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The Sociology of Knowledge: Berger and Luckmann

The sociology of knowledge is the study of the social bases of items or systems of knowledge and belief. Although Karl Manheim popularized the term sociology of knowledge in the 1930s the attempt to explain systems of knowledge sociologically originates in the work of the founding fathers, e.g. in Marx’s concept of ideology and Durkheim’s concept of collective consciousness.

The relevance of Schutz’s work to the concerns of the sociology of knowledge has been most clearly stated by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann in their book The Social Construction of Reality. Berger and Luckmann point out that this area has been concerned with the study of such phenomena as political ideologies, religious belief systems and moral crusades rather than with the knowledge that members of a society routinely employ and display in their everyday lives. As a result there has been a tendency to conceive of knowledge as simply one of many types of sociological features or variables.

For Berger and Luckmann knowledge defined in the broad sense of the certainty that phenomena are real and that they possess specific characteristics, is so pervasive in and constitutive of social life that it should not be treated in this manner.Instead they argue that the sociology of knowledge  must concern itself with every thing that passes for knowledge must concern itself with everything that passes for knowledge in society. Consequently the sociology of knowledge should no longer be regarded as merely a particular area or aspect of sociological interest but as relevant to all investigations of social life. According to them the sociology of knowledge must first of all concern itself with what people know as reality in their everyday, non-or pre-theoretical lives. In other words, common sense knowledge rather than ideas must be the central focus for the sociology of knowledge. It is precisely this knowledge that constitutes the fabric of meanings without which no society could exist. They acknowledge that this conception of the nature of common sense knowledge and its importance for sociology derives directly from Alfred Schutz. They show how this conception of the sociology of knowledge as derived from the work of Schutz can be integrated into the general body of sociological theory. The social construction of reality attempts to show how a concern with common sense knowledge and the inter –subjective nature of social reality as outlined by Schutz can be integrated with existing sociological concerns.