Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research

 

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Dr Iain Wilkinson

Senior Lecturer in Sociology

School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research

Location:
Room CNE216
School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research
Cornwallis North East
Canterbury , Kent, CT2 7NF

 

Iain Wilkinson is  a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research. See the rest of the Sociology team.

His research attempts to document and explain how people’s experience of ‘the problem of suffering’ changes through history and between societies.  He is interested to explore the potential for the incidence of human suffering  to operate as a force of social and cultural change. This brings a focus to occasions where encounters with the problem of suffering are involved in changing people’s  beliefs and attitudes. It also concerns an attempt to understand how cultural perceptions of human suffering are implicated within the actions taken in response to the needs of others.

These interests have inspired him to investigate the cultural history of modern humanitarianism and humanitarian social movements.  Here he is concerned to understand the social and cultural conditions that give rise to humanitarian moral feelings as well as role played by the cultural politics of compassion in public life.  He is also tracing the impact of humanitarianism upon the culture of sociology. In particular he has developed an interest in the extent to which understanding  the human social condition requires the cultivation of bonds of ‘social sympathy’.  These issues are explored in various publications addressed to problems of ‘social suffering’ and in studies that explore the potential  for documents of human suffering to be fashioned as a distinct form of social inquiry.  

Iain’s research involves him working across a range of fields that include developments in sociological theory, the sociological of health and illness, the sociology of humanitarianism, the sociology of the body and emotions, the sociology of risk and anxiety, the sociology of mass media and the history of sociology.


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Also view these in the Kent Academic Repository
Books

    Wilkinson, I.M. (2009) Risk Vulnerability and Everyday Life. The New Sociology. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 136 pp. ISBN 9780415370806.

    Abstract

    It is now sociological common sense to declare that, in everyday life, large numbers of people approach matters of work, family life, trust and friendship with 'risk' constantly in mind. This book, provides an introductory overview and critical assessment of this phenomenon. Iain Wilkinson outlines contrasting sociological theories of risk, and summarizes some of the principle discoveries of empirical research conducted into the ways people perceive, experience and respond to a world of danger. He also examines some of the moral concerns and political interests that feature in this area of study. Designed to equip readers not only with the sociological means to debate the human consequences of our contemporary culture of risk, but also, with the critical resources to evaluate the significance this holds for current sociology, this book provides a perfectly pitched undergraduate introduction to the topic.

    Wilkinson, I.M. (2005) Suffering: A Sociological introduction. Polity Press, Oxford, 240 pp. ISBN 9780745631974.

    Abstract

    "Sociology is always concerned with the causes and consequences of human suffering in one form or another, yet there is no sociology of suffering per se. This book is written with the understanding that if sociology fails to attend to what suffering does to people then it is left with a severely diminished account of human experience. Wilkinson maintains that a sociological response to suffering must confront the most unsettling questions of meaning and morality. He argues that the apparent 'senselessness' of suffering has the power to transform dramatically the ways we relate to society and ourselves. The book explores some of the ways in which our sensitivity towards this 'problem of suffering' is related to a new 'politics of compassion' in modern societies."

    Wilkinson, I.M. (2001) Anxiety in a Risk Society. Routledge, London, UK ISBN 9780415226813.

    Abstract

    "Few would dispute that we are living at a time of high anxiety and uncertainty in which many of us will experience a crisis of identity at some point or another. At the same time, news media provide us with a daily catalogue of disasters from around the globe to remind us that we inhabit a world of crisis, insecurity and hazard. Anxiety in a Risk Society looks at the problem of contemporary anxiety from a sociological perspective and highlights its significance for the ways we make sense of risk and uncertainty. It argues that the relationship between anxiety and risk hinges on the nature of anxiety. Iain Wilkinson believes that there is much for sociologists to learn from those who have made the condition of anxiety the focus of their life's work. By making anxiety the focus of sociological inquiry, a critical vantage point can be gained from which to attempt an answer to the question: Are we more anxious because we are more risk conscious?"

Articles

    Wilkinson, Iain M. (2013) The Problem of Suffering as a Driving Force of Rationalization and Social Change. British Journal of Sociology, 64 (1). pp. 123-141. ISSN 0007-1315.

    Abstract

    This article documents and analyses a reconstructed Weberian conception of the problem of suffering. In this setting a focus is brought to how the problem of suffering is constituted in the dynamic interplay between, on the one hand, the compulsion to impose rational sense and order on the world, and on the other, the necessity to find a means to satiate charismatic needs. The discussion highlights Weber's account of the tendency for problems of suffering to increase in volume and scale along with the intensification and spread of modern processes of rationalization. It offers a case for the development of further sociological inquiries into the role played by experiences of the problem of suffering within the dynamics of social and cultural change.

