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A native of Brooklyn, he was educated at Thomas Jefferson High School and Brooklyn College. After earning his doctoral degree in sociology at Harvard University in the 1950s, where he had been taught by Talcott Parsons, he established a theoretical and experimental research program at Stanford. The program, Expectation States Theory, has many branches and through his mentorship of generations of graduate students, this program has been a unique example of the growth of knowledge in sociology through chains of theory development accompanied by experimental tests and refinements.
His expertise is in the area of status processes and status relations among members of different groups, processes of legitimation, reward expectations and distributive justice, and theory construction in the behavioral sciences. His current research focuses on gender relations in interpersonal settings, status characteristics theory, and cumulative theory in social science.
Berger, along with collaborators, has edited a large number of books to which invited scholars have contributed papers that elaborate upon one or another "sociological theory in progress."
Berger is a recipient of the Cooley-Mead Award from the American Sociological Association to honor long-term distinguished contributions to the intellectual and scientific advancement of social psychology. In 2007, he received the W. E. B. Du Bois Award for his contributions to the field of sociology.
Edited books (partial list)
- Sociological Theories in Progress, Vol. I, 1966
- Sociological Theories in Progress, Vol. II, 1972
- Sociological Theories in Progress, New Formulations, 1989
- New Directions in Contemporary Sociological Theory, 2002
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