Sociology: A Biosocial Introduction

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To get started, register as an instructor to set up your course and adopt this or another title, try out a live demo , or contact us for more information about adopting Perusall in your course. In an era of human genome research, environmental challenges, new reproductive technologies, and more, students can benefit from introductory sociology text that is biologically informed. This innovative text integrates mainstream sociological research in all areas of sociology with a scientifically informed model of an evolved, biological human actor.

This text allows students to better understand their emotional, social, and institutional worlds. It also illustrates how biological understanding naturally enhances the sociological approach. This grounding of sociology in a biosocial conception of the individual actor is coupled with a comparative approach, as human biology is universal and often reveals itself as variations on themes across human cultures.

Skip to content. Perusall turns often-skipped solitary reading assignments into engaging collective activities students don't want to miss. Students collectively annotate each reading — asking questions, responding to each other's questions, or sharing other perspectives or knowledge.

Sociology: A Biosocial Introduction

In conclusion, she highlights the importance of excavating and analysing the theory of the signal for understanding contemporary biosocial science. He first points to some of the problems that may be encountered in establishing new disciplinary relations. In the latter part of the paper he goes on to examine some epistemological tensions that are likely to affect the transition between life and social science. The paper ends with directions for further exploration, which involve reviving Norbert Wiener's cybernetic vision. Renwick concludes that this issue is crucial in an age when the external environment encourages more collaboration between biologists and sociologists than ever before.


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Three papers in this section explore the relevance for sociology of the emerging field of molecular epigenetics, building on empirical research. The paper discusses the strengths and limitations of dominant research designs addressing the identification of biomolecular pathways, and conceptualization of the environment as a biochemical event. In doing this, the authors reflect on the social epigenome as a conceptual space and try to identify barriers to translation, as well as practical and ethical issues raised by epigenetics research.

The paper concludes with reflections on the knowledge machinery of the social sciences, and sociological engagements with epigenetics. They start by aligning these two developments as discursive and technical resources, focusing on their nascent interplay in shaping alternative sociotechnical imaginaries of personalized medicine. After epigenetics, two papers address the promises and implications of neuroscience for sociology, but from very different angles. The paper asserts that overcoming these reservations offers considerable potential, in terms of enhancing our theoretical models and understanding of aspects of the social world.

To illustrate this the author explores the potential insights offered by a neurosociological reframing of the foundations of social structure.


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The paper explores the epistemic spaces and controversies which surround calls for a more psychosocial approach to be incorporated into molecular studies that look at epigenetics. In particular, the paper explores evidence from the Hearing Voices Network to draw out the issues at stake for addressing biosocial matters. Without the ambition to conclude this introductory piece with a list of recommendations, or any sort of synthesis, we aim simply to enumerate some of the major issues that the increasing relevance biosocial knowledge for sociology and the social sciences is likely to pose.

First, we would like to return to the initial question: What do sociologists think of when they say the word biology? In the desire to incorporate biological findings into sociological exploration we can notice a risk to buy prima facie biological themes and tropes from genetics, neuroscience or epigenetics without much questioning of their plausibility within the life sciences themselves, and the continuing persistence of older deterministic views see for instance in the case of epigenetics the compelling critique by Waggoner and Uller, Neurosociology, unfortunately, seems to a great extent another example of failing to sufficiently contextualize and problematize the very forms of neuro knowledge production it draws upon see a critique by Williams, Genetics also deserves caution.

Sociology A Biosocial Introduction, ISBN: , - ahebisaloq.tk

The lack of a more substantial epistemological awareness of what happens in bioscience also constrains the role of the sociologist to mere interpretation or speculation. Without the possibility of a real biological and epistemic critique, this becomes a corner where the social scientist or the humanist are confined Stotz and Griffiths, Second, and very significantly for a Sociological Review monograph of this nature, is the problem of where precisely this leaves sociology as a disciplinary practice, project or pursuit.

Debates of this kind are likely to intensify in coming decades, as another vital strand of more general millennial musing on the state and future of the discipline, is surely beyond dispute. A third closely related set of ongoing problems here concerns methodological issues which are not simply related to the types of theories and concepts at stake in such biosocial ventures, but whether or not this involves a commitment to more causal or explanatory modes of inquiry.

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These might include more experimental designs and the use of innovative new biosocial methods, including the routine collection of biosocial data within sociological research, for example, through the use of digital apps and smart devices. These new methods are still under development and the emerging relationship between different epistemic domains is still being negotiated. However, it would appear that this is motivated by a genuine appetite for new ways of studying biological systems in social context.

This in turn brings us to a fifth key problem ahead on this biosocial frontier, namely, the role of the biosocial as a form of governance and, in a reflexive vein, the role of sociology and the social sciences within such a governance regime. Amongst the many problematic aspects, we might mention the recent return to claims of soft heredity, via epigenetics in public policy and public health.

Will contingent and often transient biological differences, as different levels of epigenetic methylation, be reified as markers for class and race differences? The debate on race in the postgenomic era Duster, and comments in a British Journal of Sociology recent Special Issue has to be extended to this novel epigenetic view of genetic functioning. This implies a significant shift from previous concerns with biologistic views of race as mirroring underlying stable genetic mechanisms. This is not to say that with this view, all political concerns are put to rest, quite the opposite Meloni, But the language of critique needs to intercept the genuine discontinuities of the postgenomic phase.

Is some or even much of the discourse of the biosocial part of a new form of governmentality of the poor? As sociologists we surely should problematize this wave of studies, and ask back too perhaps: why not a biosocial study of how the effects of working as a Wall Street CEO and the culture of greed that is associated to it modifies brain architecture, emotion and behaviour? Which assumptions about normality and abnormality, which social values and beliefs, lie behind the research design of many biosocial studies at present see also Guthman and Mansfield, ; Meloni, ?

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Finally, each of these foregoing issues is intimately and inextricably bound up not simply with debates about what it is to be human , but also the role of sociology and the social sciences in the very project of humanity. One of the key dimensions of the biosocial reconstruction of the human is with respect to ideas of sociality and, as a consequence, the central focus of the social sciences.

A new figure of the human is emerging within these complex biosocial narratives that is grounded in the authority of biology. The extent to which the biological sciences can provide a new foundation for the social sciences in understanding the human is therefore a critical question, both now and for the foreseeable future and these underlying assumptions need to be excavated if not interrogated and understood. So not only does sociology face threats to its epistemic authority, but it is having to deal with new conceptions that lie at the heart of its historical concerns with the human and the social.

The emerging epistemic domain of the biosocial therefore represents both the promise of renewal for sociology as a discipline and a serious challenge to some of its most entrenched assumptions. Maurizio Meloni gratefully acknowledges the affiliation to and funding from the Institute for Advanced Study, School of Social Science, Princeton NJ that were of valuable help in completing this monograph. See also importantly Rapp National Center for Biotechnology Information , U.