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Presidential Event to explore sociology, suffering and humanitarianism
03 February 2012 — 03 February 2012
Kent, University of
The causes and consequences of human suffering will be the focus of a British Sociological Association (BSA) Presidential Event at the British Library on 3 February, 10am-4pm.
The event also aims to cultivate a broad-ranging debate over the role of humanitarianism within contemporary culture and the vocation of sociology itself.
Key speakers will include: Dr Iain Wilkinson and Professor Larry Ray from the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Research, University of Kent; Craig Calhoun, President of the Social Science Research Council and University Professor of Social Sciences at New York University; Kate Nash, Professor of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Faculty Fellow at the Center for Cultural Sociology, Yale University; and Gillian Bendelow, Professor of Sociology at the University of Sussex.
Dr Wilkinson, a sociologist whose research interests include documenting and explaining the historical peculiarity of modern attitudes towards human suffering, explained the reasons for the event. He said: ‘The magnitude and force of critical events of human suffering mark out modern times as an unparalleled ‘age of extremes’. The scale of military conflict, the vast numbers of people trapped in systems of totalitarian oppression, the accumulation of conditions of mass humanitarian disaster and the entrenched poverty of the new ‘mega-slums’ leave many of us shocked and appalled by the harms we inflict on one another.
‘It is also now widely understood that we have created social conditions in which the maintenance of an affluent lifestyle and pursuit of consumer aspiration at one end of the globe are structurally implicated in the intensification of forces of violent oppression at the other. In this respect, the problem of suffering has changed not only in relation to the catastrophes that break apart societies, but also in accordance with the extent to which these are understood to be generated by social practices that at their point of origin may seem quite harmless and benign.’
Dr Wilkinson also explained that the ‘brute fact’ of human suffering is frequently taken as a prompt for us to question the social, political and cultural circumstances in which we are made to live. ‘It makes sociologists of us all,’ he said. ‘In almost every instance, the most significant developments in sociology have been inspired under the attempt to better understand the conditions that give rise to human misery; and further, how these can be re-fashioned for the project of building humane forms of society.’
For speaker biographies and available abstracts see the Notes below.