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Emerging Issues at the Bio-Social Interface

Convened by Professor Steve Fuller

Open to all registered PhD students; background reading will be required for participation at each session. Ideally, students should have completed core research methods training or equivalent.


1. The Biological Challenge to the Social Sciences
Wednesday 14th March 2012, 14.00 - 17.00, IAS Seminar room, Millburn House

This workshop is led by Professor Steve Fuller and Dr Chris Renwick. Dr Renwick is author of a new book on the biological roots of British sociology and is currently researching the biological foundations of the UK welfare state. Readings will be sent in advanced to those registered.

The social and biological sciences came into existence in the second half of the 19th century and have always pursued partly overlapping agendas. No one has doubted that human societies are forms of life and life itself is inherently ‘social’ in several senses. Nevertheless, many of these ‘socio-biological’ agendas have had controversial political consequences that led to their stigmatisation as ‘pseudo-science’ by the founders of sociology. Indeed phrases like ‘Social Darwinism’, ‘eugenics’ and ‘scientific racism’ remain problematic to this day. However, revolutions in molecular biology and biotechnology in the second half of the 20th century, along with developments in neuroscience, have led to a re-assessment of this legacy and its prospects. At play here is a cultural horizon that takes seriously the moral relevance of animals and ‘evolutionary psychology’ as a metatheory of the social sciences – not to mention explicit financial incentives for social scientists to define their research agendas in closer alignment to the biomedical sciences. There has been so far relatively little social science reflection on why we find ourselves in this situation. Rather, social scientists either presume or ignore it.