    Wilkinson, I.M. (2013) The provocation of the humanitarian social imaginary. Visual Communication, 12 (3). pp. 261-276. ISSN 14703572.

    Abstract

    This article reviews recent attempts to analyse the visibility that is brought to human suffering within 'social imaginaries' committed to humanitarian concerns. It questions the conventions of critique that operate to cast the humanitarian social imaginary as a negative development within our political culture. It is designed to encourage a more critically reflexive and historically informed approach to the work of critique. It also argues that it is possible to trace a tradition in which humanitarian campaigners operate with the aim of appropriating the critical reaction to their work as part of their political strategy. In this regard, campaigners are more concerned to provoke moral controversy than to fashion 'winning arguments'. Here the visualization of human suffering is valued more for its potential to generate value conflicts than for the extent to which it serves as an authentic or ideologically uncontaminated representation of social reality. © The Author(s), 2013.

    Wilkinson, I.M. (2012) With and Beyond Mills: Social Suffering and the Sociological Imagination. Cultural Studies-Critical Methodologies, 12 (3). pp. 182-191. ISSN 1532-7086.

    Abstract

    This article offers a critical appraisal of C. Wright Mills’s The Sociological Imagination with focus brought to how he sets his sociology into practice. It is designed as an invitation to further dialogue and debate over the methodology of this work. It reviews Mills’s attempt to create a “sociologized pragmatism” and analyzes the contribution of The Sociological Imagination to this project. It argues that the critical praxis that informs the development of research and writing on “social suffering” demonstrates an approach to social inquiry that moves both with and beyond Mills, particularly with regard to the task of cultivating social understanding from conflicts met in lived experience.

    Breeze, B. and Gouwenberg, B. and Schuyt, T. et al. (2011) What Role for Public policy in Promoting Philanthropy? Public Management Review, 13 (8). pp. 1179-1195.

    Abstract

    This article presents and discusses the findings of a survey conducted among Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs) in most of the twenty-seven countries within the European Union, which studied the extent and success of fundraising from philanthropic sources for research. Our data demonstrate that success in fundraising is related to institutional privilege (in terms of the universities' reputation, wealth and networks) as well as factors relating to the internal organization, activities and cultures of universities (such as the extent of investment in fundraising activities) and factors relating to the external social, economic and political environments (such as national cultural attitudes towards philanthropy and the existence of tax breaks for charitable giving). Our findings identify the existence of a ‘Matthew effect’, such that privilege begets privilege, when it comes to successful fundraising for university research. We argue that, despite the existence of some untapped philanthropic potential, not all universities are equally endowed with the same fundraising capacities. The article concludes by suggesting that policy-makers pay more heed to the structural constraints within which fundraising takes place, to ensure that policies that seek to promote philanthropy are realistic.

    Wilkinson, I.M. (2010) Grasping the Point of Unfathomable Complexity: The New Media Research and Risk Analysis. Journal of Risk Research, 13 (1). pp. 19-28. ISSN 1366-9877.

    Abstract

    This paper provides a critical review of engagements between the sociology of mass media and risk research. Attention is focused upon the ways in which sociologists and experts in media/communication studies have worked to bring a more socially dynamic and culturally nuanced account of the ways in which people interpret and respond to the content of news media within the field of risk analysis. I argue that, if taken seriously, this endeavour serves more to frustrate than advance the aims and objectives of risk communication. This leads me to question the role played by sociology in the context of risk analysis and to the critical suggestion that sociological reflexivity is bound to disrupt the domain assumptions and pervading ethos of this field.

    Wilkinson, I.M. (2006) The Problem of Suffering as a Problem for Sociology. Medical Sociology online, 1 (1). pp. 45-47. ISSN 1757-8310.

    Wilkinson, I.M. (2006) Health, risk and 'social suffering'. Health, Risk and Society, 8 (1). pp. 1-8. ISSN 13698575.

    Abstract

    This editorial provides a summary account of research and writing on 'social suffering.' Some of the ways in which this body of work might be approached within the field of health risk research are outlined. Some of the criticisms that might be directed towards the paradigm of risk on the occasions when this is used to account for lived reality of human suffering are reflected upon. In this context, further lines of inquiry into the ways in which social scientist venture to write upon, and 'bear witness' to, experiences of pain, misery and distress are initiated. Each of the contributions to the special issue in terms of their distinctive approaches to these concerns is introduced.

