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The undoing of humanism : Peter L. Berger's sociology of unmasking
  • William Peter BAEHR, Lingnan University, Hong Kong
Document Type
Journal article
Publication Date
  • Bolshevism,
  • Debunking,
  • French Revolution,
  • Humanism,
  • Sociology,
  • Unmasking

Over a long and prodigiously fertile academic career, Peter Berger's vision of sociology has consistently emphasized its debunking and unmasking properties. Such properties, Berger contends, are evidence of sociology's humanistic promise. Following a brief description of his early transition from The Precarious Vision (a sociological book addressed principally to Christians) to Invitation to Sociology (a text keyed to a mostly secular audience), Berger's idea of humanism is described. So, too, are the roles that debunking and unmasking play in its articulation. Debunking and unmasking, conflated by Berger, are then analytically distinguished, historically located, and criticized. Debunking, an American specialty, ridicules its targets but explains nothing. Unmasking, of European provenance, has pronounced anti-humanist - violent, denunciatory, coercive - tendencies, evidenced in both the French and Bolshevik Revolutions. Accordingly, any defense of unmasking that claims to uphold humanism requires major qualification. The article, as well as assessing Berger's humanism, employs it as an opportunity to think more broadly, and more critically, about the types of debunking/unmasking in modern life.

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Citation Information
Baehr, P. (2013). The undoing of humanism: Peter L. Berger's sociology of unmasking. Society, 50(4), 379-390. doi: 10.1007/s12115-013-9673-x