appear as finite provinces of meaning, enclaves within the paramount reality marked by circumscribed meanings and modes of experience.
    • p. 25
  • A sign [has the] explicit intention to serve as an index of subjective meanings... Language is capable of becoming the objective repository of vast accumulations of meaning and experience, which it can then preserve in time and transmit to following generations... Language also typifies experiences, allowing me to subsume them under broad categories in terms of which they have meaning not only to myself but also to my fellowmen.
    • p.35-39
  • The social stock of knowledge differentiates reality by degrees of familiarity... my knowledge of my own occupation and its world is very rich and specific, while I have only very sketchy knowledge of the occupational worlds of others.
    • p. 43
  • The social distribution of knowledge thus begins with the simple fact that I do not know everything known to my fellowmen, and vice versa, and culminates in exceedingly complex and esoteric systems of expertise. Knowledge of how the socially available stock of knowledge is distributed, at least in outline, is an important element of that same stock of knowledge.
    • p. 46
  • Social order is a human product, or more precisely, an ongoing human production.
    • p. 52
  • Habitualization carries with it the important psychological gain that choices are narrowed… the background of habitualized activity opens up a foreground for deliberation and innovation [which demand a higher level of attention].
    • p. 53
  • The most important gain is that each [member of society] will be able to predict the other’s actions. Concomitantly, the interaction of both becomes predictable… Many actions are possible on a low level of attention. Each action of one is no longer a source of astonishment and potential danger to the other.
    • p. 57
  • A social world [is] a comprehensive and given reality confronting the individual in a manner analogous to the reality of the natural world... In early phases of socialization the child is quite incapable of distinguishing between the objectivity of natural phenomena and the objectivity of the social formations… The objective reality of institutions is not diminished if the individual does not understand their purpose or their mode of operation...He must ‘go out’ and learn about them, just as he must learn about nature.
    • p. 59-61
  • Theoretical knowledge is only a small and by no means the most important part of what passed for knowledge in a society… the primary knowledge about the institutional order is knowledge... is the sum total of ‘what everybody knows’ about a social world, an assemblage of maxims, morals, proverbial nuggets of wisdom, values and beliefs, myths, and so forth.
    • p. 65
  • A society’s stock of knowledge is structured in terms of what is generally relevant and what is relevant only to specific roles… the social distribution of knowledge entails a dichotomization in terms of general and role-specific relevance… because of the division of labor, role-specific knowledge will grow at a faster rate than generally relevant and accessible knowledge… The increasing number and complexity of [the resulting] sub universes [of specialized knowledge] make them increasingly inaccessible to outsiders.
    • p.77-87
  • Legitimation as a process is best described as a 'second-order' objectivation of meaning. Legitimation produces new meanings that serve to integrate the meanings already attached to disparate institutional processes. The function of legitimation is to make objectively available and subjectively plausible the 'first-order' objectivations that have been institutionalized.
    • p. 92 (1991; 110)
  • The second level of legitimation contains theoretical propositions in a rudimentary form. Here may be found various explanatory schemes relating sets of objective meanings. These schemes are highly pragmatic, directly related to concrete actions. Proverbs, moral maxims and wise sayings are common on this level. Here, too, belong legends and folk tales, frequently transmitted in poetic forms.
    • (1991; 112)
  • On this level of legitimation, the reflective integration of discrete institutional processes reaches its ultimate fulfilment. A whole world is created. All the lesser legitimating theories are viewed as special perspectives on phenomena that are aspects of this world. Institutional roles become modes of participation in a universe that transcends and includes the institutional order. In our previous example, the 'science of cousinhood' is only a part of a much wider body of theory, which, almost certainly, will contain a general theory of the cosmos and a general theory of man.
    • (1991, 114)
  • The symbolic universe also orders history. It locates all collective events in a cohesive unity that includes past, present and future. With regard to the past, it establishes a 'memory' that is shared by all the individuals socialized within the collectivity. With regard to the future, it establishes a common frame of reference for the projection of individual actions.