    Wilkinson, I.M. (2004) The problem of 'social suffering': The challenge to social science. Health Sociology Review, 13 (2). pp. 113-121. ISSN 1446-1242.

    Abstract

    This article presents a critical review of contemporary research on 'social suffering'. It dwells substantially upon the ways in which social researchers account for the problem of bringing the lived reality of suffering to public attention. The author considers the possibility that it is the public failure of writers to provide a sufficient account of suffering that, paradoxically, works to convey an essential part of how this takes place in human experience; namely, as a most painful denial of meaning and a terminal struggle for understanding. Such public failing, it is argued, has a positive value insofar as it has the potential to serve as a force of moral inquiry and political engagement.

    David, M. and Wilkinson, I.M. (2002) Critical Theory of Society or Self-Critical Society. Critical Horizons: A Journal of Philosophy & Social Theory, 3 (1). ISSN 1440-9917.

    Abstract

    This paper presents a critical comparative reading of Ulrich Beck and Herbert Marcuse. Beck's thesis on ‘selfcritical society’ and the concept of ‘sub-politics’ are evaluated within the framework of Marcusian critical theory. We argue for the continued relevance of Marcuse for the project of emancipatory politics. We recognise that a focus upon the imminent and spontaneous possibilities for radical social change within the ‘sub-political’ is a useful provocation to the high abstractionism of much critical theory, but suggest that such possibilities are better captured in a Marcusian theoretical frame than they are in Beck's account.

    Wilkinson, I.M. (2001) Thinking with Suffering. Cultural Values, 5 (4). pp. 421-444. ISSN 1362-5179.

    Abstract

    This article provides a critical review of literature on ‘social suffering’. Analytical attention is focused upon the ways in which writers struggle to bring ‘meaning’ to this topic. All sense that there is always something in events of extreme suffering that resists conceptualisation and defies analysis. This problem of establishing a language for ‘thinking with suffering’ is explored with reference to the works of Hannah Arendt, Paul Ricoeur and Max Weber. An agenda for sociological research is proposed which focuses on the struggle to make sense out of the phenomenon of suffering as a force of cultural innovation. In this context, it is suggested that what is most interesting here is the evidence to suggest that, when faced with the ‘brute fact’ of a world where there appears to be too much suffering, people are always moved to make this phenomenon productive for thought and action.

    Wilkinson, I.M. (2001) Social Theories of Risk Perception: At Once Indispensible and Insufficient. Current Sociology, 49 (1). pp. 1-22.

    Morgan, D. and Wilkinson, I.M. (2001) The Problem of Suffering and the Sociological Task of Theodicy. European Journal of Social Theory, 4 (2). pp. 199-214. ISSN 1368-4310.

    Abstract

    Once the preserve of philosophy and theology, what Weber called `the problem of theodicy' - the problem of reconciling normative ideals with the reality in which we live - recurs in the social sciences in the secular form of `sociodicy'. Within a functionalist framework, sociodicies have offered legitimizing rationalizations of social adversities, inequalities and injustice, but seldom address the existential meaning and ethical implications of human affliction and suffering in social life. We suggest that an apparent indifference to these questions in social theory reflects a deeper tension between modernity's millennial expectations of moral progress and the escalating history of violence, exploitation and suffering in the modern world. The task of sociodicy, we argue, should be reconstructed as a critique of the decivilizing implications of this tension, not just to document the consequences of suffering on people's lives, but in order to reassess the experience of modernity at the end of one of the most disturbed and violent centuries the world has known.

    Wilkinson, I.M. (1999) News Media Discourse and the State of Public Opinion on Risk. Risk Management, 1. pp. 21-31. ISSN 1460-3799.

    Abstract

    With reference to the 'theoretical crisis' of those media researchers who have come to the conclusion that much of their work has been undermined by a fuller recognition of the complexity of symbolic production and exchange, this paper presents a critical summary of the potential for 'new audience studies' to call into question some of the basic premisses of theories of risk communication. This may give practitioners reason to jettison the popular view that risk controversies result from the discrepancies between expert and lay perceptions of the magnitude of hazards. Moreover, it certainly might be used to alert them to the possibility that media representations of risk, at least in their own terms, may have little bearing upon people's everyday worries and concerns. Risk communication researchers would do better to focus upon the specific dynamics of the political and economic interrelationships between news sources and their vested interests, in securing the power to influence the symbolic representation of public issues.

Book Sections

    Wilkinson, I.M. (2013) The New Social Politics of Pity(Chapter 8). In: Ure, M. and Frost, M. The Politics of Compassion. Taylor & Francis Ltd, London, pp. 99-113. ISBN 9780415671590.

