The Social Construction of Reality (1966)

Peter L. Berger, Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (1966) 187p.

The book is apparently known for introducing the little impressive concept of social construction. The introduction of the book however promises much if not the best to be expected of a good sociological treatise, bombastic terminology that captures all encompassing sociological and historical processes in a sweeping analysis interwoven with a thorough academic knowledge of a variety in schools of thought. But the contrast with the rest of the book is stunning and leaves for no other conclusion that the introduction itself was written by a different author.

Nevertheless the book is an amusing but anachronistic read, terribly outdated by the progress of cultural relativism into the streams of evident knowledge in the West.

“The analyses of objectivation, institutionalization and legitimation are directly applicable to the problems of the sociology of language, the theory of social action and institutions, and the sociology of religion.”

This sentence in the conclusion captures pretty well the whole content of the book. The interpretation and emphasis with which the authors deal in their treatise centers almost completely on theoretical deliberation, where both sociological tradition, in the form of Weber, Durkheim, Marx and others, are completely unreferenced except for two or three occasions. The authors obviously are strongly influenced by the American School and their opinions have formed in a conservative American environment. This all can be too clearly abstracted in the authors opinions. For example, when they philosophize about the ‘higher’ and the ‘lower’ identities of man, respectively defined as the social and individual identities.

The book is filled with presumed dialectics and if there’s anything about Marxism that is ridiculous it is Hegelian dialectics. The book supports its abstract and academic thesis with fictional examples from the laboratory of sociology, ignoring the exceptional practice and the scale of variety of reality. Additionally, they lack any scientific data what so ever, there is not a single statistic or table included. Another crucial mistake of the authors is that they refuse to be engaged in any philosophical debate about the meaning and validity of their ground concepts. They a priori assume reality to be equal by experience for all and refute any philosophical debate about the validity of this assumption. It is a grave mistake because most of their thesis rests on the principle definitions of reality, any conflict arising not because of a discrepancy of real concepts, but out of sociological conflicts between processes of socialization.

This last mistake leads to many other, one being the renouncement of Marx, Weber and Durkheim as insufficient, in favor of, surprise, surprise, their own final thesis about the social construction of knowledge. Would they have entered into the debate about their fundamental perspective and terminology, Berger and Luckmann would have created without a doubt a more impressive and lasting work of sociological thought, be it less pretentious, because really, Marx, Weber and Durkheim said most of what’s to be said about the grand theoretical basis of Sociology.

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