, Volume 47, Issue 3, pp 207–213 | Cite as

Peter Berger and His Critics: The Significance of Emergence

Symposium: Peter Berger’s Achievement in Social Science


Peter Berger has attempted to develop an account of the relationship between social structure and human agency that navigates a middle way between voluntarism and determinism. Berger’s approach has been criticised by social theorists for reproducing, rather than transcending, the very errors of voluntarism and determinism that he strives to avoid. However, the critics have focused on Berger’s explicit, meta-theoretical pronouncements about the nature or ontology of the social world, whilst ignoring the more sophisticated account of the structure agency relationship that is implicit in, and presupposed by, his substantive sociological research. The notions of ‘emergence’ and ‘emergent properties’ are used to develop an account of the structure-agency relationship that is consistent with Berger’s concrete sociological work, whilst avoiding the shortcomings of his explicit reflections about the nature of the social world.


Berger Structure-agency relationship Ontology Emergence 



This paper was prepared for the Atlas Economic Research Foundation’s Fund for the Study of Spontaneous Orders Conference in honour of Professor Peter Berger, held in Washington DC from September 7-11 2009. I am extremely grateful to the participants in the conference, in particular Virgil Storr, for enlightening discussions on the topic of this paper. The usual disclaimer applies.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ManagementKing’s College LondonLondonUK

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