Invitation to Sociology--Chapter 8

Other Chapters:
#1... #2... #4... #5... #6

Sociology as a Humanistic Discipline


In his concluding chapter (which I believe should have been an introductory chapter to the book) Berger addresses the humanistic character of Sociology. He covers many different issues and finally covers the issue of what justifies Sociology itself. Although the entire chapter is interesting and worthy of attention, I believe it is toward the end, when he addresses the teachers of Sociology, that he makes his most telling and relevant points.

---Concerned with "human implications of having an academic discipline such as sociology" (p. 164)

Sociologists should take themselves a little less grimly and with a sense of "play"
---especially about its relation to other discipline
------its only one "game" among many
---should see the "human comedy" of society...the comic dimension of social reality
------doing this is: "a mark of its humanistic character" (165)
------i.eís political, stratification, religion, the erotic, the law

---AVOID: "humorless scientism" (i.e. the dominance of methodology)
------will "lose the world of phenomena" itself

---WILL DISCOVER: human values...
"Such values are humility before the immense richness of the world one is investigating, an effacement of self in the search for understanding, honesty and precision in method, respect for findings honestly arrived at, patience and a willingness to be proven wrong and to revise oneís theories, and , last but not least, the community of other individuals sharing these values" (166)

---1. attention to the commonplace activities
------"Everything that human beings do, no matter how commonplace, can become significant for sociological research"

---2. necessity to listen without volunteering his own views
------the "art of listening"

---3. responsibility for evaluating findings "without regard to his own prejudices, likes or dislikes, hopes or fears" (166)
----------" the very effort lies a moral significance not to be taken lightly" (166)

BUT MOSTLY...Sociology is concerned with "the human condition itself" (167)
---"...sociology comes time and again on the fundamental question of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a man in a particular situation." (167)
---implies "an openness of mind and a catholicity of vision"
------"...a system that interprets all human reality consistently and exclusively in sociological terms, recognizing no other causal factors within its preserve and allowing for no loopholes whatever in its causal construction" (168)
----------"itís logic is one-dimensional and closed within itself"
------this is the appeal of POSITIVISM
----------closes out the "paradoxical many sidedness of life itself"

OPENNESS also to other disciplines (RE: the human condition)
---especially History and Philosophy
------Sociology itself is a historical discipline
----------"As to philosophical literacy, it would not only prevent the methodological naivete of some sociologist, but would also be conducive to a more adequate grasp of the phenomena themselves that the sociologist wishes to investigate" (169)
---------Use of statistical techniques would be "more sophisticated" and "more civilized" (with a humanistic awareness)

---esp. for governmental and/or industrial operations
---Berger says... "can be employed in both humanly nefarious and humanly liberating enterprises" (170)

Most sociologists employed in academic institutions
---no room for self-righteous attitude towards those who donít
---humanistic impulse under severe strain IN academic contexts, too
---YET...the "academy" still has a persistent tradition... "as a place of freedom and of truth..." (172)

Re: Teaching Sociology to Undergraduates
---most not go on to graduate school in sociology
---most of "majors" wonít either
---most majoring in something else entirely

Berger observes:
--- "A sociologist teaching in many an average college, looking over his classes of young men and women desperately intent on social mobility, seeing them fight their way upward through the credit system and argue over grades with pertinacity, understanding that they could not care less if he read the phone directory to them in class as long as three credit hours could be added to the ledger at the end of the semester---such a sociologist will have to wonder sooner or later what sort of vocation it is that he is exercising." (173)

---More: There ARE ones "who really care, really understand, and one can always teach with only these in mind" (174)
------yet, is frustrating to do that in the long run, though
------Question IS: What is the "pedagogic usefulness of what one is teaching?" (174)
----------esp. to those who have no interest in Sociology itself
-------------(something shared by many disciplines)

---Considering the "debunking, disenchanting character of sociology"...
------ "It may well be asked with what right he peddles such dangerous intellectual merchandise among young minds that, more than likely than not, will misunderstand and misapply the perspective he seeks to communicate." (174)

MORE TO THE POINT..."What right does any man have to shake the taken-for-granted beliefs of others? Why educate young people to see the precariousness of things they had assumed to be absolutely solid? Why introduce them to the subtle erosion of critical thought? Why, in sum, not leave them alone?" (174)

BASED ON THE ASSUMPTION...that liberal education has a substantive connection with intellectual liberation...and...
--- "Where, however, the assumption still holds, sociology is justified by the belief that it is better to be conscious than unconscious and that consciousness is a condition of freedom. To attain a greater measure of awareness, and with it of freedom, entails a certain amount of suffering and even risk. An educational process that would avoid this becomes simple technical training and ceases to have any relationship to the civilizing of the mind." (175)

Thus...even if NOT entranced by Sociology...students will become
---1. a little less stolid in their prejudices
---2. a little more careful in their own commitments
---3. a little more skeptical about the commitments of others
---4. a little more compassionate in their journeys through society

Berger ends by referring back to the Image of ourselves as Puppets (see Chapter 5) by saying...

"For a moment we see ourselves as puppets indeed. But then we grasp a decisive difference between the puppet theater and our own drama. Unlike the puppets, we have the possibility of stopping in our movements, looking up and perceiving the machinery by which we have been moved. In this act lies the first step towards freedom. And in this same act we find the conclusive justification of sociology as a humanistic disclipine" (176)