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Developmental Life Course Perspective Analysis of Esfir Gorelishvili, Research Paper Example

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Words: 3637

Research Paper

Introduction

Esfir Gorelishvili was born in Baku, Azerbaijan in 1934, which at the time was part of the Soviet Union. In her lifetime she experienced critical events which both reflected world history as well as her own personal hardships she had to face such as homelessness and two divorces. Being a Jew living in poverty during World War II (1939-1945) caused a childhood taking place during a war fueled with anti-Semitism and parental imprisonment, and adolescence in a post-war Soviet country, and picking up the pieces from the war. The 1950s consisted of two marriages and two children by 1963, following immigration to the United States in 1979, which was historically a “booming” time in America, allowing Esfir to create a comfortable life for herself, her elderly mother, and youngest child.

The life experiences, social difficulties and insecurities caused Esfir’s life choices to revolve mainly around searching for romantic relationships, and affected her outlook on her past, present, and future. Elder (1998, p. 2.) states that

“Some individuals are able to select the paths they follow, a phenomenon known as human agency, but these choices are not made in a social vacuum. All life choices are contingent on the opportunities and constraints of social structure and culture.”

Therefore, the current research of life course will not be based on individual choices, more importantly on the opportunities, constraints, social, cultural and political aspects of the person’s development. Instead of focusing on one single event and general patterns, this paper examines the reasons that led to different stages of developmental life course and the trajectories involved in the process (Yoshioka and Noguchi, 2009, Hutchinson, 2011).

Developmental Trajectories

According to Elder and Shanahan (1999), examination of the dynamic views of the person and context provide an extremely valuable resource for understanding achievements, involvements, social life, and well being. The authors of the current study would like to examine three different levels of developmental trajectories. These are: communication, social and repetitive behavioral types of trajectories (Shanahan, 2002).

Elder (1998, p. 6.) claims that the life course development is the right “framework for studies that relate social pathways to history and developmental trajectories.” It is evident from the interviews that Esfir’s childhood was influenced by different social and historical events. The end of the war, creation of a new country, poverty and the transition of the politics in the Soviet Union, has all influenced her pathways.

Poverty and Financial Issues. From early childhood, Esfir learned how to live in poverty. According to her account, she lived in a one-bedroom apartment in the middle of a Jewish community. The insecurity and lack of privacy was one of the most disturbing aspects of the small girl’s life. Her father was working in the construction industry, while her mother stayed home. It was very hard for the family to make ends meet. While this struggle with poverty does indicate a bad start, Esfir aimed high as a teenager as she got admitted to university. Being from a working class family, this was a rare thing. Interestingly, she does not comment on university any more; one can only assume that she chose marriage as an alternative solution; providing more stability and better circumstances. She might not have been able to wait to finish university to change her life and get out of poverty.

Because of the financial unsteadiness, social and economic problems in the post-war Soviet Union, there was no stability in her life. She states that she “never knew if they would have to pick up and move elsewhere.” Reviewing the life course development framework, it is easy to find a connection between being used to instability in life as a child, and the attitude towards “giving up everything” and moving to a new country.

Religion. Being born a Jew in pre-wartime Azerbaijan has created some difficulties with connecting to the nation and developing a national identity at an early age. While as a little girl, Esfir did not speak Georgian, she seems to have settled in the Jewish community. While people in the country were mostly Muslim or Russian, there were many Russian Jews in the country. Pfeffer (2013) reports that Azerbaijan is the land of no anti-Semitism. Reporting from Baku, the birth place of Esfir, he quotes a resident: “nearly everyone who grew up in Baku remembers being treated by a Jewish doctor, studying under Jewish teachers and having a Jewish lawyer take care of their affairs.” There was no ethnic or religious conflict in the area at the time. Small Jewish communities based on race and religious identity influenced the childhood of Esfir. She did not talk much about her adolescence; therefore, one can assume that she had hardship forming a national identity.

Antisemitism and Social Structures in the Soviet Union. The rebirth of Zionism in the Soviet Union has influenced internal politics. According to Gjerde, (2011) “Soviet authorities, … made a number of efforts to prevent Soviet Jews from intermingling with the Israeli delegation after the declaration of Israel. Still, Holocaust was neglected by the Soviet regime and had less publicity than in the West.” Uris (1986) writes: that Jews can only find equality as a nation, as they live in a diaspora. National identity of Jews was not based on geographical location but “blood” and religion. These ties were stronger than the artificially created countries’ national identities. The Samizdat (state censorship in the Soviet Union) had a great affect on the freedom of speaking about national identities and religion. (Gjerde, p. 18.)

