SOCIOLOGY REINTERPRETED: An Essay on Method and Vocation by Peter & Hansfried Kellner Berger

SOCIOLOGY REINTERPRETED: An Essay on Method and Vocation

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Back in 1963 when Professor Berger (Sociology, Boston College) wrote his popular Invitation to Sociology, the field was just entering its salad days. Now it is under attack, both from external cuts in funding and an internal sense of futility. As Berger and Kellner (co-author with Berger and Brigitte Berger of The Homeless Mind) recognize, many sociologists now feel a need for mutual reassurance, ""like inmates of a nursing home to whom it is a matter of congratulation that they are still around at all."" What Berger and Kellner attempt to do here is to reinterpret and reinspire, drawing on the classic work of Max Weber, one of the most subtle of sociological theorists. What they fail to accomplish, however, is the sort of massive pruning executed, for history, by Oscar Handlin (On Truth In History) and Jacques Barzun (Clio and the Doctors). Berger and Kellner are more timid. True, they do criticize ""technocratic professionalism,"" insisting that sociologists turn their minds from trivia bacK to the ""big questions"" (vast themes, apparently, like modernity and individual freedom). They do criticize ""ideological pseudoprophesy,"" insisting, as did Weber, that the sociologist be value-free in the pursuit of scientific knowledge. Certainly the sociologist may hold given values, they say, but he or she should still be able to ""bracket"" these values in favor of scientific objectivity--""a specific relevance structure in which an individual can shift in his or her consciousness."" Such fast switches in consciousness appear unnaturally easy to Berger and Kellner who, in one of the many overly-facile comparisons, liken them to the arousal or dampening of sexual interest. At the same time, they recognize that through such ""bracketing,"" such value-freeness, sociology has had a subversive, or de-legitimating effect. The sociological perspective (that underneath institutions and established practices, ""there is a hidden, invisible structure of interests and forces""), translated into everyday life, undermines values and beliefs. All the authors can suggest, in a rather elitist response, is that there must exist ""hard boundaries between science and life."" Granted, relevance went out with the Sixties, but is this truly the direction in which sociology should be moving? Berger and Kellner optimistically conclude that sociology as a method ""has not become sterile. It still has a promising future."" Little evidence of that appears here. In short, a reaffirmation of sociological faith rather than a serious questioning of it.

Pub Date: Aug. 7th, 1981
Publisher: Anchor/Doubleday