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potential to bring about new and revolutionary

changes for both society and the global economy.

A system of intellectual property rights, and

global regimes to protect them, has been deployed

in relation to biotech discoveries. A number of

sociologists have drawn attention to both the

ever-increasing blurring of boundaries between

the private and public sectors, and the propensity

for biotechnological development to be subject to

excessive hyperbole. Notions of a biotechnology

revolution underpinned by scientific, governmental,

and regional policy initiatives designed to

bring about the twin objectives of wealth and

health creation have generated widespread expectations

about the rapid impact of biotechnology.

Sociologists highlight the ways in which

promoters of new technologies build expectations

through the creation and citation of technological

visions. Social scientists Paul Nightingale and

Paul Martin demonstrate in their article “The

Myth of the Biotech Revolution” (2004, Trends in

Biotechnology), that, counter to expectations of a

revolutionary model of innovation, biotechnology

innovation is instead following a historically

well-established process of slow and incremental

change. These commentators note that most research

fields can be seen to move through various

cycles of hype and disappointment, expressing

tensions between generative visions on the one

hand and the material “messiness” of innovation

on the other.

While governments worldwide are pursuing

ambitious and competitive programs to foster

bioscience-based industries, the prominence of

biotechnological processes and innovation has

prompted sociologists to grapple with the associated

myriad social, political, and ethical issues.

Issues such as the impact of biotechnologies on

individuals and society, the altering of boundaries

between nature and culture, and questions about

human nature have all captured sociologists’ attention.

Risk in the form of the consequences of

genetic engineering or genetic modification of

human and other living organisms has also been

a subject of substantial debate for scholars. The

concept of a risk society, as argued by Ulrich Beck,

has been drawn on by some sociologists analyzing

such risks.

There is also concern that genetic engineering of

humans in the form of gene therapy, where faulty

genes are either repaired or replaced, might alter

the germline cells (those cells that have genetic

material that may be passed on via reproduction

to a child) and irreversibly change the genetic

make-up of future generations. In The Future of

Human Nature (2001), Ju¨rgen Habermas, for

example, argues that genetic engineering, along

with other forms of genetic enhancements, should

be forbidden, as such alterations undermine what

it is to be human. Other scholars have argued that

decisions about whether or not to pursue such

developments should be premised on democratically

accountable mechanisms. Others again have

been more optimistic about the potential biotechnology

provides to move beyond a nature/culture

opposition and develop life-enhancing reconfigurations

that provide the means to overcome

our biological, neurological, and psychological


Controversies over genetically modified foods,

cloning, and stem cell research have become

major flashpoints in the political and public

arenas. Sociologists, particularly those specializing

in science and technology studies, have drawn

attention to the contested and uncertain nature

of science. Public opposition to genetically modified

foods has furthered debates on public understanding

of science, the role of democracy, and

the necessity for governance and regulation.

While policymakers and scientists frequently suggest

such opposition is based on a public deficit of

scientific knowledge, social scientists refute this.

For example, Brian Wynne in his article “Public

Uptake of Science: A Case for Institutional Reflexivity”

(1993, Public Understanding of Science), claims

that the public understands only too well the

provisional nature of scientific knowledge and

are aware that problems can emerge in the future

that are in the present unknown. More recently,

in response to a perceived breakdown in the public’s

trust in science, attempts have been made by

science-funding agencies, policymakers, and governmental

bodies to adopt public engagement

strategies. These strategies are often presented as

part of a more inclusive democratic process of

government and entail such activities as setting

up citizens’ juries and carrying out surveys and

public consultation exercises. Such work is often

undertaken by sociologists and other social

biotechnology biotechnology


scientists. Some scholars suggest that this is evidence

of the emergence of new forms of biological

or scientific citizenship and represents a more

participatory or deliberative form of democracy.

