Jeff Goldfarb chats with Peter Berger, Oct. 30, 2014 © Zachary Sunderman
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Peter Berger’s Last Visit to The New School for Social Research

Revisiting The Social Construction of Reality

Although circumstances did not permit Peter Berger to attend in person The New School’s conference commemorating the upcoming fiftieth anniversary of the publication of The Social Construction of Reality, it was wonderful to have him with us via Skype (nicely captured with me in the accompanying surreal photo). It was also great to have Thomas Luckmann in a video message, and a group of distinguished scholars who have been informed and provoked by Berger and Luckmann’s masterwork: Alan Sica, Eviatar Zerubavel, Asia Friedman, Steve Hoffman and Silke Steets. …

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Three interlocking rings © Nbvf | Dreamstime.com
EssaysTheory & Practice

The Social Condition: The Third Intellectual Project

Sociologists face three distinct intellectual projects in their work. They are well aware of two of them, but the third remains in the shadows. The two standard projects are the study of the social construction, and the study of social effects. The third, the study of the predictable existential dilemmas we face, is the one Jeff Goldfarb and I are working to develop in our work, what we call “the social condition.”

As every undergraduate student learns after her first introduction to sociology, our world is socially constructed. People constantly give meaning, together, to a world that may not have an intrinsic meaning to it. In its deepest form, the one that Berger and Luckmann saw so well over 45 years ago, social construction is an existential drama. It is not only that, as undergraduates quickly learn to recite, identities are constructed by a social world (gender and race being the favorite examples). This is, of course, true and important. It is, rather, that our entire existence, as so far as it is meaningful, must be socially constructed and re-constructed. Like a shoddy plane over the void of meaninglessness, we construct a meaningful world—a world in which human existence, institutions and identities make sense…

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