Saturday, March 26, 2016

How society deals with human suffering

Millions of people experience social suffering in their everyday lives. But how should we venture to understand these brute facts of modern existence? How do they impact upon our cultural beliefs, political outlooks and moral behaviours?

In a new book, entitled A Passion for Society: How We Think About Human Suffering, Dr Iain Wilkinson, of the University of Kent, and co-author Professor Arthur Kleinman, of Harvard University, examine the moral experience and public portrayal of human suffering and how these have changed through modern times.

The authors go on to investigate how the knowledge people acquire of the suffering of others holds the potential to inspire caring acts of compassion.

Taking an historical perspective, A Passion for Society further considers the development of social science, with a particular focus on how this has been shaped in response to problems of social suffering. The authors argue that social science's original concern with social suffering and its amelioration gave way to a professionalisation that espoused dispassionate enquiry above the pursuit of humanitarian social reform.

Dr Wilkinson and Professor Kleinman then chart the more recent recuperation of this lost tradition and explore some of the ways in which social inquiries coupled with caring actions for others are currently revitalising and remaking the discipline of social science.

The authors conclude by arguing for what they describe as an engaged social science that connects critical thought with social action and operates with a commitment to establish and sustain humane forms of society.

Iain Wilkinson is Reader in Sociology within Kent's School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research. Arthur Kleinman is Professor of Medical Anthropology within Harvard Medical School's Department of Social Medicine. A Passion for Society: How We Think About Human Suffering, was published in January 2016 by the University of California Press. See:

EurekAlert. 2016. “How society deals with human suffering”. EurekAlert. Posted: February 11, 2016. Available online:

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