SERENDIPITOUS SOCIOLOGY AND AUTOBIOGRAPHY
We all grow old and live in a matrix of groups, networks, institutions and
commu...
varying degrees. He makes little to no attempt to manufacture an image,
although he sometimes feels indulgently avuncular ...
the Bahá'í community, I feel an intimate part of the new Baha’i culture and
its two century-long history.
It is important,...
direction in which to move; and this fact makes it necessary to postulate
that they have minds or souls.”3
I have lived in...
I also have collections of personal essays which explore ways and means
of self-representation by bringing together conven...
I also have collections of personal essays which explore ways and means
of self-representation by bringing together conven...
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A Sociological & Autobiographical Life:1963-2013

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MY JOURNEY THROUGH SOCIOLOGY

My experience these days of sociology, as a formal discipline, as just about entirely on the Internet. Occasionally I dabble, for I am retired now and I have made of dabbling an art-form; I dabble in this rich and variegated academic field which nearly fifty years ago I had just entered in the last year of my teenage life. I remember well that first year of the formal study of sociology; it was a year which ended in early May of 1964, just before I got a job checking telephone poles for internal decay with the Bell Telephone Company of Canada.

In about February or, perhaps, March, a tutor joined the sociology staff. He was able to explain the mysteries of the sociological theorist Talcott Parsons better than anyone. And at the time, Parsons occupied a position in the empyrean of sociological godheads. It was an empyrean at the very centre of that introductory course in sociology. If one wanted to pass that course in sociology one had to have a basic understanding of Parsons. That was no easy task.
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Everyone admired this tutor as if he was some brilliant theologian who had just arrived from the Vatican with authoritative pronouncements for us all to write down on our A-4 note paper to be regurgitated on the inevitable April examination. He was an Englishman, if I remember, rather slim and a good talker. And Parsons, for all of us, was about as intricate and complex, as elusive and variable, as you could get and still stay in the same language and on the same earthly plane. I was able to pass sociology that year by the skin of my teeth.

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Transcript of "A Sociological & Autobiographical Life:1963-2013"

