Thursday, January 14, 2010

Peter Berger/Thomas Luckman

Read: Appelrouth & Edles 553-578

Phenomenology - A philosophy or method of inquiry based on the premise that reality consists of objects and events as they are perceived or understood in human consciousness and not of anything independent of human consciousness.

Berger and Luckmann’s famous assertion that “society is a human product. Society is an objective reality. Man is a social product.”

From Fehlen and Plessner, Berger and Luckmann borrow the idea that humans, unlike other animals, are “instinctually deprived” or biology underdeveloped. Important organismic developments that take place in the womb in other animals take place in humans’ first year of life. This means not only the survival of the human infant is dependent on certain social arrangements, but that lacking an instinctual basis for action, human beings have to create a world that ensures social stability. Common-sense knowledge and social institutions compensate for biological underdevelopment. They provide a “base” that operates “automatically” (analogous to the instincts that guide other animals’ behavior). “Commonsense knowledge is the knowledge that I share with others in the normal, self-evident routines of everyday life.” It is what allows us to perceive the reality of everyday life as “reality,” to suspend our doubts so that we can act in the world. Social institutions are the bridges between humans and their physical environments. Following Schutz, Berger and Luckmann emphasize that it is the intersubjective character of common-sense knowledge that enables human institutions and culture to produce stability. It is because “most of the time, my encounters with others in everyday life are typical in a double sense—I apprehend the other as a type and I interact with him in a situation that is itself typical” that social interaction is successful. Without intersubjectivity—that you know that I know that we both know—social order and interaction would break down, as we would be left to doubt the most fundamental aspects of communication (554-5).

Luckmann’s first major sole-authored publication, The Invisible Religion (original title Das problem der Religion, 1963). Did not appear in English until the year after the publication of Berger and Luckmann’s groundbreaking The Social Construction of Reality (1966), and he never became quite as well known in the United States as either his teacher, Alfred Schutz, or his collaborator, Peter Berger. Luckmann’s “unequal” relationship with Schutz is duly noted by Luckmann himself in the preface to The Structures of the Life World (Schutz and Luckmann 1973), which he finished editing after Schutz’s death (554).

Berger was a fervent student of religion. He continuously contemplated his own Christian beliefs and spent a “very happy” year at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, where he studied to be a minister. Indeed, Berger is just as well known for his work in the sociology of religion as in phenomenology and the sociology of knowledge. His now-classic Invitation to Sociology (1963) continues to be one of the most acclaimed and inspiring introductions to the discipline of sociology today (553).

habitualization - the process by which the flexibility of human actions is limited. All activity is subject to habitualization, as repeated actions inevitably become rountinized. Habitualization carries with it the psychological advantage that choices are narrowed. Hat an action may be “performed again in the future in the same manner and with the same economical effort” provides a stable back-ground from which human activity can proceed. In other words, from the time we wake up in the morning until we go to bed at night, we can direct our minds and bodies to constructive action only because we take most actions for granted (555).

habitualization actions set the stage for institutionalization, for “institutionalization occurs whenever there is a reciprocal typification of habitualized action by types of actors.” That is, it is when habitualized action are shared and/or “available to all members of the particular social group” that institutions are born. Akin to habits that function at the level of the individual, then, institutions are not created instantaneously, but rather are “built up in the course of a shared history. In other words, over times, shared habitualized actions become institutions that are taken for granted and therefore limiting for the individuals who are subject to them. Thus, it is through institutions that human life becomes coherent, meaningful, and continuous (555).

Berger and Luckmann use the terms externalization, objectivation, and reification to refer to the process by which human activity and society attain the character of objectivity. Externalization and objectivation enable the actor to confront the social world as something outside herself. Institutions appear external to the individual, as historical and objective facticities. They confront the individual as undeniable facts. Reification is “an extreme step” in process of objectivation. In reification, “the real relationship between man and his world is reversed in consciousness. Man, the producer of a world, is apprehended as its product, and human activity as an epiphenome-non of non-human process.” That is, reification is the apprehension of human phenomena as if they were “non-human or possibly suprahuman” things. For instance, we reify our social roles in such a way that we say, “I have no choice in the matter. I have to act this way.” That is what Berger refers to as “bad faith.” Of course, history is full of examples of the horrendous consequences that ensue from such reification. The Nazi concentration camps relied on guards who are said to have merely “taken orders.” A parallel also can be drawn with the recent example of torture in the Abu Ghraib prison (556).

internalization – is “the immediate apprehension or interpretation of an objective event as expressing meaning,” that is, the process through which individual subjectivity is attained. Internalization means that “the objectivated social world is retrojected into consciousness in the course of socialization.” As such, internalization is the “beginning point” in the process of becoming a member of society, as well as the “end point” in institutionalization. The three moment s of externalization, objectivation, and internalization are not to be understood “as occurring in a temporal sequence,” but rather as a simultaneous, dialectical process. Nevertheless, it is in intergenerational transmission that the process of internalization is complete. As Berger and Luckmann maintain:

only with the transmission of the social world to a new generation (that is, internalization as effectuated in socialization) does the fundamental social dialectic appear in its totality. To repeat, only with the appearance of a new generation can one properly speak of a social world.

In other words, every individual is born into an environment within which she encounters the significant others who are in charge of her socialization. One does not choose one’s own significant others; rather, they are imposed on her. In the process of socialization, the stocks of knowledge that the individual experiences as preexisting objective reality are imposed on her. The individual is thereby “born into not only an objective social structure but also an objective social world (558).”

Berger and Luckmann differentiate two types of socialization based on the extent to which individuals are active and conscious of the process of internalization. Primary socialization refers to “the first socialization an individual undergoes in childhood, through which he becomes a member of society.” On the other hand, secondary socialization refers to subsequent processes of socialization that induct “an already socialized individual into new sectors of the objective world of this society.” Whereas primary socialization is predefined and taken for granted, secondary socialization is acquired in a more conscious way. It is for this reason that primary socialization has so much more of an impact on the individual than secondary socialization. As Berger and Luckmann state:

The child does not internalize the world of his significant others as one of many possible worlds. He internalized it as the world, the only existent and only conceivable world, the world tout court. It is for this reason that the world internalized in primary socialization is so much more firmly entrenched in consciousness than worlds internalized in secondary socialization.

Furthermore, primary socialization is distinguished by the fact that it cannot take place without an emotionally shared identification of the children with his significant others: you have to love your mother, but not your teacher. This distinction between the more intimate (primary) and less intimate (secondary) types of socialization recalls Schutz’s more abstract discussion of umwelt versus mitwelt relations. Each type of relationship is distinguished by a different level of intersubjectivity and typification. Primary socialization and significant others (essential to “we relations”) are far more central to the maintenance of “identity” than are secondary relationships/socialization (558).