Wednesday, 12 November 2014

A Celebrant’s Imagination (1) Thinking Sociologically about Place and Identity

The Liver Building Complete with Birds
I wrote the first draft of this piece last week whilst in Liverpool for an academic work commitment. Since then I’ve moved house and now I’m in York, again for work. I’ve been a traveller most of my life.

I was born in Liverpool at almost the very end of the 1950s in the same year that Charles Wright Mills wrote The Sociological Imagination. Mills argued that in order to develop said sociological imagination one needed to take account of biography, history and the social structure. Sociologists then are concerned with the relationship between individuals and society because we are all shaped by the time and culture in which we live and by our relationships with other people. In turn we all have some impact on the lives of others and on society. These arguments are, I think, as relevant to a celebrant’s imagination, as they are to a sociologist’s, in that the ceremonies a celebrant creates and delivers – funerals, weddings, renewal of vows, namings and such like – focus on the life of the person/people concerned and on their relationships with others and their engagement with wider society (via education, work, leisure, politics and so on).

Celebrants too, of course, are part of society and, just like anyone, everyone else, where and when we live and our family, friends, workmates, lovers are all significant in making us who we are. Although my parents and I left Merseyside (we lived in Prescot, just eight miles from Liverpool city centre) when I was only seven my early life and experiences are relevant to my identity. Last week’s trip reminded me sharply that my credentials as a Liver bird might not be as obvious as they once were but I still have the traces of a Scouse accent; detectable in the way I pronounce shirt, jug, bath, love . . . There are lots of memories too. There was the time I wet myself watching a street parade as I thought the policeman walking alongside the May Queen and her attendants had come to arrest me as our neighbour had warned me would happen that morning when I squashed his best roses during some boisterous play. I remember also the stern talking to I received after a party my parents held during which I’d sat and counted the contents of my money box in front of everyone. I didn’t mind too much as I’d made a fortune as all the guests gave me contributions as they left. Mine was a happy childhood. As an only child I was never lonely as my mum and dad always seemed to find the time to play, read, and talk with me. They taught me my first lessons and explained the things I didn’t understand; my first socialisers. There were lots of lean times but I was never short of love or attention, or new experiences.

Leaving the Liverpool area was the beginnings of an adventure for us and the places I’ve lived – in the UK and abroad – and the people I’ve met have all had an influence on me. Many other journeys, much more (in)famous than ours began, or included a stop at, the city; not only but including, enslaved people from African, prisoners sentenced to transportation, child evacuees and child immigrants and of course the Beatles, Cilla, John Barnes, Ian Rush and others. Like my story, the stories of all of these people, are in part linked to the UKs seventh largest city and to The Leaving of Liverpool

Liverpool Lime Street Railway Station

Last word to The Pogues I think:


Mills, Charles Wright (1959) The Sociological Imagination London: Penguin

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