Berger’s Invitation to Sociology: A Humanistic Perspective is a book about sociology as a scientific methodology and a perspective through which the world can be explored. The author’s major thesis is that sociology is not limited to statistics, to which many people often reduce the importance of this science, and it is not even limited to being a particular scientific discipline that is part of social sciences, but it is a worldview in a way. Sociologists approach various “situation[s]…in which people orient their actions toward one another” (Berger 1963:27), i.e. social situations, from the perspective of these interactions and build a system of methods to analyze social processes.
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By explaining the humanistic perspective proposed by him, the author convincingly demonstrates that sociology, in fact, is more than its methods, such as surveying, or its theories. There are many sociological theories, but they all are part of the fundamental vision of all processes as the effects of human interactions. Berger (1963) often refers to his own experience of being a sociologist, and this adds reliability to his arguments. Also, despite beginning the book in a light and humorous manner, the author further turns to complicated scientific notions and perspectives, which shows his expertise and makes the book’s major thesis more persuasive.
Apart from referring to reputable theories and sources, other persuasion tools used in the book include emotional appeal and humor. These tools can build a more favorable attitude in readers toward the book’s content, which makes the reader more likely to appreciate the author’s arguments and agree with them. For example, when explaining the concept of the norm and conformity with it, the author provides an example of a group of twenty cannibals who argue with one non-cannibal about cannibalism, and it is claimed that the one non-cannibal is likely to agree with the others in the end.
Many theoretical perspectives are reflected in the book, but the most important one is the eponymous humanistic perspective. This perspective primarily suggests sociology’s “ongoing communication with other disciplines that are vitally concerned with exploring the human condition” (Berger 1963:168).
The author explains the perspective through comparing humans to puppets in a puppet theater: unlike puppets, humans are capable of “looking up and perceiving the machinery by which [they] have been moved” (Berger 1963:176). This vision of sociology as a discipline that helps people move toward freedom is what makes this science humanistic.
A major and obvious bias of the book is the fact that the author is a sociologist himself. He tells the reader about sociology as one who has been studying it and working in it for years; he is talking to the reader who may not be a sociologist, while he is evidently used to talking to sociologists mostly; finally, he speculates on other social sciences from a rather limited perspective. The author works on overcoming the bias and, in fact, talks to the reader as to someone who may not be an expert in sociology at all.
Interestingly, the fact that the author is a sociology expert himself is simultaneously the strength and the weakness of the book. It is the strength because insights and examples from real sociological practice are provided. Also, it is noteworthy in the context of strengths that the humorous style in which Berger (1963) describes and explains scholarly concepts and theories—and some of them are rather challenging—makes the book particularly interesting and, indeed, invites to see the world through sociologists’ eyes.
However, it cannot pass unnoticed for the reader that the book’s perspective seems rather one-sided because the author is a sociologist who writes as a sociologist. It may be the perception of the reader that, in some parts of the book, the perspectives of other social sciences (e.g. anthropology) are disregarded. Even if it was not the intention of the author, it is almost inevitable in a book that explains sociological perspectives from inside. Another major weakness for today’s readers is that the book was published more than fifty years ago; although some parts of its content are still relevant, some may be outdated.
The book made a major contribution to sociology because it showed that sociology was not a measurement of social processes with statistical tools or a set of abstract theories but a discipline that addressed social and humanistic issues from the scholarly perspective. Also, it should not be overlooked that, within more than fifty years since the first publication, the book could have attracted many people to the field of sociology because, from this book exactly, they might have learned that sociology can be exciting.
I find the book exciting, too, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to read something with a balance of scientific knowledge and a humorous style of delivery. What I liked particularly is that Berger (1963) emphasizes the humanistic aspect of social sciences and argues that studying and engaging in sociology is, in fact, a way to ensure a better future by making people aware of the nature, causes, and effects of social processes; aware of those, people will be able to make more positive changes.
Berger, Peter L. 1963. Invitation to Sociology: A Humanistic Perspective. New York, NY: Anchor Books.