Historical, Geographical, and Social Forces

Life Events. The insecurity of the political and social structures in Azerbaijan during the lifetime of Esfir has influenced her life course development. Poverty and her family’s marginalized status have developed her consciousness of security and safety, both regarding social status and family relations. As Sternberg (2002) states, family ties were much stronger in Russia than in America, and taking care of relatives was a social requirement. She followed this path when she took her mother to the United States and became a breadwinner for two people. Her relationships were influenced by her desire for security and family. She married early and for a while she believed that the solution for achieving security was marriage and strong family ties. She is close to her son, and has a holiday apartment in the same complex as her daughter. Living close to friends and family is something she learned during her childhood, when she grew up in a very close community of Azerbaijani Jews.

Transition. Elder (1998, p. 1.)- concludes that early transitions do affect subsequent transitions. Individual changes need to be examined when assessing the nature of change. Examining the changes in Esfir’s early life might provide a resource for examining the connection between early transitions how she handled the changes. She needed to develop a new identity; first in Italy during her immigration, and then in the United States.

Turning Points

War. When talking about the war, Esfir refers to the years as “unsettling times”. While she does not mention the effects of the conflict, she expresses her childhood insecurity several times during the interview. While she does not differentiate between wars, it is important to mention that apart from the Second World War, there was another conflict in the area, and that was the Iran-Azerbaijan People’s Republic conflict. The Iranian Azerbaijan was declared in 1945, when Esfir was only eleven years old. The political insecurity, followed by the anti-democratic Soviet regime did create a sense of fear and insecurity in the family’s life.

New Control, New Rules, and Limited Opportunities. Esfir mentions that her family was not allowed to have a piano in the house. When his father went against the regulations, he and Esfir’s mother got arrested and were sent into prison. The state that cared about rules regarding the possession of a piano did not have policies to look after the children left without parents (Kelly, 2008). This resulted in the life course developmental path that Esfir took when she settled down in a marriage early. She looked for a society that cared for individuals, instead of the rules and regulations, and this might have been the reason why she immigrated.

According to Silverstein (1989), there were certain enemy images created in the US against the Soviet Union and vice versa by politicians. While there were personal motives that influenced Esfir’s decision to immigrate to America, she might have just wanted to break up with the system that indirectly killed her father. While she was looking for a way to escape poverty and start a new life without controls, the Soviet Union made it almost impossible in the Eastern Bloc to have any connection with the West during the Cold War. While she encountered difficulties, she still managed to escape the regime and this might have been a sign of rebelling against the system that imprisoned her parents.

Parental Imprisonment. Esfir does not say anything about blaming herself for her parents’ imprisonment; however, it might be an event that influenced her life. Her father bought the piano for her and he had to go to prison with her mother. While the child cannot be made responsible for their actions, it is important to note that she says that she was the primary caregiver or her son and her mother as well after moving to the United States. She felt responsible for her mother, and this could have been fueled by a sense of guilt.

Death of Father. Esfir did not talk about the death of her father in detail, but she mentioned that she was 16 when he died. Being the eldest child, five years senior to her brother, she must have felt growing up too quickly. She mentions that “Papa came back soon, he was so skinny, he was sick. I don’t think he ever got better.” That indicates that life in prison affected his health tremendously. Still, losing a parent early, especially when he is the breadwinner in the family might have created a sense of insecurity in the young girl. This might explain her later relationships with older men; she herself calls this a “Sugar-daddy relationship.”

Education. Esfir does not talk a lot about school, and she only mentions her commutes by bus and that she got accepted to university. She is proud of her achievement that as a Jew and female member of the community she got in. However, she does not mention that she finished the university, and this is indicated by her later job; a bookkeeper. She wanted to go back to school and gave up Lera, her first child, to be taken care of by her mother after the divorce. Esfir states. “Mother ended up raising Lera so I could complete school…understood how rare it was and how important this opportunity was.” While it is understandable that she wanted to make it in life and the opportunity was important, it is interesting how she speaks less about Lera during the interview and more about her youngest son, Igor. She has helped Igor, her youngest son who came with her to America to get a College degree, maybe as an intention to see him “do better” than she did. Still, she followed her daughter to America even though she did not approve of her marriage and she has a holiday home in the same block as her daughter.

