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SOC 352 Chapter 1

SOC 352 Chapter 1 - HARPMC01_0131884980.QXD 11:58 PM Page 1...

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It is impossible to live in the world today without being bombarded with the reality and pervasiveness of change. The mass media are full of reports of new or continu- ing crises in some little-known part of the world. They are also full of reports about changes in family life, health, and prospects for economic prosperity or decline. And then there are the fascinating and worrisome reports about the dazzling array of technological innovations that have the potential to revolutionize our lives. While we live in a world that is pregnant with possibilities, it is also at times a frightening and hazardous world. The general pace of change and the rate at which the world is becoming a single highly disorganized system suggest that crisis is the ordinary state of social life. Social change is not historically new, but most people today are likely to perceive change as the normal state of the world. Even though we are frightened and fascinated by change, we have come to expect it. Particularly in modern society, life is a journey, not a home. We are bombarded by the big events of major world transformations, but social change is also the story of individuals and of differences between generations in fami- lies. Let me introduce the topic of social change by contrasting the personal stories 1 By Way of Introduction Chapter 1 A turn-of-the––century Central Kansas farm family, with multiple generations living together. A typical contemporary college campus at a time when young people spend most of their time with peers rather than other adults. HARPMC01_0131884980.QXD 10/7/06 11:58 PM Page 1
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about the world of Harper’s father and the world of my children. I’ll let Harper tell you about the lives of his parents from this description of a conversation with his father. One day in January some years ago when my parents had come to visit, I walked into the kitchen and observed my father just standing with the refrigerator door open looking into it. When I asked him what he was doing he said, “Well, I was just thinking that we didn’t have all these different kinds of food when I was growing up.” My first impulse was to think, here it comes, another story about the good/bad old days. But instead I asked him to explain. He was thinking particularly about the variety of fresh food (grapefruit, oranges, apples, lettuce, and so on) that was unavail- able to him as a child, particularly in January. From that began a series of conversations where I made a serious attempt to try to understand the world he lived in as a child. My father was born in 1899 on a small farm in southeastern Missouri. His life, as far as I can tell, was typical of at least half of the American population at that time. Like most farmers of the late nineteenth century, he worked the family farm, which was tied to a market economy. His father borrowed money from a bank to buy land, and corn and hogs were sold to make payment to the bank and to purchase seed for next year’s crop. But to me the most striking thing about his early life was the extent
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