Social location refers to where we as people are located in society.
Through the lens of sociology, the position one has in society is ultimately defined by religion, culture, gender, economic status, etc. As a whole, it looks into “how people affect society, and in turn, how society affects what people think and do” (Social Inequalities-What is Sociology?). It is the concept that we as individuals are influenced by the very society we are a part of and we may not even realize it. At the very base of our social imagination is “the idea that individual lives unfold in contexts” (Manza et al, 10). Sociology is a study that highly regards these contexts as the underlying reasoning for why the lives of individuals, branching out into society as a whole, unfold the way they do. In terms of where a person is located in society and how that plays a role in sociology, a person’s social location puts them in a state of mind where they can detach themselves from societal norms and analyze such, questioning what they take in from the things that shape their minds and behaviors the most. After doing so, people are able to use that analysis and “move from individuals, to groups, to institutions, to a global society” (Manza et al, 17).
Being that we live in a country where opportunity and advantages are available, the social context for society in America is not the same as the social context for a society within an impoverished country or a country dictated by socio-communism. The biography of a young immigrant man who I refer to as my father was shaped by this opportunity to rise after leaving the communist system he was under for most of his life. He came to this country with the right idea of pursuing something that was mocked, made to seem impossible, and ultimately deprived the rights of in his own country: The American Dream. His position in society while in his own country did not make the odds of succeeding shift to his favor. In such a system of tyranny, there was never the opportunity to have success on his side in the first place. This is a clear example of a society where social location, and being in the right place in society, is essential to something as basic as surviving. He was pushed down by the barriers of a country that only sees itself and not its people.
After arriving in America, his position in society was already a different one than the one he held back in his own country and that is due to the economic context and the way the government systems are led. When referring to social location across different countries, however, the fact that different societies have different expectations is something to keep in the back of your mind. This is something that also ties back to the connection between being able to use our sociological imagination. As spoken about in class, Alfred young talks about how those differences in our society make us different despite the fact that we are ultimately the same (Professor Williams, Lecture).
Now in America, my father juggles different societal expectations than the ones he faced in his country, and although his social location is no longer determined by the same aspect as it was before, he is still dealing with what Daniel Little unloads best when he says that every society has a ranking, also known as “social hierarchy” (Little, Why a Sociology Major?). Being that my father is in a country with a far wider spectrum of opportunities, his future is nonetheless already predicted as better than what it could have been, had he stayed in his country. This, however, does not deny what Karl Marx says in reference to circumstances: “Men make their own history, but not under circumstances of their own choosing” (Manza, Viewing Life Through a Sociological Prism).
Poverty is an excellent example of this theory because nobody can truly say they chose a life of famine and unemployment. In this case, the biography of people living in these conditions in which they didn’t necessarily choose to be in shapes their lives in a way that may construct a certain way of thinking for them, and ultimately everyone in the same position as that person. There are several examples in the book that highlight the differences between people based on the social context they are in. “An African-American born in the South in the 1900s faced a very different opportunity than the same man born today, simply by virtue of the time and place he was born” (Manza et al, 12) and this is due to the historical-social context. Another great example referring back to poverty in third world countries is discussed by Paul Farmer. His concept of structural violence is portrayed through the stories of Acephie Joseph and ChouChou Louis, where society has been “structured” in a way that it disadvantages its people. According to Farmer, the poor, which are socioeconomically oppressed, and other groups of oppressed people do not exist side by side but are rather the same group of people (On Suffering and Structural Violence: A View from Below, 9).
He suggests that this structured oppression is a result of the right kind of people getting the right kind of privileges. Although this is very apparent in countries such as Haiti, where you put in what you can without getting what you deserve, this is something that we as Americans cannot say we are going through. Simply put, Farmer makes a real point when he says that we are to “identify the forces conspiring to promote suffering, with the understanding that these will be differentially weighted in different settings” (On Suffering and Structural Violence: A View from Below, 9). The setting, and ultimately the social context for the people in Haiti, and in any third world country, is in reference to who is in power and what the source of power does with such.
To connect this into what Peter Berger suggests in his writings, what has become “familiar, (suffering, in Haiti’s case) should push us to look beyond the answers we have settled with.