|Type of paper:||Essay|
|Categories:||Sociology Child development Childhood|
Growing up is never easy
The trials of childhood can seem endless until we reach adulthood when we finally get to look back on the lessons we've learned, the mistakes we've made, and the relationships that may or may not have survived the first 18 years of our lives. As children, it is almost too easy to define our world by the mundane events that perpetually occur and reoccur, and the happenings of the outside world as an afterthought in the distance, almost too far removed to comprehend their existence. We trick ourselves into believing that life is just the way it is, separate from the information in our history books and nowhere near as significant or eventful. However, as we come to realize the differences between our own experience and that of others, acknowledge beliefs that challenge our once strongly held ideologies, and accept the almost unfathomable variability among people living in the same world as us, we begin to get curious. Questions like, "what if I was born in a different family?", or "what decade would I most want to live in?" arise. Sociologist C. Wright Mills describes this idea as the “sociological imagination”, the understanding of the relationship between self and society. In this essay, I will be exploring how my childhood would have been different if I had lived 100 years ago. If I was born in 1900 instead of 2000, my family of lower-class Russian tailors living in Moscow would have been approaching some of the most uncertain years in the country’s 1000 year history. Sociologist Howard S Becker, in his article, “Culture: A Sociological View” describes many of the phenomena of culture that are necessary to understand what living in a society that is not only historically different from my own but also culturally and socially would be like. These cultural phenomena include revolution and social change, class disparity, and discrimination in the form of antisemitism.
While some elements of culture are long-standing staples in a given society, others arise as social pressures between groups build to the point of no return. Born in 1900, I was a white, lower class, Jewish boy about to experience a cultural phenomenon I could not imagine in my real life: revolution. After only four years of life, I would have seen my country directly attacked by a foreign power and go to war, hopefully, lived through a three-day slaughter of the people who practiced the same religion as me, and the formation of a new political party known as the Bolsheviks. Social turbulence will be the theme of my biography during my years a child. The entirety of my early years could be described as a “revolutionary situation,” in which political loyalties are divided between the government and the revolutionaries (Goodwin and Rojas, 2018). My view of the world would have been sharply divided by winner and losers, haves and have nots, life, and death. My family was a part of the working class; a company of Jewish tailors that was educated and crafty enough to provide for a family of four. The Jewish people were an oppressed group at the time, so my parents would have made it very clear to me to not give myself away as a Jewish at the time. Between the ages of three and six, I would have seen the slaughter of nearly 2,500 Jews in my home country. In my own life I have experienced antisemitism directly, but never to the point of fearing for my life and the safety of my family day to day. Assuming I live through this genocide, it is logical to assume I would have found mechanical solidarity among a number of groups that contribute to defining my identity. My attitudes towards life would be similar to those in a similar social location to mine, specifically other Jews and members of the working class, given the fact that we all share a similar experience in performing the same tasks, practicing the same daily rituals, and holding similar attitudes towards different groups (Henslin, 2015). This phenomenon is also explained by Becker in that culture describes how people act in concert when they share understandings. In the case of the Russian working class, action was about to be taken.
In Karl Marx’s “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” the author opens the essay with these words: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” In simpler terms, “the history of society is the history of class struggle.” On January 9, 1905, a date that would later be known as Bloody Sunday, a protest on the rule of Czar Nicholas II turned into a slaughter of over 1000 innocent, working-class Russian citizens (Britannica, 2004). Around this time, I would have most likely been at home, helping my father and grandfather clean the tailor shop performing simple tasks suitable for a five-year-old. This relentless slaughter of innocent people displayed by Russia's monarch at the time would have been shocking for 5 year old me, something I could not imagine having to deal with such a reality as 5 year old in my real life. The present-day equivalent of this government attack is if, in 2004, President George W. Bush unleashed an army on a group of protestors outside the White House, killing over 1000 Americans. This day would enter history books as one of the bloodiest days in American history. Only later in my life would I be able to set aside my disdain for the government, step back from the horrific reality, and ask myself why and how such an atrocity could occur and why the working class was even protesting in the first place. “The power elite,” as described by C. Wright Mills in his essay “The Power Elite” is the group of individuals that control a country’s economy, military, and political order. This group may, over time, begin to exploit the very citizens who are the backbone of the country they rule over. The question remains, however, “how did my family end up as members of the lower class and not the ruling class?” According to Sociologist James Henslin, this phenomenon is known as social stratification or the “layering of groups of people within a nation.” Coming from a functionalist view of social stratification, every society needs essential positions to be filled in order to function, with some being more important than others. The most educated and qualified people will fill the most important roles and are offered higher rewards and held in high regard by society. Those with less education and experience fall to perform low-skill roles. (Henslin, 2015) This separation is not as prominent in my present life as it would have been in the 1900s, and would have an impact that reached all parts of my experience growing up in that time. Without taking the time to examine the significance that social stratification has on one's life, especially in Russia in 1900, I would never have been able to empathize with much of my family history. Class conflict was not the only adversity I would have had to face growing 100 years ago, though. Anti-semitism was as prominent as ever and would be another inescapable theme of my life.
