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Suffering: A Sociological Introduction

ISBN: 978-0-7456-3196-7
240 pages
December 2004, Polity
Suffering: A Sociological Introduction (0745631967) cover image


In Suffering Iain Wilkinson provides a compelling sociological exploration of human suffering, and its political and moral repercussions.

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.

Powerful and timely, the book will have strong appeal to upper-level undergraduate students of sociology, anthropology, health, politics, and cultural studies, in addition to general readers concerned to understand one of the most pressing issues of our time.

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Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgements.

1 Introduction: Suffering, Social Science and the Challenge to Sociology.
2 What is Suffering?

3 Our Classical Heritage.

4 Social Suffering: A Critical Appraisal.

5 The Problem of Suffering and our Feeling for Humanity.

6 Mediatized Suffering: Prospects for the Internationalisation of Conscience.

7 Towards a Critical Sociology of Suffering.



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Author Information

Iain Wilkinson is Lecturer in Sociology at the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, University of Kent.
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The Wiley Advantage

  • Provides a convincing exploration of a central theme of our times: human suffering. The author writes well; his remarks on the brute fact of suffering are very powerfully made.
  • There are no real rivals to this book, since until its publication there had been no really systematic sociological theorisation of pain and suffering.
  • This is despite the fact that students are currently clamouring to take courses on the damaging consequences of global capitalism, war, religious conflict and the like. For this reason, although the subject area might at first seem perhaps marginal, the book fills a yawning gap in the market.
  • It will have strong appeal to upper-level undergraduate students in a range of disciplines, as well as politically engaged general readers.
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"At last here is a serious attempt to move beyond mere 'decorative social theory' to engage in a highly sensitive and intelligent manner with a central aspect of the human condition. Dr Wilkinson's brave and timely book should be read not just by all students of sociological theory but also by those many thoughtful people who are pained , angry or bemused by man's inhumaity to man."
—Professor Ray Pahl, University of Essex

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