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My experience these days of sociology, as a formal discipline, as just about entirely on the Internet. Occasionally I dabble, for I am retired now and I have made of dabbling an art-form; I dabble in this rich and variegated academic field which forty years ago I had just entered in the last year of my teenage life. I remember well that first year of the formal study of sociology; it was a year which ended in early May of 1964, just before I got a job checking telephone poles for internal decay. In about February or, perhaps, March, a tutor joined the sociology staff. He was able to explain the mysteries of the sociological theorist Talcott Parsons better than anyone. And at the time, Parsons occupied a position in the empyrean of sociological godheads. It was an empyrean at the very centre of that introductory course in sociology. Everyone admired this tutor as if he was some brilliant theologian who had just arrived from the Vatican with authoritative pronouncements for us all to write down on our A-4 note paper to be regurgitated on the April examination. He was an Englishman, if I remember, rather slim and a good talker. And Parsons, for all of us, was about as intricate and complex, as elusive and variable, as you could get and still stay in the same language and on the same earthly plane.

For a year after that I had no contact with sociology, except for a short period of time toward the end of my second year at university. I got to know a young woman of 27 who had one son and who studied sociology. I took her ice-skating in about February of 1965. I can’t quite remember how I met her but for two or three months I went to the occasional lecture with her in sociology. She had a passion for helping Africans and I had a passion for her. Our mutual passions interlocked nicely and it was this reciprocity that led us to join together in third year sociology.

I took six courses in sociology that year, 1966-7, enough to bring the dead to life, or is it the living to death or, perhaps more accurately, I should say enough to kill any enthusiasms for sociology into the honours program. In retrospect it was fortuitous that Canadian universities begin in mid-September with exams starting in mid-April. With the Christmas break, the week off for Easter and exam study the student is left with six months of lectures-reading-tutorials. That is about all one can stand of reading sociology. It was al I could stand at the time. The cold Canadian winters kept it all on chill: nothing like a brisk walk at 10 below zero to class in sociology 3A6 to examine the essence of Marxism, if there is/was an essence, or the intricacies of functionalism and it has many intricacies especially the Parsonian brand. From Comte to the 1960s in a quick hit, but not as quick as I would have liked. Part of me always wanted to take it seriously and part of me found it such a burden of words that my already incipient depression, the first episode of my life-long bipolar disorder, just got another kick-start on its way.

Anyway, I got through my third year and found myself with a BA bracket sociology end-of-bracket. I did not get my degree until November because, when the transcript came out in June, I found sadly that I was four or five marks short of a passing grade, 60%. I had to pay a visit to the Head of the Department, a gentle spirit who frequently imbibed a white wine, a beer or was it a claret? He taught me sociological statistics. This was the most mysterious of all arts in this youthful discipline which by 1963 was about 100 years of age with roots going back into the dawns of time. I remember, yes, as if it was yesterday, sitting in his class writing down as much as I could in the hope of unravelling it leisurely at home in a quiet evening where I lived over a restaurant in the small town of Dundas, 15 minutes away on a good hitch-hike---and good hitch-hikes were important at 10 below zero with a cold wind blowing. Of course I never did, unravel it I mean; night after night I’d ponder these mathematical symbols in the hope that sincerity and effort would pay off. In this case they did not and here I was eight weeks after the end of the year asking him for a few marks. He came to the party, probably because it was late afternoon and by then he’d already had a few and he was one of those drinkers who got friendlier after knocking back that few.

I had periodic dalliances with sociology after that graduating year of 1966. At teachers’ college, 1966/7 we had a sociology unit. I had to go to a teachers' college to get some practical qualification because sociology was good for absolutely nothing insofar as a career was concerned. I could have tied it to social work as well as teaching, but untied to anything about the only use it had was at a bar in the evening, with your girlfriend discussing your(and her) inner life, driving a taxi and sitting around filling in time reading books. However useful sociology may be in this private domain, you could not take it as far as the cornerstone of a career unless, of course, you just wanted your BA to get you into some commercial game like: selling insurance, working for the public service in some capacity in some department as a novitiate or, indeed, one of many other fields/jobs in which I had not the slightest interest.

I came to teach sociology in 1974 to trainee teachers in Launceston, in 1975 to library technician trainees in Melbourne and in 1976-78 in Ballarat to engineers and social science majors. When I lived in Katherine in Australia’s Northern Territory I taught it occasionally in adult education to evening classes and in Port Headland to students in management courses. In the early 1990s in Perth I taught sociology in Certificate and Diploma courses. In 1997-8 I was teaching sociology for human service workers. Now after nearly fifty years, 1963-2013, I find myself finally finished combing library shelves through books which I first saw two months before President Kennedy was assassinated(23/11/’63). These shelves have expanded immensely in that half century; there are 1000s of new volumes to keep the eager beaver busy into perpetuity. Some of the material is highly stimulating and some as dry and coagulating as a sewer after a long period of no rain. The books are still as fat and I find I can not spend more than an hour in a library hunting them down. An immense fatigue sets in toward the end of my first hour in the library and I must scoop up my allotment of seven or eight books to read in the leisurely quiet of my home with a cold or a hot drink in my hand depending on the time of year.

I look forward in my dotage to a long and happy life with this strange field I chanced upon nearly half a century ago when I was trying to avoid the world of work and its deadening and so often predictable stamp of boredom. I was also trying to work out what package of courses would get me that BA in three years, that essential ticket to go somewhere, somewhere I knew not exactly where. The labyrinthine channels of sociology one can travel in forever; the library shelves are, as I say, getting more extensive; it is a burgeoning field as are all fields now. The river of sociology, now in its middle age, perhaps, will flow on into its third century while I get old. Now that my days are long and I am freed from the work-a-day world and its routines I play among the waters of sociology; I bath myself in its endless streams, having learned how to avoid drowning in its heady froth. I will only sample its choicest and its freshest glasses of refreshment. For I am now an accomplished connoisseur of its mysteries, at least some of the mysteries which do not totally elude me---and there are many of them. I am now old and on an old-age pension. I am ready for my final sociological hour.

Ron Price
Updated: 6 July 2010

PS Two years after writing the first edition of this essay I retired from the teaching profession in general and from teaching sociology in particular. I retired the same month and year that the famous Canadian hockey player, Wayne Gretsky, retired from ice-hockey: April 1999. By July 2010, as I write the latest revision of this essay, I had also been retired from teaching in any form: part-time, casual or volunteer for five years. I found myself teaching sociology in a School for Seniors until 2005. My final hour of internet teaching and learning in sociology had begun.

I had the pleasure of revising this essay today for what well may turn out to be the final time. I had seven arch lever files of notes, the residue from those many years of dabbling in sociology. The notes occupied a shelf in my study in my home in George Town, the oldest town in Australia. By 2010 I had begun to sample only the choice bits of the sub-field that I enjoyed the most: sociological theory. I continued what I had done since my first contact with sociology in 1963, enlarging my understanding of a Cause, of a community and individual enterprise, which I believed had already had and would continue to have in the years ahead a significant role to play in the unification and planetization of our emerging global and federated civilization. I had been engaged with that Cause, that global organizational Force, since the early 1950s through the insights of this useful discipline, among other useful academic and experiential fields and factors. My final hour of engagement with that Cause and its many fertile fields, rivers and tributaries had also begun. As I headed into the middle years, 65 to 75, of late adulthood as some human development theorists call the years from 60 to 80 in the lifespan, my final hour of life on this mortal coil had indeed begun. Who knows what would lie ahead as I lived into old age, the years after 80, if I lasted that long?(1800 words)

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