  1. 1. SERENDIPITOUS SOCIOLOGY AND AUTOBIOGRAPHY We all grow old and live in a matrix of groups, networks, institutions and communities. This matrix is the substance of sociology. The student of sociology, even though sensitized to how a person’s life is embedded in groups, can be guilty of serious omissions and patterned distortions when he or she comes to write their autobiography. The introspector and retrospector in sociological autobiography, though, can give us rare access to inner experience from their position of aloof detachment or passionate engagement. Beginning with Herbert Spencer’s two volumes in 1904, sociology has left us very few intellectual autobiographies. Monopolistic access to my own inner life has found many grooves and at least one or two of these are found in my patterned distortions away from sociology toward religion. I hope the time has not yet come, as Virginia Woolf said it quite easily can, when I may have forgotten far more of significance than I can remember. Certainly I am far from the position Heinrich Boll, the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature 1972, was in when he wrote that “not one title, not one author, not one book that I held in my hand has remained in my memory.” But as I write this memoir of mine the words of the psychologist Alfred Adler can ring in my ears if I bring myself close to his voluminous writings: “It is easier to fight for one's principles than to live up to them.1 The autobiographer is both the ultimate Insider and the ultimate Outsider in applying scientific understanding and insight to the self, the interplay of sequences of status-sets, role-sets and intellectual development. What results is not so much a condensed description than a step toward elucidation. I feel as if I have just made a start in the first quarter- century(1984-2010) of my attempt at autobiography. After five decades(1963-2010) of dipping in and out of sociology I have become more than a little conscious of sociology’s hermeneutic influence as I go about writing my autobiography. Often when sociology’s influence did appear it was accidentally, serendipitously. From my memoir emerges a picture of a Bahá'í, a man who was a teacher and lecturer for 35 years, a father and a husband now for thirty-five, a pioneer for five decades, a man who aims to provide as piercing an insight into his own life and times and with as much muscular confidence that remained by his late middle age and the early years of his late adulthood. He maintains as much etiquette of expression and diplomacy as he has been able to cultivate over his lifetime; along the way he takes no prisoners and writes sparingly about those who caused him discomfort in 1 Alfred Adler quoted in Phyliss Bottome, Alfred Adler: Apostle of Freedom, Faber, London, 1957; also in wikiquotes.
  2. 2. varying degrees. He makes little to no attempt to manufacture an image, although he sometimes feels indulgently avuncular as an author. Readers will learn something of the furies that screamed through his life until medications softened his edges by his sixties. These same readers will also learn something of the seraphic intimacy which he discovered along the way in many of life’s interstices. I do not substantiate everything I write with sources, with ferinstances, although my work is not free of footnotes. I would like to see my memoir published, but I think it unlikely in my lifetime. I have settled for a multitude of internet posts. If I do publish a few copies of, say, a five volume set for family and friends I would like the paper to be of superb quality and to have the paper feel simultaneously crispy and smooth to the touch. Sadly, such an edition would be far too expensive for my meagre financial resources now that I am on a pension. In spite of the undeniable quality of such a set of volumes and what I like to think would be a fascinating subject, the price would be far to high to self-published. Friends and family would undoubtedly see such an exercise as an exaggerated narcissism even if I gave them all free copies. Hopefully, perhaps, my executors will arrange for some publishing house to plan a paperback edition at a more attractive and affordable price after my demise! A passing glance at some of the models of my final published memoir on the internet, at what may well become a large format book might lead readers to expect one of those high-calorie low-fibre coffee-table volumes. But I should make it clear now that this work is not of that ilk. My memoir is a substantial series of tomes, some five of them now. It aims to carry a great deal of insight into which I have sunk a considerable burden of time and effort. Whether I achieve this insight, whether any one reader carries away a greater understanding of life as a result of some interplay between my words and that reader’s mind—time will tell. This memoir’s down-side is that it is no easy read on the train or anywhere where said readers lacks space to spread their book. As I write these words I think my work is best read on the internet in bits and pieces. I have written millions of words on the internet and the time has not yet come to blow my cover, so to speak, and give readers access to all 2600 pages in a simple soft or hard cover. To list as I have done the far-reaching teaching successes, the literary achievements, the effective Baha’i work and the consequent and multitudinous detail, amazes me even as I play down all this success in an appropriate Australian and Canadian fashion. In these years when this writing has taken place, within the new paradigm of learning and growth in
  3. 3. the Bahá'í community, I feel an intimate part of the new Baha’i culture and its two century-long history. It is important, too, that the font used, when this work is finally published, is neither too small nor too large. I have lovingly written these volumes and I would like to see them be a treat for readers, a real page-turner that they just can’t put down once they have started reading it. One can but hope. Perhaps if several clutches of photo-quality paper featuring a good number of colour plates and several full page plates advantageously exploiting the page size are included in some future published edition the result may be more marketable.2 I would like to think that readers might be able to feel as if they are actually breathing the air, witnessing the action and hearing the voices of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people at the immense quantity of meetings I attended and conversations in which I took part during the four epochs that are the mise en scene of this work. Sadly, I think that readers will have to do a good deal of juggling mentally and fill in much of the background situations by isolating my life and trying to integrate the material I provide about my community and my society as cogently as they can. Perhaps if some clever biographer uses facts from my seemingly less important diary and the many entries in my many-volumed work entitled Pionerring Over Four Epochs, he or she will provide readers with a much clearer understanding of the progression of activity that surrounded my life and my community in the last sixty years of the first century of the Formative Age of the Bahá'í Faith. My letters, essays and poetry might also be useful in this regard. “The life of man is the life of a moving being,” wrote Alfred Adler, “and it would not be sufficient for him to develop body alone. A plant is rooted: it stays in one place and cannot move. It would be very surprising, therefore, to discover that a plant had a mind; or at least a mind in any sense which we could comprehend. If a plant could foresee or project consequences, the faculty would be useless to it. What advantage would it be for the plant to think: 'Here is someone coming. In a minute he will tread on me, and I shall be dead underfoot'? The plant would still be unable to move out of the way. All moving beings, however, can foresee and reckon up the 2 Readers should note that I often use a sobriquet, that is a nickname or a fancy name at internet sites. A sobriquet is often a familiar name given by others as distinct from a pseudonym, a name assumed as a disguise. This is not the case with my sobriquet. In my case my nickname is self- selected and over time it becomes familiar enough, at least at some internet sites, such that it can be used in place of my real name without the need of explanation. Baha’ichap is the sobriquet I use on the internet.
