Invitation to Sociology---Chapter 1



Other Chapters:
#2... #4... #5... #6... #8

CHAPTER 1

Sociology as an Individual Pastime



Overview

Berger begins by trying to "clear the deck" about sociology and sociologists...trying to clarify just what it and they "aren't" before affirming what it and they "are." He starts by addressing six "ambiguous" images of sociologists...stressing that each image by itself is only partially true and even when taken together, they don't really tap into this reality. He shows a clarity of thought on many issues within the discipline...even today...as well as within the social sciences in general. Then he portrays his passion for sociology which, it turns out, has been and still is shared by many of us.

I. AMBIGUITY OF IMAGES OF A SOCIOLOGIST

-----A. as a social worker
--------i.e. the practice of helping people
--------fact is...sociological information is valuable to anyone...not equal to humanitarian information
----------can be used for fighting crime and for promoting crime
-------- "working with people"...not in the character of the information itself

-----B. as a theoretician for social work
--------Social Work is more influenced by psychology than sociology
----------is a "practice"
-------- "Sociology is not a practice, but an attempt to understand." (p. 4)
--------Social Work would/could be informed by a better sociological understanding, though
--------BUT... "Sociological understanding can be recommended to social workers, but also to salesmen, nurses, evangelists and politicians--in fact, to anyone whose goals involve the manipulation of men, for whatever purpose and with whatever moral justification" (5)

(RE: the "value-free" quality of sociology)
---does not mean sociologist doesnít have or shouldnít have any personal values
---does mean that sociologist must be aware of them in doing sociological work
----- "The sociologist tries to see what is there. He may have hopes or fears concerning what he may find. But he will try to see regardless of his hopes or fears. It is thus an act of pure perception, as pure as humanly limited means allow, toward which sociology strives." (5)
---Further...what of the issue about the purposes to which a sociologistís work is put?
-----asking about it is NOT a sociological question
-----IS a personal and human question...and should be asked as such

-----C. as a social reformer
--------long-standing tradition in both Europe and America
--------BUT issue is the same as above concerning "social worker"
--------Nothing inherent in sociological information which leads to "reform"

-----D. as a gatherer of statistics
--------given the survey-like quality of much of sociological research...
--------given the "parasociological" work of public opinion and market research
--------Berger admits there is something to this image ("albeit regretfully") beyond "fantasy"
--------Since World War I (with some reversal since)... "American sociology turned rather resolutely away from theory to an intensive preoccupation with narrowly circumscribed empirical studies" (9)
-------Adoption of "the criterion of productivity"...as used in the business world
---------discusses what has come to be known as the "publish or perish" system in academia
---------Productivity determined by number of articles and books "accepted" by journals
---------leads to work on "some little empirical study of a narrowly confined topic" (10)

----Berger then critiques the "image" by saying...
--- "Statistical data by themselves do not make sociology. They become sociology only when they are sociologically interpreted, put within a theoretical frame of reference that is sociological" (11)
------"The interpretation, however, must be broader than the data themselves" (11)

-----E. as a scientist
--------i.e. "developing a scientific methodology that he can then impose on human phenomena" (12)
--------connected with the prior image as a statistician
--------involves development of a "jargon" which to some equals "intellectual barbarism"
--------So while admitting to some of this...Berger disclaims that its inherent to sociology
------Yet... "as a science" sociology must use certain "canons of procedure" and "rules of evidence" and thus, must have some concern with methodological problems and issues

------Despite this...and at the same time..."it is quite true that some sociologists, especially in America, have become so preoccupied with methodological questions that they have ceased to be interested in society at all." (13)
---------a concentration on technique
---------a relatively new discipline still trying to find acceptance within the academy
---------have seen this emulating of the older natural sciences in psychology too
---------IRONY: "...that natural scientists themselves have been giving up the very postivistic dogmatism that their emulators are still straining to adopt..." (13)

---------RE: issue of "jargon" mentioned above
------------despite some truth...also true that any discipline must develop its own terminology
------------especially in disciplines where no words for it exists in public speech
------- "However, terminology is possibly even more important for the social sciences, just because their subject matter IS familiar and just because words DO exist to denote it." (14)
------Further: "It is obvious that the sociologist must have a precise, unambiguous definition of the concept if his work is to proceed with any degree of scientific rigor." (14)
------YET AGAIN...is not to deny "...that most sociology can be presented in intelligible English with but a little effort and that a good deal of contemporary "SOCIOLOGESE" can be understood as a self-conscious mystification." (14)

-----F. as a certain kind of person
--------i.e. as a "detached, sardonic observer, and a cold manipulator of men." (15)
--------irony is that comes from efforts to be accepted as a "scientist"
--------IS a gross distortion...yet, understandable in light of the certain amount of selling of sociology to government and business.

So...if no one image is accurate (nor a mere compilation of them)...how are we to conceive of a sociologist?
---Berger constructs an "ideal type" from the images ... one which he readily admits will have deviations in terms of what real live sociologists do. (pp. 16-17)

---He then goes on to ask not only what the sociologist is DOING...but also...

