Bennett Berger, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, died November 10 at his home in La Jolla. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer. He was 79.
Professor Berger's research and writing covered several fields, including suburbanization, youth culture , counter-culture and communes. Such a bare recital of "fields" (a term he hated) does injustice to the thrust of his interest. He was focused on the images of public attention. Thus in his first book, Working-Class Suburb: A study of Auto Workers in Suburbia (1960)he asked: "Does living in suburbs create a unique style of life or do residents continue to practice the cultures they bring with them?" He observed and interviewed auto workers living in a suburb of San Jose, mostly new home owners with middle-class incomes. Residence in suburbia had little effect on styles of life. Berger concluded that the idea of a suburban culture was a myth. But he did not stop there. He was interested in why and to whom the myth existed, for some as an aspiration, for others a nightmare.
His interest in the cultures of America and the images of them in public discourse was the center of his formidable contributions to Sociology. He published a number of papers and book reviews on what he called the myth of a unique American youth culture He criticized the view that adolescent culture was unique to youth. For Berger it was at one with the American emphasis on glamour, romance, sports and popularity backed up by parents' and the schools' efforts to promote solidarity. These thoughts and observations are collected in his 1973 book Looking for America: Essays on Youth, Suburbia and Other American Obsessions.
These themes of cultural imagery were continued in his many papers and other books. Chief among these was his 1981 observational study, The Survival of a Counter-Culture: Ideological Work and Everyday Life Among Rural Communards. Here again his focus is on the self-images of the commune dwellers and the contrary actions which practical activities demanded. What he called "ideological work" was the ways this was made acceptable.
As he often said, he was born in Brooklyn, raised in the Bronx but did not grow up until he came to Berkeley as an adult. He served as a Marine in the Pacific during World War II. Was a high school athlete and once tried out for the NY Giant farm system. He was, for a brief time, a singer with a popular music band. He did his undergraduate work at Hunter College and has a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley where he was a lecturer for one year. He was a faculty member in the School of Communications at the University of Illinois. After four years he left to assume the Chairmanship of the Sociology department at UC Davis in 1963. He joined UCSD ten years later.
At UCSD he served as Chair for three years; was active on many committees and since retirement in 1991 was on the advisory group for the Theatre and Dance Department. He was active in Sociological meetings, conferences and guest lectureships and was the editor of the major review journal Contemporary Sociology (1975-78) He is survived by his daughters, Jane Berger, of Augsburg, Germany, Nora Mitchell of Mendocino, CA , Stephanie Berger of Long Beach, CA, a son, Kenneth Berger of San Francisco ,CA and one grandchild, Sarsh Eith of Augsburg.
His wit, his insight and his analytic skill will be deeply missed.
A memorial gathering was held Tuesday, November 29, 2005 in the International Center on the UCSD campus.