Invitation to Sociology
Peter L. Berger (1963, pp. 23–24)  noted in his classic book Invitation to Sociology, “The first wisdom of sociology is this—things are not what they seem.” Social reality, he said, has “many layers of meaning,” and a goal of sociology is to help us discover these multiple meanings. He continued, “People who like to avoid shocking discoveries…should stay away from sociology.” As Berger was emphasizing, sociology helps us see through conventional understandings of how society works. He referred to this theme of sociology as the debunking motif. By “looking for levels of reality other than those given in the official interpretations of society” (p. 38),  Berger said, sociology looks beyond on-the-surface understandings of social reality and helps us recognize the value of alternative understandings. In this manner, sociology often challenges conventional understandings about social reality and social institutions. For example, suppose two people meet at a college dance. They are interested in getting to know each other. What would be an on-the-surface understanding and description of their interaction over the next few minutes? What do they say? If they are like a typical couple who just met, they will ask questions like, What’s your name? Where are you from? What dorm do you live in? What’s your major? Now, such a description of their interaction is OK as far as it goes, but what is really going on here? Does either of the two people really care that much about the other person’s answers to these questions? Isn’t each one more concerned about how the other person is responding, both verbally and nonverbally, during this brief interaction? For example, is the other person paying attention and smiling? Isn’t this kind of understanding a more complete analysis of these few minutes of interaction than an understanding based solely on the answers to questions like, What’s your major? For the most complete understanding of this brief...
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