Peter Berger, Brigitte Berger, and Hansfried Kellner, The Homeless Mind: Modernization and Consciousness.

New York: Vintage Books, 1974.

The Homeless Mind builds on the concepts of Berger’s previous book and explores causes behind the rise of the alienated individual. Two sections outline the implicit assumptions and “cognitive styles” of the technological and bureaucratic structures of modern society. These structures make us feel disposable at work, anonymous before bureaucracy, and divided between public and private spheres. Such attitudes do not help when we encounter the great phenomenon of modern society: life-planning.

We moderns assume that our life and identity lie totally in our own hands. However, this assumption yields certain frustrations. If we control our identity, then every choice has potentially life-determining importance. So we are frustrated with anything that limits our choices (69-70), with postponing the integration of choices with relationships and commitments (71), and with situating choices within an intelligible plan of life. If our life-plan is vague, we will be frustrated at being unable to articulate a plan of life (73) and if articulate the “relevance of particular decisions . . . will often be doubtful and anxiety-provoking” (73). Hence the exorbitant number of self-help books and programs, and “experts” on life-planning.

Berger points out that since we have cast off traditional social roles, the connection between our roles and our authentic self is unclear. Modern identity is open, differentiated, reflective, and individuated. Modern identity is open because “biography is . . . apprehended both as a registration through different social worlds and as the successive realization of a number of possible identities. . . . [this] makes the individual peculiarly vulnerable to the shifting definitions of himself by others” (77). Modern identity is differentiated, that is, the subjective self is seen as more real than the outside world; unfortunately, it is unclear to the self what the self is. Hence we are “aware, tense, ‘rationalizing’ . . . not only the world but the self becomes an object of deliberate attention and sometimes anguished scrutiny” (79). Lastly, as we seek to discover ourselves in our own subjectivity, we becomes peculiarly defensive of personal freedoms and rights. Combine all this with growing pluralization and secularization which challenges the once stable “definitions of reality” (81), we feel alienated, pointless, meaningless—without home: “it goes without saying that this condition is psychologically hard to bear. It has therefore engendered its own nostalgias—nostalgias, that is, for a condition of ‘being at home’ in society, with oneself and, ultimately, in the universe” (82). A final frustration comes after we reject traditional definitions of reality and try to construct our own: “most individuals do not know how to construct a universe and therefore become furiously frustrated when they are faced with the need to do so” (187).

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