II. WHAT DRIVES...someone...TO BE A SOCIOLOGIST?

-----1. Interested in the "doings of men"
-------"intensively, endlessly, shamelessly" (18)
-------everything and anything and anywhere
-------NOT only the "unique"
-------But rather...the commonplace, the everyday stuff of life
------- "without respect for the usual lines of demarcation" (18)

------- "Thus his questions may lead him to all possible levels of society, the best and the least known places, the most respected and the most despised. And, if he is a good sociologist, he will find himself in all these places because his own questions have so taken possession of him that he has little choice but to seek for answers." (18)
-------He will end up in places considered by others to be "too sacred" or "too profane"
-------He will stand before a "closed door" with a curiosity about the human voices behind it
-------And he will meet up with others there too...the economist, the political scientist, the psychologist, the ethnologist (19)...and espeicially, the historian (20)

-------Yet, the sociologistís questions will probably be different than those others and his "angle of vision"
---------i.e. "what are people ding with each other here?"
---------i.e. "what are their relationships to each other?"
---------i.e. "how are these relationships organized in institutions?"
---------i.e. "what are the collective ideas that move men and institutions?"

-----2. Excitement in the "discovery of new worlds"
------previously "unthought and unthinkable" (20)
-------- "new worlds" of crime, religion, medicine, military, and advertising

-----3. Finding the "familiar transformed"
------HOWEVER...it is the "familiar" which will lead to excitement, too
-------- "...the excitement of finding the familiar becoming transformed in its meaning" (21)
--------seeing "...in a new light the very world in which we have lived all our lives" (21)
-----a "TRANSFORMATION OF CONSCIOUSNESS"

III. MAJOR DIFFICULTY

-----YET...this very fact leads to a special difficulty for the sociologist...
--------finding of onesí own world to be the subject matter of oneís work and consciousness
-------- "The sociologist lives in society, on the job and off it. His own life, inevitably, is part of his subject matter" (21)
--------a major distinction between social scientists and natural scientists
-----------Kessel: what others have called...our "double involvement"

IV. THE MANY LAYERS OF MEANING OF SOCIAL REALITY

---1. The "obvious" conceals more than it reveals
------ "...there is a deceptive simplicity and obviousness about some sociological investigations. One reads them, nods at the familiar scene, remarks that one has heard all this before and donít people have better things to do than to waste their time on truisms...until one is suddenly brought up against an insight that radically questions everything one had previously assumed about this familiar scene. THIS IS THE POINT AT WHICH ONE BEGINS TO SENSE THE EXCITEMENT OF SOCIOLOGY (emphasis added)" (22)

------KESSEL: the definition of "obvious" has different levels, too...
--------surface definition: easy to see or understand...plain, evident, in no need of further explanation
--------critical definition: being in the way...that which hides something else
------BERGER: on pp. 22-23 gives an example of the deceiving and hiding quality of the "obvious"
--------re: racial system and caste system

---2. FIRST WISDOM OF SOCIOLOGY

------- "things are not what they seem" (23)

------- "This too is a deceptively simple statement. It ceases to be simple after a while. Social reality turns out to have many layers of meaning. The discovery of each new layer changes the perception of the whole" (23)

V. SOCIOLOGICAL "CULTURE SHOCK"

--- "The experience of sociological discovery could be described as "culture shock" minus geographical displacement." (23)
------not always or even usually outrageous to "moral sentiment"
------RATHER: what sociological discoveries have in common is:
-------- "...the sudden illumination of new and unsuspected facets of human existence in society." (23)
-----------to BERGER...the "humanistic justification of sociology" (see Chapter 8 for details)

---Terrific quote and a WARNING...:

"People who like to avoid shocking discoveries, who prefer to believe that society is just what they were taught in Sunday School, who like the safety of the rules and maxims of what Alfred Schuetz has called the "world-taken-for-granted," should stay away from sociology. People who feel no temptation before closed doors, who have no curiosity about human beings, who are content to admire scenery without wondering about the people who live in those houses on the other side of that river, should probably also stay away from sociology. They will find it unpleasant or, at any rate, unrewarding. People who are interested in human beings only if they can change, convert, or reform them should also be warned, for they will find sociology much less useful than they hoped. And people whose interest is mainly in their own conceptual constructions will do just as well to turn to the study of little white mice. Sociology will be satisfying, in the long run, only to those who can think of nothing more entrancing than to watch men and to understand things human." (24)

VI. FINALLY

---Berger observes that the title of this chapter...Sociology as an Individual Pastime...is understated
---He says... "Sociology is more like a passion" (24)
------a "demon" so to speak

"An introduction to sociology is, therefore, an invitation to a very special kind of passion. No passion is without its dangers. The sociologist who sells his wares should make sure that he clearly pronounces a "caveat emptor" (let the buyer beware) quite early in the transaction." (24)