I am a sociologist. I inhaled my sociological moxie the old-fashioned way—as a deviant, a dissident, and an organizer. I will probably never receive the American Sociological Association’s (ASA) seal of approval. In truth, I am a backstage sociologist. I would like to share with you, in the words of the Grateful Dead, “what a long, strange trip it’s been.” Come. Let me take you backstage. I want you to see the “dirty work” that went into the making of this sociologist.
This invitation comes from an essay of mine, “The Making of a Backstage Sociologist” (which you can read here). That article is adapted from a speech I gave in 2004 upon receiving the Distinguished Sociologist award from the Sociologists of Minnesota.
The essay introduces you to both the “Full Monte” and the presuppositions informing my posts. In this blog, I will be speaking to you from my civic soul, visiting with you from time to time about topics that have allowed me to make some sense of my life and times—biography, society, history, and civic action.
Growing up, I lacked what Tillie Olsen called “the soil of easy growth.” I spent most of my high school years as a convict in the Minnesota Correctional Facility at Red Wing. Today I am a professor at a state university. How did this improbable chain of events occur? Education awoke me from my slumber. I gradually came to realize that for my first 18 years, I had been little more than a sleepwalker—the lights had been on but nobody was home.
I eventually developed an interior compass. However, it would be a few more years before I would discover the kinds of history making in which I might take part. Once that fog lifted, I quickly became a fool for the radicalism of the Sixties.
Years later, when I first read Peter Berger’s little Invitation to Sociology, the following passage was more than words upon a page or a scientific proposition. No, this existential truth had pierced my very soul:
Sociology is justified by the belief that is it is better to be conscious than unconscious and that consciousness is a condition of freedom. To attain a greater measure of awareness, and with it of freedom, entails a certain amount of suffering and even risk.
Now for all too many of us, when shit happens, we may get angry or become despondent but because we feel too weak to fight the power, we resign ourselves to inevitability. To be blunt, all too many of us do not yet have our own shit together.
“What matters,” wrote Max Weber “is the trained ability to scrutinize the realities of life ruthlessly, to understand them and to measure up to them inwardly.” By intentionally choosing how to think and behave, we can opt to improve our lives and, in turn, improve the world around us.
As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”