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British Sociological Association Presidential Event: Sociology, Suffering and Humanitarianism

Friday 3rd February 2012, 10:00 – 16:00

The British Library Conference Centre, London


Confirmed speakers:

Craig Calhoun (London School of Economics)

Iain Wilkinson (University of Kent)

Larry Ray (University of Kent)

Kate Nash (Goldsmiths, University of London)

Gillian Bendelow (University of Sussex).


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.

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. 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.

This BSA Presidential event is dedicated to the ongoing attempt to devise a sociological account of causes and consequences of human suffering. It also aims to cultivate a broad-ranging debate over the role of humanitarianism within our culture and the vocation of sociology itself.

Please visit the event website to register and for further event details.

For more details about joining the BSA please visit

Please direct any enquiries to the BSA office at




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