Why study sociology?



(From Invitation to Sociology: A Humanistic Perspective  Peter L. Berger Anchor Books 1963, pp. 1-24 -- gender modified) 



The sociologist . . . is someone concerned with understanding society in a disciplined way.


S/he will naturally be interested in the events that engage people's ultimate beliefs, their moments of tragedy

and grandeur and ecstasy.  But s/he will also be fascinated by the commonplace, the everyday.


What interests us is the curiousity that grips any sociologist in front of a closed door behind which

there are human voices.  If s/he is a good sociologist, s/he will want to open that door, to understand

those voices.  Behind each closed door s/he will anticipate some new facet of human life not yet

perceived and understood.


The fascination of sociology lies in the fact that its perspective makes us see in a new light

the very world in which we have lived all our lives.


[T]here is a deceptive simplicity and obviousness about some sociological investigations.

One reads them, nods at the familiar scene, remarks that one has heard all this before

and don't people have better things to do than to waste their time on truisms--until one is suddenly

brought up against an insight that radically questions everything one had previously assumed about this

familiar scene.  This is the point at which one begins to sense the excitement of sociology.


It can be said that the first wisdom of sociology is this--things are not what they seem.

This too is a deceptively simple statement.  It ceases to be simple after a while.

Social reality turns out to have many layers of meaning.

The discovery of each new layer changes the perception of the whole.


People who like to avoid shocking discoveries, who prefer to believe that society is just what

they were taught in Sunday School, who like the safety of the rules and the maxims of what Alfred

Schuetz has called the "world-taken-for-granted," should stay away from sociology.


People who feel no temptation before closed doors, who have no curiousity about human beings,

who are content to admire scenery without wondering about the people who live in those houses on the

other side of that river, should probably stay away from sociology.  They will find it unpleasant or,

at any rate, unrewarding.


People who are interested in human beings only if they can change, convert or reform them should

also be warned, for they will find sociology much less useful than they hoped.  And people whose interest

is mainly in their own conceptual constructions will do just as well to turn to the study of little white mice.


Sociology will be satisfying, in the long run, only to those who can think of nothing more entrancing

than to watch people and understand things human.