ven from the glow of the faded red-and-white
exit sign, its faint light barely illuminating the
upper bunk, I could see that the sheet was filthy. Resigned
to another night of fitful sleep, I reluctantly crawled into bed. I kept my clothes on.
The next morning, I
I was determined.
joined the long line of disheveled men leaning against
“I will experience what
the chain-link fence. Their
faces were as downcast as their
I kept telling myself.
clothes were dirty. Not a
glimmer of hope among
No one spoke as the line slowly inched forward.
When my turn came, I was handed a cup of coffee, a white
plastic spoon, and a bowl of semiliquid that I couldn’t identify. It didn’t look like any food I had seen before. Nor did it taste like anything I had ever eaten.
My stomach fought the foul taste, every spoonful a battle. But I was determined. “I will experience what they experience,” I kept telling myself. My stomach reluctantly gave in and accepted its morning nourishment.
The room was strangely silent. Hundreds of men were eating,
each one immersed in his own private hell, his mind awash with disappointment, remorse, bitterness.
As I stared at the Styrofoam cup that held my coffee, grateful for at least this small pleasure, I noticed what looked like teeth marks. I shrugged off the thought, telling myself that my long weeks as a sociological observer of the homeless were finally getting to me. “It must be some sort of crease from handling,” I concluded. I joined the silent ranks of men turning in their bowls and
cups. When I saw the man behind the counter swishing out Styrofoam cups in a washtub of murky water, I began to feel sick to my stomach. I knew then that the jagged marks on my cup really had come from another person’s mouth.
How much longer did this research have to last? I felt a deep longing to return to my family—to a welcome world of clean sheets, healthy food, and “normal” conversations.
THE SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE
understanding human behavior
by placing it within its broader
society people who share a
culture and a territory
social location the group
memberships that people have
because of their location in history and society
Please supply xref
The Sociological Perspective
Why were these men so silent? Why did they receive such despicable treatment? What was I doing in that homeless shelter? After all, I hold a respectable, professional position, and I have a home and family.
Sociology offers a perspective, a view of the world. The sociological perspective (or imagination) opens a window onto unfamiliar worlds—and offers a fresh look at familiar ones. In this text, you will find yourself in the midst of Nazis in Germany and warriors in South America, as well as among people who live in a city dump. (If you want to jump ahead, you can see the photos I took of the people who live in a dump in Cambodia: pages 000–000.) You will also find yourself looking at your own world in a different light. As you view other worlds—or your own—the sociological perspective enables you to gain a new perception of social life. In fact, this is what many find appealing about sociology. The sociological perspective has been a motivating force in my own life. Ever since I took my introductory course in sociology, I have been enchanted by the perspective that sociology offers. I have enjoyed both observing other groups and questioning my own assumptions about life. I sincerely hope the same happens to you.
Seeing the Broader Social Context
Examining the broad social
context in which people live is
essential to the sociological
perspective, for this context shapes
our beliefs and attitudes and sets
guidelines for what we do. From
this photo of a Yanomamö man
blowing yokoana, a hallucinogenic
powder, up his nose, you can see
how distinctive those...
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