    • p. 104 (1991, 120)
  • Specific procedures of universe-maintenance become necessary when the symbolic universe has become a problem. As long as this is not the case, the symbolic universe is self-maintaining, that is, self-legitimating by the sheer facticity of its objective existence in the society in question.
    • (1991; 123)
  • An intrinsic problem, similar to the one we discussed in connexion with tradition in general, presents itself with the process of transmission of the symbolic universe from one generation to another. Socialization is never completely successful. Some individuals 'inhabit' the transmitted universe more definitely than others.
    • (1991; 124)
  • Two societies confronting each other with conflicting universes will both develop conceptual machineries designed to maintain their respective universes. From the point of view of intrinsic plausibility the two forms of conceptualization may seem to the outside observer to offer little choice.
    • (1991; 126)
  • Without proposing an evolutionary scheme for such types, it is safe to say that mythology represents the most archaic form of universe-maintenance, as indeed it represents the most archaic form of legitimation generally.
    • (1991; 127-8)
  • Modern science is an extreme step in this development, and in the secularization and sophistication of universe-maintenance.
    • (1999: 130)
  • The individual... is not born a member of society. He is born with a predisposition towards sociality, and he becomes a member of society. In the life of every individual, therefore, there is a temporal sequence, in the course of which he is inducted into participation in the societal dialectic. The beginning point of this process is internalization : the immediate apprehension or interpretation of an objective event as expressing meaning, that is, as a manifestation of another's subjective processes which thereby becomes subjectively meaningful to myself.
    • p. 129 (1999; 149)
  • The child does not internalize the world of his significant others as one of many possible worlds… It is for this reason that the world internalized in primary socialization is so much more firmly entrenched in consciousness than worlds internalized in secondary socialization…. Secondary socialization is the internalization of institutional or institution-based ‘sub worlds’… The roles of secondary socialization carry a high degree of anonymity… The same knowledge taught by one teacher could also be taught by another… The institutional distribution of tasks between primary and secondary socialization varies with the complexity of the social distribution of knowledge
    • p. 129-147
  • One may view the individual’s everyday life in terms of the working away of a conversational apparatus that ongoingly maintains, modifies and reconstructs his subjective reality… [for example] ‘Well, it’s time for me to get to the station,’ and ‘Fine, darling, have a good day at the office’ implies an entire world within which these apparently simple propositions make sense… the exchange confirms the subjective reality of this world… the great part, if not all, of everyday conversation maintains subjective reality… imagine the effect…of an exchange like this: ‘Well, it’s time for me to get to the station,’ ‘Fine, darling, don’t forget to take along your gun.’
    • p. 147-163
  • By ‘successful socialization’ we mean the establishment of a high degree of symmetry between objective and subjective reality.
    • p. 163
  • Life-expectancies of lower-class and upper-class [vary] …society determines how long and in what manner the individual organism shall live…
    • (1991, p. 202)
  • Society determines how long and in what manner the individual organism shall live. This determination may be institutionally programmed in the operation of social controls, as in the institution of law. Society can maim and kill. Indeed, it is in its power over life and death that it manifests its ultimate control over the individual.
    • (1991; p. 202)
  • Society... directly penetrates the organism in its functioning, most importantly in respect to sexuality and nutrition. While both sexuality and nutrition are grounded in biological drives, these drives are extremely plastic in the human animal. Man is driven by his biological constitution to seek sexual release and nourishment. But his biological constitution does not tell him where he should seek sexual release and what he should eat.

biological constitution does not tell him where he should seek sexual release and what he should eat.

    • (1991, p. 202)
  • Man is biologically predestined to construct and to inhabit a world with others. This world becomes for him the dominant and definite reality. Its limits are set by nature, but, once constructed, this world acts back upon nature. In the dialectic between nature and the socially constructed world the human organism itself is transformed. In this same dialectic man produces reality and thereby produces himself.
    • p. 183 (1966); (1991; p. 208)

The Homeless Mind: Modernization and Consciousness (1973)

  • 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