    Wilkinson, I.M. (2013) Social Suffering and Human Rights. In: Cushman, T. Handbook of Human Rights. Taylor & Francis Ltd, pp. 146-154. ISBN 9781138019478.

    Wilkinson, I.M. (2012) Unmasking the institutional formations of giving. In: UNSPECIFIED Philanthropy and a better society. Alliance Publishing Trust, London, London, pp. 45-48. ISBN 9781907376153.

    Abstract

    The May 2011 Giving White Paper declares a concern to ‘engage people at different life stages – from primary school children to pensioners’ and to create ‘sustainable social norms around giving’ (HM Government, 2011: 9 & 32). Schools, universities, the workplace and the activities of those who are newly retired are all identified as key sites for the introduction of initiatives to ‘celebrate’ and ‘encourage’ giving. In this regard, it opens the door to a sociological approach to understanding how people are disposed to give their time and money to philanthropic and charitable causes. It also, however, quickly abandons the attempt to think sociologically about how this might be achieved. This chapter offers a brief sociological critique of the ways in which the White Paper conceives the task of building a giving society. It further moves to outline an alternative approach that does not focus on how people might be ‘nudged’ into giving by smart informational pitches but, rather, concentrates on the project of making giving a social norm and socializing force in everyday life.

    Wilkinson, I.M. (2012) Cosmopolitanism and Humanitarianism. In: Delanty, G. Routledge Handbook of Cosmopolitanism Studies. Taylor & Francis Ltd, London, pp. 400-413. ISBN 9780415600811.

    Wilkinson, I.M. (2011) Social Suffering and the New Politics of Sensibility. In: Delanty, G. and Turner, S. Routledge International Handbook of Contemporary Social and Political Theory. Taylor & Francis Ltd. ISBN 9780415548250.

    Wilkinson, I.M. (2011) Ulrich Beck. In: Ritzer, G. and Stepnisky, J. The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Major Social Theorists (v. 1). John Wiley and Sons Ltd. ISBN 9781444330786.

    Wilkinson, I.M. (2009) Emile Durkheim. In: Hayward, K. and Maruna, S. and Mooney, J. Fifty Key Thinkers in Criminology. Taylor & Francis Ltd. ISBN 9780415429115.

    Wilkinson, I.M. (2007) On Bauman's Sociology of Suffering: Questions for Thinking. In: Elliott, A. The Contemporary Bauman. Taylor & Francis Ltd. ISBN 9780415409681.

    Wilkinson, I.M. (2006) The Psychology of Risk. In: Mythen, G. and Walklate, S. Beyond the Risk Society: Critical Reflections on Risk and Human Security. Open University Press. ISBN 9780335217380.

    Wilkinson, I.M. (2006) Ulrich Beck'. In: Scott, J. Fifty Key Sociologists: The Formative Theorists. Taylor & Francis Ltd. ISBN 9780415352604.

    Wilkinson, I.M. (2005) Entries on 'Ulrich Beck', 'Risk' and 'Reflexivity'. In: Harrington, A. and Marshall, B. and Muller, H.P. Encyclopedia of Social Theory. Taylor & Francis Ltd. ISBN 9780415290463.

Research Reports

    Breeze, B. and Wilkinson, I.M. and Gouwenberg, B. et al. (2011) Giving in Evidence: Fundraising from Philanthropy in European Universities. 10.2777/4143. European Commission, 184 pp. ISBN 9789279187841.

    Abstract

    This report is a continuation of the themes and ideas explored in two previous European Commission reports, ‘Giving More for Research’ (2006) and ‘Engaging Philanthropy for University Research’ (2008). It is the first report to provide data gathered from universities across the European Union regarding the efforts made, and successes achieved, in fundraising from philanthropy for research. An additional output of the research is a new database of contacts responsible for fundraising in almost 500 European universities. We find that philanthropic fundraising is not, on the whole, taken seriously in European universities. Only a very small number of institutions are raising significant sums of money from this source, and even fewer are accessing philanthropic funding to pay for research and research-related activities. Whilst this may be disappointing for those hoping that private donors can represent an important source of funding for university-based research, it may also be interpreted in a more positive light as indicative of potentially significant untapped potential. There are many different types of university, which affects their likelihood of realising philanthropic income as a result of investment in fundraising activities. Our data demonstrates that success in fundraising is related to institutional privilege (what kind of a university it is, in terms of wealth, reputation and pre-existing relationships with different types of donors), as well as to the efforts made by universities (what the university does, in terms of fundraising activities), and environmental factors (where the university is located, in terms of the geo-political context). For this reason, we suggest that the concept of ‘accumulative advantage’ should be understood as an important factor, alongside ‘efforts’ and ‘context’ which have so far featured more prominently as key levers in the policymaking literature.

