Another way to think about both the sociologist's and the celebrant's imagination is through a focus on auto/biography. The / is important here. Auto/biography acknowledges that when we write and speak of the life of another aspects of our self (in terms of our views, opinions, experience, relationship with the person in question and so on) influence what we say. Similarly, when we write and speak about our own life the lives of others are significant in that we position ourselves as similar to, different from, influenced by (and so on) both historical and contemporary others. All of this is relevant to a celebrant’s practice. There are other shared concerns such as the importance of ritual at significant points of the life course; a focus on identity and how this might differ, not least with reference to age, ethnicity, gender; and of course social networks and networking.
The process by which we acquire and in turn pass on the skills and habits that we need to observe in order to fit into the society, or subsections of society, within which we live, work, and play is referred to in sociology as socialisation. Socialisation is of course a lifelong experience as is our experience of education. My formal learning lasted longer than for some as I returned to higher education in my late twenties after training and practising as a nursery nurse for 10 years. My work as a teacher and a researcher has given me the opportunity not only to continue to learn about the auto/biographies of others but to learn from them also. My interests are quite eclectic and amongst other things I’ve taught, researched and written about reproduction (including pregnancy loss and infertility), pregnancy and parenthood, working and learning in higher education, travel and transport (I’m writing this on the train by the way) and crime. I sometimes tell students that in order to do well at sociology one of the most important things to be is nosy. Nosiness has certainly worked for me. A particularly significant group of people in my professional life have been the friends and colleagues I have met through the British Sociological Association (BSA), not least those members of the BSA Auto/Biography Study Group. It is with the help of these folk that I have developed my own sociological imagination and, I think, I hope, a sense of humility regarding all there is left to learn.
My most recent educational opportunity has been my Civil Celebrant training with UKSOC and I’ve written previously (Three Funerals and a Wedding, 24th October 2014) about how fulfilling I found this. Significant here is how, for me, the experience helped me to make connections with and draw on and further develop skills acquired within my sociological undertakings and also my work as a nursery nurse. All of these occupations are people focused, are creative and require imagination. How privileged am I, as a civil celebrant, to be able to engage in this type of auto/biographical practice and to learn about and from the people whose lives are central to the ceremonies I am involved with. I’m too much of a sociologist to think of this opportunity, this life course development as natural and inevitable but I feel fortunate that my life experiences and life chances have come together in this way.