Others are more skeptical and claim that such

exercises are designed to stave off the kind of

public opposition that has thwarted the deployment

of genetically modified foodstuffs in Europe

and other western countries. OONAGH CORR IGAN

Birmingham Centre for Contemporary

Cultural Studies

Opened in 1964, the Centre for Contemporary

Cultural Studies (CCCS) was founded at the University

of Birmingham by Richard Hoggart. Stuart

Hall was recruited as Hoggart’s partner to manage

the day-to-day affairs of the Centre. His contribution

rapidly made the climate of work in the

Centre more theoretical and political. CCCS was

an anti-elitist, postgraduate teaching and research

institution. Initially, it was organized intellectually

around a tripartite division between literary,

historical-philosophical, and sociological

research. However, the historical–philosophical

and sociological elements soon took precedence,

especially after 1970 when Hoggart left to take up

a post in UNESCO.

Under Hall’s leadership, work gravitated towards

the central issue of the articulation of

power. This was chiefly examined at the cultural

level by the attempt to fuse native traditions of

“culturalism” with continental “structuralism.”

Culturalism was a version of cultural materialism

committed to examining “the whole way of life”

of a social class. In contrast to elitist approaches,

it emphasized the “ordinary” character of culture.

Politically, it was a variant of left-wing humanism.

During the Birmingham heyday, while their work

differed in many important particulars, the chief

representatives of this tradition were recognized

as Raymond Williams, Edward Thompson, and

Richard Hoggart. Hall’s reservations about culturalism

centered on its tendency to privilege agency

over structure, its neglect of questions of reflexivity,

its under-developed interest in the positioning

of agency, and its general anti-theoreticism. The

most ambitious and defining project in Birmingham

lay in the attempt to graft continental structuralism,

embodied above all in the work of

Antonio Gramsci, Louis Althusser, and Karl Marx,

on to the native tradition of culturalism. Structuralism

was held to offer theoretical determinacy,

an emphasis on totality, and a recurring interest

in the articulation of ideology through praxis.

This project was developed along several fronts.

Arguably, the work on British state formation, the

formation of ideology, schooling as cultural resistance,

policing and the drift to the law and order

society, encoding and decoding in mass communications,

and the politics of hegemony was of most

enduring influence.

In 1979 Hall left to become Professor of Sociology

at the Open University. Although the Centre

continued, it never regained the public profile or

intellectual prominence that it achieved under

his leadership. Despite maintaining a sound

record of student recruitment, it was closed by

the University in 2002, allegedly in response to

a disappointing performance in the national Research

Assessment Exercise.

The principal achievements of the Centre are

threefold. At the theoretical level, it synthesized

a rich range of native and continental traditions

to examine cultural articulations of power. In

doing so, it broke decisively with elitist perspectives

on culture and related the question of articulation

to divisions of class, gender, and race and

ethnicity. The sophisticated use of culture to elucidate

praxis was seminal in the emergence of cultural


At the political level, it twinned culture with

politics. Hall’s model of intellectual labor was

borrowed from Gramsci’s concept of the organic

intellectual, that is, an individual who set out to

operate as a switch-point between cutting-edge

ideas and political activism. Following Althusser,

the state was identified as the pre-eminent institution

of normative coercion. The analysis of the

historical role of the British state in managing

dissent and the consistent analytic relation of

the state’s “war of maneuver” to ordinary cultural

forms and practice was compelling and moldbreaking.

This work was crucial in developing

the model of authoritarian populism that Hall

developed in the 1980s to explain working-class

support for Thatcherism.

At the pedagogic level, the emphasis on collaborative

research between staff and postgraduates,

and the self-image of developing the curriculum

of Cultural studies, provided a compelling nonhierarchical,

dialogic model of teaching and research.

The Centre was one of the major training

grounds for the study of culture in the twentieth

century and has some claim to be regarded as

pivotal in the development of Cultural studies

and the cultural turn in sociology. Among its

alumni are Charlotte Brundson, Paul Gilroy, Lawrence

Grossberg, Dick Hebdige, Gregor McLennan,

Angela McRobbie, David Morley, and Paul Willis.

Birmingham Centre Birmingham Centre


The major figures in the Birmingham diaspora

retain a powerful global influence in protecting

and enhancing the heritage and perspectives developed

in the 1960s and 1970s.

The weaknesses of the Birmingham tradition

inversely reflect its achievements. Conceived as a

series of projects located at the periphery of the

academy and elite culture, the work of the Centre

gradually migrated to the core. It set agendas of

discourse and research rather than critically responding

to them. This exposed underlying faults

in the project.