While I have learned about anti-semitism in my history classes, visited a number of Holocaust memorials and museums, and even visited Israel and heard stories from Holocaust survivors, I will never be able to fully grasp the fear that goes along with being a member of a group that is a target for genocide. The attitude among many, if not all anti-semites in 1900s Russia was that Jews were the root of all of Russia's problems. Looking back at history, it is clear that Jews were used as a scapegoat, a group that is unfairly blamed for someone else's troubles. Labels and scapegoats create selective perception “that is, they lead us to see certain things while they blind us to others" (Henslin, 2015). Applying a label to a group creates the tendency to believe that all members of a given group are alike, even though this is almost never the case. Jews were not only discriminated against in the 1900s but were hunted. It is not unlikely that my family's tailor shop would have been robbed, attacked, or burned at some point in the first 18 years of the 20th century. The ability to not feel as if my life is in danger at any time is a privilege I now admit I took for granted in my own childhood. The Jews were labeled as an enemy and socially marked as outsiders. It could have been our own neighbors and schoolmates who labeled us as a target simply due to the fact that we were Jewish. Gaining admission to school would be more difficult, and I would likely need to work twice as hard for the opportunity to gain an education. It's possible, and even likely, that I would have been forced to leave home in search of work or stay with the family and help them run the business. Given the circumstance of being born at the turn of the century in Moscow, I am beyond relieved that I was born in 2000. The turbulence of living in a time filled with revolution, severe class conflict, and anti-semitism is not something I would want to be a part of. Assuming I lived past the many trials that would have been thrown at people like me in the 1900s, I would only survive to experience the immense tragedy of WWII, in which millions more of my people were slaughtered. It is a difficult thought to handle, but a worthy one to explore. The sociological imagination is a tool necessary to understand one's place in society and appreciate society's past for how it brought society to its present. Use of this skill allows us to open our minds to be curious for more knowledge and urges us to try to know more. We learn to act as knowers, or active agents in search of an understanding of why certain processes are the way that they are by asking questions about what is known, the subject of inquiry. This ability will allow us to have a deeper understanding of our daily lives and develop a deeper understanding of how each individual takes a unique place in society.
Britannica 2004. "Bloody Sunday" Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved April 2, 2019 (www.britannica.com/event/Bloody-Sunday-Russia-1905.).
Ferguson, Susan J., and C Wright Mills. 2018. "The Promise." Mapping the Sociological Landscape (8): 1-18.
Ferguson, Susan J., and Howard S Becker. 2018. "Culture: A Sociological View." Mapping the Sociological Landscape (8): 95-105.
Ferguson, Susan J., Jeff Goodwin, and Rene Rojas. 2018. "Revolutions and Social Change." Mapping the Sociological Landscape (8): 649-659.
Ferguson, Susan J., Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels. 2018. "Manifesto of the Communist Party" Mapping the Sociological Landscape (8): 42-47.
Ferguson, Susan J., C. Wright Mills. 2018. "The Power Elite" Mapping the Sociological Landscape (8): 409-415.
Henslin, James M. 2015. 'The Macrosociological Perspective'. Sociology: a down to Earth Approach (6): 98-127.
Henslin, James M. 2015. 'Social Stratification'. Sociology: a down to Earth Approach (6): 188.
Henslin, James M. 2015. 'Social Stratification'. Sociology: a down to Earth Approach (6): 202.
Henslin, James M. 2015. 'Race and Ethnicity'. Sociology: a down to Earth Approach (6): 277.
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