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contemporary scholarship that are devoted to the

study of women and gender in different historical

and social contexts. These areas of study stress the

gendered nature of social life.

In sociology, social constructionism has argued

that gender is not a naturally occurring phenomenon

but has to be socially produced and sustained.

Sociologists are concerned with

understanding how people do, rather than have,

gender – that is, by what processes of socialization

do people learn the practices, attitudes, and behavior

through which distinctive gender identities are

expressed. For example, masculinity is itself not a

uniform expression of male identity. In Gender

and Power, R. W. Connell (1987) has argued

that masculinity and femininity are normalized

gender identities that are hegemonic in modern

society. Gender studies are concerned to understand

power and inequality in terms of gender


There are a huge array of gender studies and

women’s studies programs, especially in higher

education in the United States. There are innumerable

journals, research centers, and institutions

devoted to this field of study, and gender

studies in many respects provided a model for

the development of lesbian studies and Gay Studies.

Some leading feminist journals include Signs,

Feminist Review, Feminist Studies, differences: a journal

of feminist Cultural studies, and Hypatia.

Gender studies is in large measure the academic

consequence of feminism and related social movements

that campaigned for gender equality. The

success of feminism and its internal political and

cultural divisions are also manifest in different

forms of gender research. Gender studies was

introduced into universities because it was argued

that higher education was dominated by men and

that the academic disciplines ignored women,

gender, and sexuality. There has been a substantial

debate about whether gender studies is a

special field of research or whether gender as an

issue should be part of the mainstream of every

discipline. Gender studies have been important in

promoting research on the family, marriage and

divorce, nature/nurture (see environment), patriarchy,

private and public spheres, and women

and work. Through feminist social theory, it has

been critical of biologism and essentialism. Feminist

theory has often been associated with postmodernism

by challenging many of the takenfor-

granted assumptions of social science. The

study of gender has had a significant impact on

the development of the sociology of health and

illness (for example Ann Oakley’s Women, Medicine

& Health, 1993), the sociology of the emotions (such

as Arlie R. Hochschild’s The Managed Heart, 1983),

and the sociology of the body, in which Emily

Martin’s The Woman in the Body (1987) was important.

The study of gender has been significant

in sociology, but it has often found a more secure

home in literary studies and Cultural studies,

where the traditional canon has been transformed

by the impact of feminist theory.



This term is used in different and sometimes inconsistent

ways by social scientists. There are at

least five ways in which the term is employed: (1)

to designate levels in extended kinship structure;

(2) to designate the general stage or segment in

the life-course that a group occupies (for example

the current generation of college students); (3) to

refer to those who experienced a common historical

period (for example the Depression generation,

the Sixties Generation, or Generation X);

(4) to refer to a subset of a historical generation

who share a common political or cultural identity;

and (5) to denote a circumscribed age group in

the population. The fifth use is closest to what

developmental scientists call a “cohort.” The concept

of cohort refers to an aggregate of individuals

(generally defined on the basis of birth

year) whose lives move together through a historical

time. Given these varied meanings, it is important

to trace the way the various concepts are

measured and used.

The confusion of generation and cohort has led

some scholars to insist that generation should only

be used to designate a kin relationship and genealogical

linkage (for examples, parents and children

or grandparents and grandchildren). As D. L.

Kertzer, in Generation as a Sociological Problem (1983),

points out, there is often substantial overlapping

of age among (kin) generations, and it would

be impossible to characterize the generations

gender studies generation(s)


properly in terms of their common characteristics

vis-a`-vis other generations. A generation might

consist of several cohorts, each of which has encountered

different historical experiences that

have affected its life-course. Therefore, to examine

change over time in generational relations it is

necessary to compare cohorts not generations.

With the revolutionary changes in longevity in

the advanced industrial world, there is far greater

co-survival of generations and this has led family

researchers to examine the consequences in terms

of intergenerational family solidarity and conflict.

Much of the contemporary research suggests that

obligations are giving way to more negotiation

among the generations. Yet, while intergenerational

support has been shown in both the United

Kingdom and the United States to be more a

matter of negotiation than of prescription, there

is little evidence to suggest that intergenerational

family relations are of less importance than in

the past.