  4. 4. direction in which to move; and this fact makes it necessary to postulate that they have minds or souls.”3 I have lived in 37 houses and two dozen towns. Movement has been the story of my life until these years of late adulthood when I move mostly in my head. We live in an auto/biographical age that uses the personal narrative as a lens onto history and the contemporary world. In every medium, cultures are permeated and increasingly transformed by auto/biographical narratives, productions, and performances of identity. The proliferation of auto/biographical practices and the seriousness with which the academy is considering them testify to significant developments in this field. Auto/biography studies are firmly on the academic map in Canada and Australia where I have lived during the last 66 years. Auto/biographical genres now permeate such varied disciplines as anthropology, medicine, education, history, philosophy, psychology, and the visual and performing arts. There is also a steady groundswell of these sub-disciplines of the social sciences and the humanities in conferences, essays, collections of essays and monographs dedicated to auto/biography in Canada and Australia. The role and function of auto/biographical genres are closely connected to our understanding of the times and places in which we live. Auto/biographies appear in every public sphere and in every kind of intellectual field from the esoteric to the popular. Always, everywhere, one can find the lives of politicians and personalities, stars of sport and popular culture and now, on the internet, the long stories of every Tom, Dick and Harry. Works on these celebrities assume a place for a fan club and they create a mythic persona who becomes, via publicity, an important person in a sub-culture. Such auto/biography represents and contributes to that sub-culture by virtue of its eclectic nature and its home-grown success. In its more esoteric or experimental forms, which tend to be self-reflexive, ironic, intertextual, and theoretical, contemporary auto/biography does its cultural work at the relatively local level, often encompassed by small presses or on the internet at a myriad of sites. Whereas public figures rely upon their lives to sell their texts, the artist experiments within a web of dialogue with other artists and for a smaller audience. My web of dialogue is the internet. For the most part I present myself in a more hesitant, subdued way, on the world wide web, sometimes suspicious of my public role or the risks of being seen as a person engaged in narcissistic self- absorption. At other times on the net, though, I go for broke and tell a great deal about my life as I do on various mental illness sites. 3 Alfred Adler, What Life Should Mean to You, Chapter 2, Unwin, 1932.
  5. 5. I also have collections of personal essays which explore ways and means of self-representation by bringing together conventions of auto/biography and the essay. The personal essay is a window on an individual's culture and can highlight the interdependence of self and contexts, but a collection of personal essays can also trace changes in those relationships. As I write I can’t help looking over my shoulder at Alfred Adler or at least his words: “The truth is often a terrible weapon of aggression. It is possible to lie, even to murder, for the truth.”4 Auto/biographical practices offer a productive angle on questions of Baha’i identities, in part because they complicate easy assumptions about identity, community and religion. Auto/biographical practices introduce internal multiplicity into the equation. The personal, family, and community stories quite frequently confirm or resist or, at the very least, critique what counts as the notion of what it means to be a Bahá'í. Reading Baha’i auto/biography as a shifting configuration of cultural analysis, characterized mainly by relations, for instance, between contexts of production and reception, form and content, but also themes, places, individuals and communities, I can suggest that a groundwork, a framework, has been created. The Bahá’i community has for some time seen the potential--on the one hand to discover new material, modes of analysis and questions for discussion and, on the other hand, to invigorate the whole field of the study of the individual and the community as it presents itself to the wider world. For the two centuries of Baha’i history offer to readers an incredible journey.-Ron Price with thanks to 1 Sociological Lives: Social Change and the Life Course, Vol.2, editor, Matilda White Riley, Sage Publications, London, 1988. Ron Price 16 March 1997 to 4 July 2010 2100 words 4 Alfred Adler, The Problems of Neurosis, 1906.
  6. 6. I also have collections of personal essays which explore ways and means of self-representation by bringing together conventions of auto/biography and the essay. The personal essay is a window on an individual's culture and can highlight the interdependence of self and contexts, but a collection of personal essays can also trace changes in those relationships. As I write I can’t help looking over my shoulder at Alfred Adler or at least his words: “The truth is often a terrible weapon of aggression. It is possible to lie, even to murder, for the truth.”4 Auto/biographical practices offer a productive angle on questions of Baha’i identities, in part because they complicate easy assumptions about identity, community and religion. Auto/biographical practices introduce internal multiplicity into the equation. The personal, family, and community stories quite frequently confirm or resist or, at the very least, critique what counts as the notion of what it means to be a Bahá'í. Reading Baha’i auto/biography as a shifting configuration of cultural analysis, characterized mainly by relations, for instance, between contexts of production and reception, form and content, but also themes, places, individuals and communities, I can suggest that a groundwork, a framework, has been created. The Bahá’i community has for some time seen the potential--on the one hand to discover new material, modes of analysis and questions for discussion and, on the other hand, to invigorate the whole field of the study of the individual and the community as it presents itself to the wider world. For the two centuries of Baha’i history offer to readers an incredible journey.-Ron Price with thanks to 1 Sociological Lives: Social Change and the Life Course, Vol.2, editor, Matilda White Riley, Sage Publications, London, 1988. Ron Price 16 March 1997 to 4 July 2010 2100 words 4 Alfred Adler, The Problems of Neurosis, 1906.

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