Edited Books

    Petersen, A. and Wilkinson, I.M. (2007) Health, Risk and Vulnerability. Taylor & Francis Ltd ISBN 9780415383080.

    Abstract

    The concept of risk is one of the most suggestive terms for evoking the cultural character of our times and for defining the purpose of social research. Risk attitudes and behaviours are understood to comprise the dominant experience of culture, politics and society in our times. Health, Risk and Vulnerability investigates the personal and political dimensions of health risk that structure everyday thought and action. In this innovative book, international contributors reflect upon the meaning and significance of risk across a broad range of social and institutional contexts, exploring current issues such as: the 'escalation of the medicalization of life', involving the pathologization of normality and blurring of the divide between clinical and preventive medicine the tendency for mental health service users to be regarded as representing a risk to others rather than being 'at risk' and vulnerable themselves the development of health care systems to identify risk and prevent harm women's reactions to 'high risk' screening results during pregnancy and how they communicate with other women about risk men and the use the internet to reconstruct their social and sexual identities Charting new terrain in the sociology of health and risk, and focusing on the connections between them, Health, Risk and Vulnerability offers new perspectives on an important field of contemporary debate and provides an invaluable resource for students, teachers, researchers, and policy makers.

Total publications in KAR: 29 [See all in KAR]
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Research interests

Iain Wilkinson’s research attempts to document and explain how people’s experience of ‘the problem of suffering’ changes through history and between societies.  He is interested in the potential for the incidence human suffering to operate as force of social and cultural change. This brings a focus to occasions where encounters with the problem of suffering are involved in changing people’s  beliefs and attitudes. It also concerns an attempt to understand how cultural perceptions of human suffering are implicated within the actions taken in response to the needs of others.

These interests have inspired him to investigate the cultural history of modern humanitarianism and humanitarian social movements.  Here he is concerned to understand the social and cultural conditions that give rise to humanitarian moral feelings as well as role played by the cultural politics of compassion in public life.  He is also tracing the impact of humanitarianism upon the culture of sociology. In particular he has developed an interest in the extent to which understanding  the human social condition requires the cultivation of bonds of ‘social sympathy’.  These interests are explored in various publications addressed to problems of ‘social suffering’ and in studies that explore the potential  for documents of human suffering to be fashioned as a distinct form of social inquiry. 

These interests involve him working across a range of fields that include developments in sociological theory, the sociological of health and illness, the sociology of humanitarianism, the sociology of the body and emotions, the sociology of risk and anxiety, the sociology of mass media and the history of sociology.

Supervision 

Iain is particularly keen to supervise research students with interests relating to any of the above.If you are interested in studying at the University of Kent, please email him to arrange a meeting to discuss your research proposal.  

In recent years he has supervised projects on Norbert Elias’ theory of the civilizing process, the social practice  of compassion in everyday life.,the sociology of utopia in relation to intergenerational developments in leftist politics,  the social experience of isolation  in remote island communities, and the impact of experiences of  volunteering on young people’s notions of citizenship, and new forms of on-line humanitarian activism.

 


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Current

As part of his contribution to teaching on the undergraduate programme in Sociology, Iain convenes the core first year sociology modules (SO337 Sociology of Everday Life and SO337 Fundamentals of Sociology). He also convenes the core second year sociological theory module  (SO500 Sociological Concepts and Theories).  For the taught Sociology MA programme he convenes a module on ‘Social Suffering’ (SO885).

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Honorary positions

  • Visiting scholar to the Department of Anthropology, Harvard University 2008-9.
  • Visiting scholar to the Department of Anthropology, Monash University, 2009.

Professional activities

  • Member of the International Assessment Board (IAB) of the Irish Research Council for Humanities and Social Sciences (IRCHSS) 2011, 2012 & 2013
  • Member of the Executive Committee of the British Sociological Association 2003-7.
  • Member of the Editorial Board of Health Risk and Society 2006-
  • Member of the Editorial Board of Sociology 2002-6
  • Member of the International Advisory Board of European Journal of Social Theory 2007-
  • Member of the Editorial board of Blackwell Sociology Compass 2007-
  • Founder and convenor of the British Sociological Association study group on Risk and Society 2001-2007


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Dr Iain Wilkinson

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Telephone: +44(0)1227 823072 Fax: +44(0)1227 827005 or email us

SSPSSR, Faculty of Social Sciences, Cornwallis North East, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent CT2 7NF

Last Updated: 15/01/2014