Immigration. Esfir followed her daughter when she decided to move to America in the 1970s. It was a lengthy process, and people had to wait for permits, passports and support for a long time. She did not give up hope. According to Sternberg (2002) “travel to and from Russia was almost nonexistent.” Esfir does not talk about religion, but it is commonly known and described by Sternberg that any exercise of religion was a punishable act and the regime often deported those who went against the official atheism.

Her decision might have been influenced by her adverse feelings towards the regime, seeing immigration as an escape route or simply she wanted more security in her older life. Instead of trying to find love and finding answers to her inner questions in relationships, she understood that she had to change her life to be in a better position for herself and her children.

She took her young son and her mother to America. It is important to note that she paid for the visas with her own money, working hard to help others. An important role change is notable here in Esfir’s life. She started off as a child needing support, then she had to provide for her brother, escaped into relationships and marriage to be cared for and supported, and finally she took matters into her own hands and decided to support her son and mother. She kept up the support until her mother died in 1984 at an old age. She found that there was an opportunity in the country, due to the economic boom in the country and the opportunities were abundant. According to the Population Bulletin (2003) the fourth wave of immigration to America started in 1965. The policies changed and priority was given to people who already had relatives living in the country. (Lena immigrated before Esfir) The economic crisis was over by the 1960-s and new businesses, opportunities were created.

Sternberg (2002) discusses the waves of immigration of Russian Jews to America in the past one hundred years. She mentions the main difficulties the majority of Russian-Jews immigrating to America faced during the Soviet regime. One of these is the loss of social status. While the “working class was glorified” (Sternberg, 2002) the new views of the socialism affected self-worth. This might be the reason why many immigrants chose simple jobs, even if they were qualified to do more. Many ended up as taxi drivers. Sternberg states that “adaptation comes gradually as newcomers begin understanding and familiarizing themselves with values and attitudes of the new culture.” This pattern is clearly visible in Esfir’s life when she finds a job as a bookkeeper; (while there is no information about her college education accepted there or the training finished) an easy and comfortable solution. She might have decided to take on the job to be able to support her family and she did not want to miss a chance to find job. The motivation of fear of insecurity is extremely powerful pattern in her life story.

Over-dependency is what Sternberg (2002) describes as a main characteristic of Russian immigrants. In Russia, collective behavior was a norm, but in the United States, individual achievements and independence were more supported. The author brings up the question of parents overprotecting children, making them obey, take care of elderly and sick family members. This is exactly what Esfir does when she decides to look after her mother in America.

Patterns

Resilience. Resilience is a very important aspect of the life course of Esfir. As a child, she was at risk of slow and delayed human development. According to Masten (2001), one of the risk factors is low socioeconomic status, which is present in the childhood of Esfir. Further risk factors, such as community trauma, and parental death were present in her young adult and adolescence life. Masten explains that adaptation to new environments highly depends on risks and assets’ balance in childhood, effective parenting. Desirable outcomes can only be obtained when assets are greater than risks. Developmental catch-up of children has been found by recent studies and this is determined as “recovery-to-normal” trajectories. Resilience is clearly visible in the life of Esfir.

Over-dependency. During the life course of Esfir, over-dependency is present at every stage. When her parents get imprisoned she feels responsible for providing her brother. She grew up in a small Jewish colony in Azerbaijan, where “everyone knew each other’s business.” She mentions that her grandparents who lived far away stayed for a while with them, which is also a sign of dependency. Her neighbor also tried to help the children. Next, a pattern of over-dependency is seen in her life when she gets pregnant after marrying for love and gives up the opportunity to attend a university. Even though her marriage is falling apart, she tries to keep the family together. Before her second marriage she finds a rich man and tries to rely on him, while his family does not approve. Her second marriage is also a clear example of over-dependency. She shares how “one night when Igor was ten, Boris got too drunk and pulled a gun out trying to kill me, but I stayed with him.” She always made excuses because she wanted to have a complete family. Later, the move to America and the fact that she took her son and mother with her also shows a strong family tie and over-dependency. Caring for her mother is also one of the pattern’s significant appearances, and today, after Tony (her current partner) “spent all his savings” on her, she provides for him.

