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How society deals with human suffering

University of Kent

Millions of people experience social suffering in their everyday lives. But how should we venture to understand these brute facts of modern existence? How do they impact upon our cultural beliefs, political outlooks and moral behaviours?

In a new book, entitled A Passion for Society: How We Think About Human Suffering, Dr Iain Wilkinson, of the University of Kent, and co-author Professor Arthur Kleinman, of Harvard University, examine the moral experience and public portrayal of human suffering and how these have changed through modern times.

The authors go on to investigate how the knowledge people acquire of the suffering of others holds the potential to inspire caring acts of compassion.

Taking an historical perspective, A Passion for Society further considers the development of social science, with a particular focus on how this has been shaped in response to problems of social suffering. The authors argue that social science's original concern with social suffering and its amelioration gave way to a professionalisation that espoused dispassionate enquiry above the pursuit of humanitarian social reform.

Dr Wilkinson and Professor Kleinman then chart the more recent recuperation of this lost tradition and explore some of the ways in which social inquiries coupled with caring actions for others are currently revitalising and remaking the discipline of social science.

The authors conclude by arguing for what they describe as an engaged social science that connects critical thought with social action and operates with a commitment to establish and sustain humane forms of society.

Iain Wilkinson is Reader in Sociology within Kent's School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research. Arthur Kleinman is Professor of Medical Anthropology within Harvard Medical School's Department of Social Medicine. A Passion for Society: How We Think About Human Suffering, was published in January 2016 by the University of California Press. See:


For further information or interview requests with Dr Wilkinson, contact Martin Herrema at the University of Kent Press Office.

Tel: 01227-823581/01634-888879


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Note to editors

Established in 1965, the University of Kent -- the UK's European university -- now has almost 20,000 students across campuses or study centres at Canterbury, Medway, Tonbridge, Brussels, Paris, Athens and Rome.

It has been ranked: third for overall student satisfaction in the 2014 National Student Survey; 16th in the Guardian University Guide 2016; 23rd in the Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2016; and 22nd in the Complete University Guide 2015.

In the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2015-16, Kent is in the top 10% of the world's leading universities for international outlook and 66th in its table of the most international universities in the world. The THE also ranked the University as 20th in its 'Table of Tables' 2016.

Kent is ranked 17th in the UK for research intensity (REF 2014). It has world-leading research in all subjects and 97% of its research is deemed by the REF to be of international quality.

Along with the universities of East Anglia and Essex, Kent is a member of the Eastern Arc Research Consortium.

The University is worth £0.7 billion to the economy of the south east and supports more than 7,800 jobs in the region. Student off-campus spend contributes £293.3m and 2,532 full-time-equivalent jobs to those totals.

In 2014, Kent received its second Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education.

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