First, in opening up the subjects of culture and

articulation to serious academic enquiry, the

Centre progressively surrendered a tenable political

focus. Tensions with feminist students in the

late 1970s raised awkward questions about the

limitations of reflexivity and persistence of ideology

in the Centre’s ordinary activities. The reaction

was to be more responsive to feminist and

psychoanalytic traditions. This invited criticism

that the Centre was over-willing to embrace

intellectual fashion and added to the confusion

about the practical political objectives of the Birmingham


Second, the engagement with popular culture

became so entwined with questions of theoretical

relevance that the analysis became forbiddingly

abstract. Key concepts, such as articulation, conjuncture,

enunciation, hegemony, and ideology,

were often used inconsistently and with different

inflections. The Centre’s work became vulnerable

to the charge of conceptual slippage and intellectual

incoherence. These criticisms were intensified

by Hall’s work after the 1980s, in which the

notion of unity in difference became prominent.

Many commentators have found this to be elusive

and obscure.

Third, the balance of cultural articulation was

heavily skewed to the roles of the state and social

divisions of class, race, and gender. The Centre

evinced a remarkable failure to investigate the

culture of the corporation, and its analysis of

the mass media never extended beyond encoding,

decoding, and media amplification. Although

Hall and his associates accurately predicted the

rise of the New Right in Britain, they failed to

anticipate the significance of globalization for

critical analysis. CHRIS ROJEK

black economy

– see informal economy.

black studies

– see African-American Studies.

Blau, Peter M. (1918–2002)

A prolific sociological theorist and researcher,

Blau made important contributions to exchange

theory, and to the study of complex organizations

and social stratification. Born in Vienna, he narrowly

escaped Nazi Europe on the last civilian

boat to leave France, arriving penniless in New

York in 1939. Blau studied for a doctorate at Columbia

University with Robert Merton. He was professor

at the University of Chicago from 1953 to

1970, then at Columbia University from 1970 to

1988. He held numerous distinguished visiting

positions and was President of the American

Sociological Association in 1974.

Blau’s Dynamics of Bureaucracy (1955) developed

Merton’s approach to functionalism, showing how

innovation occurred in the enactment of rules of

formal organizations. This was followed by a

major work in the comparative theory of organizations,

coauthored with Richard Scott, Formal Organizations

(1963). With functionalism under

criticism for its neglect of concrete individual

actors, Blau turned to the micro-foundations of

structural analyses in Exchange and Power in Social

Life (1964). He acknowledged the criticism that

exchange theory was frequently narrowly utilitarian,

elaborating normative principles of reciprocity

and justice alongside rationality and

marginal utility in order to understand both conflict

and integration within social relationships.

Together with Otis Dudley Duncan, he produced a

landmark study of stratification, American Occupational

Structure (1967). This combined a sophisticated

theoretical model of social status

attainment with innovative techniques of data

analysis to study trends in social mobility; it is a

classic of American empirical sociology. He continued

to work on micro–macro theory in the later

part of his career, publishing Structural Contexts of

Opportunities (1994), in which he reformulated exchange

theory to allow emergent properties of

social structures that constrained opportunities.


Blumer, Herbert (1900–1987)

Though Blumer was theoretically a symbolic interactionist,

his major writings were in the areas of

race relations (see race and ethnicity), labor and

management conflict, urbanization, and popular

culture, represented in his Selected Works (2000),

which were appropriately subtitled A Public Philosophy

for Mass Society. Empirically, he remained

true to the Chicago style of ethnographic study

(see Chicago School): his forte was the detailed

empirical observation of the ways in which

black economy Blumer, Herbert (1900–1987)


whatever subjects were under scrutiny went about

sustaining and negotiating meaning. For Blumer,

people act on the basis of the meanings that they

impute to situations, which they build up over

time by the use of language in social interaction

with others. In this way, they develop a sense both

of their self and the other, often through the

process of seeing themselves as the other might –

taking the role of the other. Just as social interaction

is processual, the sense of the self that one

has is also built and changed processually: there is

no inherent identity – only that which the self

makes up in interactions with others. Blumer did

not see the meaning of any act as inherent in

the act itself but as socially constructed by the

responses that such acts elicit and the flow of

interaction in anticipation of future acts. Thus,

while meaning may attach to quite tangible

phenomena, such as a building or a river, or

to something quite intangible, such as justice or

discrimination, what that meaning is constituted

as being is always an effect of the meanings that

society sustains, contests, and frames over time.



