Beyond Berger and Luckmann's Concept of "Recipe Knowledge:" Simple versus Standardized Recipes

By Shaffer, Leigh S | Sociological Viewpoints, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Beyond Berger and Luckmann's Concept of "Recipe Knowledge:" Simple versus Standardized Recipes


Shaffer, Leigh S, Sociological Viewpoints


Abstract

This paper argues that the concept of "recipe knowledge," first articulated by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann (1966) as an extension of Alfred Schutz's (1960) concept of "cookbook knowledge," should be further refined. There are two distinguishable ideal types of recipe knowledge, called "simple recipes" and "standardized recipes," which differ from one another in terms of specification, applicability across situations, and reliability. Simple recipes are "rules of thumb" for handling typical situations passed along during socialization, while standardized recipes reflect Weber's concept of rationalization and are currently associated with the advancement of technology. The paper ends with a plea for sociologists to study both types of recipe knowledge as a contribution to the sociology of everyday life and to the sociology of knowledge.

Beyond Berger and Luckmann's Concept of "Recipe Knowledge:" Simple versus Standardized Recipes

The term recipe knowledge was first used in Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann's influential book, The Social Construction of Reality (1966). In describing the mind-set of the average person doing daily tasks, Berger and Luckmann wrote the following:

Since everyday life is dominated by the pragmatic motive, recipe knowledge, that is, knowledge limited to pragmatic competence in routine performance, occupies a prominent place in the social stock of knowledge. For example, I use the telephone everyday for specific pragmatic purposes of my own. I know how to do this. I also know what to do if my telephone fails to function-which does not mean that I know how to repair it, but that I know whom to call on for assistance....All of this telephonic lore is recipe knowledge since it does not concern anything except what I have to know for my present and possibly future pragmatic purposes. I am not interested in why the telephone works this way, in the enormous body of scientific and engineering knowledge that makes it possible to construct telephones. Nor am I interested in uses of the telephone that lie outside of my purposes, say in combination with short-wave radio for the purpose of marine communication. Similarly, I have recipe knowledge of the workings of human relationships. (p. 42)

The last sentence of this passage contains a promissory note: sociologists' efforts to develop a sociology of everyday life should be facilitated by exploring the analogy between the pragmatic knowledge needed to use products of technology and the pragmatic competence people develop in order to live successfully with others. But this promise remains largely unfulfilled; despite the occasional references to the concept of recipe knowledge to be found in textbooks, little systematic exploration of the concept of recipe knowledge has been published (Shaffer, 1981). Part of the reason for this neglect, I suspect, is that the topic of recipe knowledge receives only passing attention in Berger and Luckmann's analysis: their commentary is contained in about three paragraphs scattered throughout the book. Berger and Luckmann were content to write a seminal, rather than a complete account of their thinking. With so little to work from, it is remarkable that the concept is mentioned in textbooks as often as it is.

However, there is a second reason for the neglect of the study of recipe knowledge which is related to a difficulty in the original analysis. Berger and Luckmann trace the origins of their ideas through the writings of Alfred Schutz and his discussion of the common stock of knowledge, and they credit his concept of cookbook knowledge as a precursor of their own term. But in reflecting on both sources, I believe that Schutz is actually describing a different type of recipe than Berger and Luckmann. There are actually two forms of recipe knowledge that must be distinguished: I will call them "simple recipes" and "standardized recipes." Therefore, the second reason for the neglect of this concept is the confusion that has existed in the past whenever a sociologist tried to apply this concept to the analysis of any particular case. …

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