Invitation to Sociology
Peter L. Berger
the reading “Invitation to Sociology,” Berger explains how the sociological
approach is different from conventional wisdom and other academic disciplines,
like economics and law. He also
discusses the terms society, social, and social problems. He says that there are multiple levels of
reality which let one see behind and through social structures.
- Berger explains that the terms “society,” “social,” and “social problems” have many different
- A sociologist thinks of society as a large
complex of human relationships or as a system of interaction.
- He gives the example that two people talking on a
street corner would not be considered a society, but three people stranded
on an island would be.
- A sociologist uses the term social to describe
the quality of interaction, interrelationship, and mutuality.
- Two men talking on a street corner is not
considered a society, but it is considered social. Society consists of a number of social
events like this.
- Society is a number of complex social
events. Social situations are
people orienting their actions towards one another.
- Berger speaks of a process of “seeing through”
society. He gives an example of a
large city with endless rows of houses to explain this. We must look behind people’s closed
doors to really find out what is going on.
This is the same thing sociologists must do.
- Berger gives an example of how sociologists “look
behind” the facades of a community.
While you could look up the charter to figure out how a community
is governed, a sociologist is more concerned with the “informal power
structure.” This is a configuration
of men and their statutes. A
sociologist will “look behind” the official mechanisms that govern the
community while insisting there is another level of reality that needs to
- Berger also gives another example from the
economic world. A manager at an
industrial plant will prepare charts the show how the company is organized
and show that every man in the organization has his place. A sociologist will be more concerned
with trying to break through these official versions of reality and try to
find out what goes on below with the workers.
- One more example is that of the reasons for
marrying. A sociologist is more interested
in looking beyond “love” and finding out the motives related to the
institutional structure that causes people to marry.
- Berger explains that problems that interest the
sociologist may not be what other people call problems. While others think of divorce as a
problem and look to the sociologist for a solution, the sociologist
understands the sociological problem by understanding what goes on in
social interaction. So a social
problem is not why things go wrong, but how the whole system works together
in the first place. So the social
problem in the case of divorce would actually be marriage.
- Berger ends the essay by saying that the
sociological frame of reference is always looking for levels of reality
other than the official interpretations of society and its goal is to “see
through” the facades of society to find out what is really going on
underneath it all.