Adventures of an Accidental Sociologist
How to Explain the World Without Becoming a Bore
By Peter L. Berger
(Prometheus Books, Hardcover, 9781616143893, 264pp.)
Publication Date: June 21, 2011
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Peter L. Berger is arguably the best-known American sociologist living today. Since the 1960s he has been publishing books on many facets of the American social scene, and several are now considered classics. So it may be hard to believe Professor Berger’s description of himself as an "accidental sociologist." But that in fact accurately describes how he stumbled into sociology. In this witty, intellectually stimulating memoir, Berger explains not only how he became a social scientist, but the many adventures that this calling has led to.
Rather than writing an autobiography, he focuses on the main intellectual issues that motivated his work and the various people and situations he encountered in the course of his career. Full of memorable vignettes and colorful characters depicted in a lively narrative often laced with humor, Berger’s memoir conveys the excitement that a study of social life can bring. The first part of the book describes Berger’s initiation into sociology through the New School for Social Research, "a European enclave in the midst of Greenwich Village bohemia." Berger was first a student at the New School and later a young professor amidst a clique of like-minded individuals. There he published The Social Construction of Reality (with colleague Thomas Luckmann), one of his most successful books, followed by The Sacred Canopy on the sociology of religion, also still widely cited.
The book covers Berger’s experience as a "globe-trekking sociologist" including trips to Mexico, where he studied approaches to Third World poverty; to East Asia, where he discovered the potential of capitalism to improve social conditions; and to South Africa, where he chaired an international study group on the future of post-Apartheid society.
Berger then tells about his role as the director of a research center at Boston University. For over two decades he and his colleagues have been tackling such important issues as globalization, the secularization of Europe, and the ongoing dialectic between relativism and fundamentalism in contemporary culture.
What comes across throughout is Berger’s boundless curiosity with the many ways in which people interact in society. This book offers longtime Berger readers as well as newcomers to sociology proof that the sociologist’s attempt to explain the world is anything but boring.
Peter L. Berger (Boston, MA) is University Professor of Sociology, Emeritus, at Boston University and the founder and Senior Research Fellow of the Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs. He has written numerous books on sociological theory, the sociology of religion, and Third World development. Among his more recent books are In Praise of Doubt (with Anton Zijderveld); Religious America, Secular Europe? (with Grace Davie and Effie Fokas); Questions of Faith; Many Globalizations (edited with Samuel Huntington); and Redeeming Laughter: The Comic Dimension of Human Experience. Professor Berger has received honorary degrees from Loyola University, University of Notre Dame, University of Geneva, University of Munich, Sofia University, and Renmin University of China.
"In this witty testament to his career and discipline, Berger recounts the experiences that made the journey so memorable. Berger exemplifies the idea that the talented sociologist has a great deal in common with a good novelist."
"A plainspoken irreverence and fondness for jokes…give some real snap to this recounting of the life of ‘someone who has an abiding fascination with the vast panorama of the human world.’"