From the 1980s, there has been growing interest in

the sociology of the body as illustrated by B. Turner

in The Body and Society (1984), M. Featherstone,

M. Hepworth, and B. Turner in The Body. Social

Process and Cultural Theory (1991), and C. Shilling

in The Body and Social Theory (1993). Over a longer

period, there was an erratic interest in the body

among sociologists such as Erving Goffman in

Stigma (1964), and Norbert Elias in The Civilizing

Process (1939 [trans. 1978]) in which Elias explored

the regulation of bodily practices. However, contemporary

interest appears to be driven by significant

changes in society relating to consumption,

cultural representations, medical science, and

health. Scientific and technological advances, particularly

the new reproductive technologies (see

reproduction), cloning techniques, and stem-cell

research have given the human body a problematic

legal and social status. The social world is

being transformed by genetic and medical technologies

that reconstruct social, especially kinship,

relationships, and create the possibility of

genetically modified bodies and “designer babies.”

In particular, assisted reproduction is changing

the generative connections between parents and

children, and reconstructing the family as an institution

of reproduction. In addition, aging (see

age), disease, and death and dying no longer

appear to be immutable facts about the human

condition, but contingent possibilities that are

constantly transformed by medical sciences. The

development of regenerative medicine and the

use of stem cell research to offset the negative

side-effects of aging and chronic disease hold out

the utopian promise of living forever, or at least

extending life expectancy considerably.

The emergence of the body as a research topic in

the humanities and social sciences is a response to

these technological and scientific changes, and to

the diverse social movements that are associated

with them, such as gay and lesbian movements,

environmentalism, and anti-globalism on the one

side, and religious fundamentalism, pro-life movements,

and conservative cultural politics on the

other. More importantly, the human body, or

more specifically its genetic code, is now a key

factor in economic growth in a wide range of

biotech industries. In a paradoxical manner, the

pathology of the human body is itself a productive

factor in the new economy. Disease is no longer

simply a constraint on the productivity of labor,

but an actual factor of production. The body is

increasingly a code or system of information

from which economic profits can be extracted

through patents, rather than merely a natural

organism. In his Our Posthuman Future, Francis

Fukuyama (2002) has claimed that the biotechnology

revolution will transform the nature of

politics by changing human life.

Different philosophical and sociological traditions

have shaped contemporary approaches to

the body. Firstly, the body is often discussed as a

cultural representation of social organization. For

example, the head is often used as a metaphor

of government, and the word “corporation” to

describe the modern company has its origins in

such bodily metaphors. In this sociological tradition,

research on the body is concerned to understand

how the body enters into political discourse

as a representation of power, and how power is

exercised over the body. This approach to the body

is associated with Michel Foucault, whose work on

the discipline of the body in Discipline and Punish.

The Birth of the Prison (1975 [trans. 1977]) gave rise

to research on the government of the body in

schools, prisons, and factories. This approach to

the body was therefore concerned with questions

of representation and regulation in which diet, for

example, is a method used in Turner’s Regulating

Bodies (1992). The Foucauldian perspective is not

concerned with understanding our experiences of

embodiment; it is not concerned with grasping

the lived experience of the body in terms of a

phenomenology of the body. The starting point

body body


for the study of the “lived body” has been the

research of the French philosopher Maurice

Merleau-Ponty in Phenomenology of Perception (1945

[trans. 1982]), which examined how the perception

of reality always occurs from the particular location

of our body. Merleau-Ponty showed how our

cognition of the world is always an embodied

perception. In short, phenomenology was a critique

of the dualism of the mind and body, in

which the body is passive and inert. Research inspired

by this idea of the lived body has been

important in showing the intimate connections

between body, experience and identity.

In addition, there is an influential anthropological

tradition, which examines the body as a

symbolic system. The dominant figure in this tradition

is the British anthropologist Mary Douglas,

whose Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of

Pollution and Taboo (1966) shaped subsequent research.

Douglas showed how notions of pollution

were associated with uncertainty and danger.

The body provides human society with metaphors

of social stability and order by defining areas of

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