Looking for Security. The patterns of Esfir’s relationship show a tendency of aiming for security. This can be explained two ways. First, looking at the early death of her father, it might be an effect of losing the breadwinner and the “ground under her feet,” causing her to always be looking for an established man who can provide for her. Another reason might be the “unsettling times” during the war and after the introduction of the Soviet Regime; the breakdown of social and ethical norms. Security is representative through relationships in Esfir’s life. She even engaged in a “sugar-daddy” relationship. Eventually, Esfir found the answer to her quest for security in independence. She became the provider of three people, learned the language fast at night classes and now she is financially comfortable.

Risk Factors. Over her life course, at different stages, Esfir was at high risk of developing criminal behavioral patterns. The first one of these was when she had to provide for herself and her younger brother, while her parents were imprisoned. The Youth Violence Report (2001) concludes that there are various developmental progression patterns leading to youth violence. One of these can be low socioeconomic status and poverty. This situation did not only appear in the childhood of Esfir, as when she was an immigrant, she also had a low socioeconomic status. The situation lasted until she found her job, which she kept for 20 years.

Developmental Life Course Analysis Summary

The main determining factors and trajectories of Esfir’s life determined by the above study are concluded below:

She started her life as a member of a marginalized community in Azerbaijan. This indicated risk at early life. Her parents’ imprisonment has made her take responsibility and resulted in resilience and she became stronger.

She learned how to adapt to change early, when she temporally lost her parents. She also faced insecurity. Early in her life she thought that marriage was the answer to avoid change. She found family as a source of security early in her life. Later she realized that she needed more opportunity and decided to more to the United States, where she managed to adapt to the new culture and society.

The lack of social security was the early determinant of Esfir’s life course. She first tried to “break out” through university, then she settled in a marriage. he escaped into a world that – at least she thought – provided security through an early marriage. Later she attempted to escape to relationships until she finally took responsibility for her life, made the move, obtained determination and immigrated to the United States. Her adaptation skills made it possible for her to settle down, get a job and provide for her family.

Conclusion

The life course of Esfir shows some important developmental life course patterns and processes; how she managed to achieve social status and security despite the risks she faced as a child. Her life course shows personal development with regards to taking responsibility and adapting to changes. The importance of social and ecological environment described by Bronfenbrenner (1977, p. 514) has been confirmed. She, however, kept the “Russian Jew” characteristic throughout her life; the overprotecting family relations. The 9-year old girl who had to provide for her little brother while her parents were in prison became a strong, responsible and caring adult.

References

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1977). Toward an experimental ecology of human development. American Psychologist, July 1977.

Elder, G. Jr. (1998). The life course as developmental theory. Child Development, February 1998, Volume 69, Number 1, Pages 1-12

Elder, G., Shanahan, M. (1999). The life course and human development. In: Handbook of Child Psychology. J Wiley and Sons.

Gjerde, A. (2011). Reinterpreting Soviet Anti-Zionism. An analysis of “Anti-Zionist” Texts published in the Soviet Union, 1967–1972. Masteroppgave i historie.

Hutchinson, E. (2011). A Life Course Perspective. In: Dimensions of human behavior: The changing life course. SAGE.

Kelly, C. (2008). Children’s world: growing up in Russia, 1890-1991. Yale University Press.

Martin, P., Midgley, E. (2003). Population Bulletin. Immigration: Shaping and reshaping America. Population Reference Bureau

Masten, A. (2001). Ordinary magic. Resilience process in development. American Psychologist. March 2001

Pfeffer, A. (2013). The land of no anti-Semitism. Haaretz. Web.

Shanahan, M. (2000). Pathways to adulthood in changing societies: Variability and mechanisms in life course perspective. Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2000. 26:667–92

Silverstein, B. (1989). Enemy images. The psychology of U.S. attitudes and cognitions regarding the Soviet Union. American Psychologist, June 1989.

Sternberg, M. (2002). “If you want to be Russian go to the United States”. The dilemma of being Jewish in their homeland and Russians in America. Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Services. Vol. 1. (1) 2002

Uris, L. (1986). Exodus. New York: Bantam

Youth Violence: A Report of the surgeon general. (2001) Office of the Surgeon General (US); National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (US); National Institute of Mental Health (US); Center for Mental Health Services (US).Rockville (MD):

Yoshioka, M., Noguchi, M. (2009) The Developmental life course perspective: A conceptual and organizing framework for human behavior and the social environment. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 19:873–884, 2009

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