Swept Away by ‘Success’

The notion that hard work pays off continuously spews from the mouths of authority figures to trusting ears, eager for guidance toward success. This advice is valuable in that it offers a crucial attribute that is admirable in almost any setting, but it fails to recognize an essential factor related to the success of each individual, the preexisting circumstances that may make “success” for one much more challenging than “success” for another. A person’s social class in which they are born to can powerfully influence an abundance of their opportunities, choices, and resources.
This photograph, taken on a quiet street in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, seems to dissect this common notion of “hard work”, questioning what the phrase means relative to our society. It is clear that with this man’s physical labor in the heat of the afternoon he is working hard, but has his “hard work” placed him in an advantageous position in his career, class, and society as a whole? As Bottero (2013) suggests, educational opportunities, which are often reliant on one’s social background, highly influence a person’s career or occupation. These influences are present in forms of both structural forces and agential powers. Is this man sweeping the street because he feels it is a practical and purposeful job? Or, did his accumulated resources provide little choice beyond manual labor in pursuit of financial stability? Domecka (2013) presents this analysis as a battle between structural influence and individual agency, which weighs heavily and often ignorantly on the journey to and success of one’s career. In my analysis of this photograph, however, it is important to not deem this man’s work to be of low importance as is often done by “successful” business workers, company CEOs, or any profession that our society considers more impressive, reflected comparatively by variation in income. As suggested by Mackinnon (1994), our constructed occupational hierarchy can provide individuals with greater occupation prestige, and possibly a greater self-worth in society, often rooted in structural forces that happened to be in their favor. As we have socially constructed this occupational hierarchy, a person’s success is often dependent on whether their working contribution fits the outlined expectations that we have designed to define “success”.
When observing the 2000 Census data from Puerto Rico in an analysis by Denton (2007), income trumps race in the segregation of the Puerto Rican population residing on the island. The sheer distance of this man to what appears to be upper-class society members in the background visually support the suggested segregation of the Census data. The individual in the distance, possibly returning to his home in a building on this street, seems almost purposefully unaware of this man’s labor as he works with scattered broken tools that do not seem entirely fit for his attempted task. The people living in the surrounding beautifully constructed homes and apartments are reliant on this man for the cleanliness and upkeep of their street, allowing them safe transportation and movement. Ironically, as his physical labor presents this upper-class population with physical mobility, the process of their disdainful income-based segregation will strictly limit this man’s social mobility and social equality.


Bottero, Wendy. “Social Class Structures and Social Mobility: the Background Context.” Social Class in Later Life: Power, Identity and Lifestyle, edited by Marvin Formosa and Paul Higgs, Policy Press at the University of Bristol, Bristol, UK; Chicago, IL, USA, 2013, pp. 15–32. November 27, 2017.

Denton, Nancy A., and Jacqueline Villarrubia. “Residential Segregation on the Island: The Role of Race and Class in Puerto Rican Neighborhoods.” Sociological Forum, vol. 22, no. 1, 2007, pp. 51–76. November 27, 2017.

Domecka, Markieta. “Linking Structural and Agential Powers: A Realist Approach to Biographies, Careers and

Commentary on Rachel Tanur's Works: African View Into Mosque

Pairing this photograph’s powerful image and descriptive title, a viewer can speculate Rachel Tanur’s portrayal of the power of visual perspectives in this piece of art. The photograph’s title, “African View Into Mosque”, acts as the only piece of objectivity that a viewer can comprehend from the image, as it exposes the objective truths of what is being shown, a view peering into a Mosque. The remnants of the photograph’s features are left to be deciphered, which, according to Althusser, is dependent on the interpellation of the viewer (Sturken 2009). This can be made up unknowingly by a collection of their personal experiences, social class, and educational opportunities (Fetzer 2003). Analyzing the run-down features of the building with pieces of garbage scattered just outside the window, this fragmented view of the Mosque suggests a negative or struggling atmosphere associated with and taking away from the practices occurring just visible through the window. Similar to this photographic angle that gives an incomplete view of this mosque, society continues to infer judgement about cultures and religions from a similarly fragmented viewpoint, created by the ideologies of society, transferred to each individual’s perspective based on their social identity, cultural differences, and privilege. This consideration lead me to the unrelenting question offered by this photograph: how do members of society infer details of an unfamiliar circumstance without taking into account their externally selective and broken view of this perspective? Consequently, I question how these unaware perspectives have led to the racial profiling, cultural divide, and the misunderstanding of Islamic culture across the world. As feminists may view Islamic practices, dress codes, and passages of the Qur’an to oppress Muslim women, a less judgmental view may be uncovered if these opinions were to be formed from “inside the Mosque”. Victoria J, Lee’s (2010) extensive study after being submerged in these practices, revealed Muslim women who were proud of their strict religious guidelines, citing their modest dress code requirements to be a way to desexualize their bodies and gain the respect of men, a concept that may first appear to be backwards according to standard feminist understandings and the notion of body shaming. Similarly, as the unpleasant remnants of garbage and chipped paint may stand out above the occurring religious practices in this photograph, the tragic events of 9/11 have left an irreparable scar on the image of Islamic faith. So much so, that through the racial discrimination by Americans in power and the distorted portrayal of Islamic culture in the media, the civil rights of Muslims continue to be questioned (Smith 2013). These unfair allegations can be attributed to false and biased perspectives, based on the understanding that society has predicated the insignificance of a culture that remains a reason of life to many. As we may think we can gain an accurate understanding of Islamic culture through research, knowledge, and our own observations, we must only approach these “understandings” as personal perspectives, and realize that a brief look through an open window cannot account for the entirety of a culture. We must not only see the view inside the Mosque, but realize that seeing the outside world from within the mosque is what can justly shape our perspectives. References Fetzer, Joel S., and J. Christopher Soper. “The Roots of Public Attitudes toward State Accommodation of European Muslims' Religious Practices before and after September 11.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, vol. 42, no. 2, 2003, pp. 247–258. Retrieved November 20, 2017 Lee, Victoria J. “The Mosque and Black Islam: Towards an Ethnographic Study of Islam in the Inner City.” Ethnography, vol. 11, no. 1, 2010, pp. 145–163. Retrieved November 20, 2017 Smith, Jane I. “Islam in America.” The Journal of Religion, vol. 93, no. 1, 2013, pp. 77–87. Retrieved November 20, 2017 Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.