The distinction between generation and cohort

has been further blurred by the political debates

in many western nations about generational

equity, a concern about whether the distribution

of resources and power in society among different

age groups (cohorts) favors one generation to the

detriment of another. This debate was spurred by

the United States demographer Samuel Preston’s

article, “Children and the Elderly: Divergent Paths

for America’s Dependents” (Demography, 1984), in

which he claims that elderly people receive more

than their fair share of the federal budget, particularly

in light of their economic status, and they

ultimately receive these benefits at the expense of

groups that are more needy and deserving, especially

children. Notions of the Third Age, a time of

personal fulfillment after retirement, have helped

fuel labels like “the SKI generation” (Spending the

Kids’ Inheritance). The crucial point is about the

just distribution of wealth between age groups

which, according to historical demographer Peter

Laslett’s A Fresh Map of Life (1996), is one of the

most urgent issues of contemporary society.

It is the problem of social change that has

informed much of sociology’s concern with generations.

Karl Mannheim, in his essay “The Problem

of Generations” (1928), posed the thought experiment

of how human social life would be if one

generation lived on forever and none followed to

replace it. It was the linkage between “generational

replacement” and social change that

Mannheim explores in his famous essay.

According to Mannheim the biological process

that defines generations creates the potential for

the development of a shared consciousness that

unites and motivates people. It provides them

with a similar location, much like social class,

but does not guarantee that they will form a “generation

as actuality.” For a generation to trigger

social change, they must forge an additional bond

that allows a shared consciousness that underpins

what he calls a generational unit. Of course, not

all respond to historical circumstances in the

same way, and the same historical period may

provoke different generational units who take

quite contrary stances. However, once adopted,

consciousness is resistant to revision. Thus societal

change takes place partly as a result of cohort

replacement, the process by which the older generation

dies out and is replaced by the new.

Some forty years later, Norman Ryder, in his

article “The Cohort as a Concept in the Study of

Social Change” (1965, American Sociological Review),

revisited Mannheim’s analysis. Ryder substituted

the concept of birth cohort for Mannheim’s generation

and largely jettisoned the notion of shared

consciousness and the distinction between “generation”

and “generation as actuality” that was central

to Mannheim’s view of the structural linkage

between agency and social change. Ryder argues

that a comparison of different cohorts is a powerful

analytical strategy for studying social change.

Cohorts describe age-homogeneous groupings

that are clearly bounded. A whole industry of

social research (predominantly North American)

has grown up looking at cohort change in attitudes

and behaviors. However, the definition of

cohorts according to birth year is convenient but

problematic. When we examine the question of

why a particular span of years is important in

the life experiences of individuals, we are back

into the thorny issues of how biography and history

intersect. This was the issue that C. Wright

Mills, in his book The Sociological Imagination (1959),

identified as the crucial concern of the social


Social research on generations, aging, and lifecourse

interconnect in ways that defy any simple

overview of sociological work on generations.

Glen Elder, in his classic study of Children of the

Great Depression (1974), makes use both of generations

(in the kinship sense) and of birth cohorts

to track the influence of the economic crisis of the

1930s on the life-course of two cohorts of children

born just eight years apart. He shows the importance

of familial processes for mediating the

impact of socioeconomic change. As John Clausen

stated in his preface to Elder’s book, “we

know that ‘life chances’ depend on historical

generation(s) generation(s)


circumstances and one’s location in the social

structure but we are only beginning to formulate

the nature of the linkages between particular

kinds of experiences located in time and place,

adaptive responses to these experiences and longterm


Generational reproduction is a complex process,

regardless of whether we are looking at kinship

relations or societal change. The various meanings

of the term generation do at least serve to remind

us that biological, biographical, social, and historical

reproduction crucially interrelate. This was

one of the central insights of Mannheim’s essay

which has stood the test of time. JACKI E SCOTT

genetic engineering

– see genetics.


A branch of biology, genetics is concerned with

the study of heredity and the variability of organisms.

The twentieth century has been described

by Evelyn Fox Keller as The Century of the Gene

(2000). From the discovery at the turn of the twentieth

century that Gregor Mendel’s laws of inheritance

could also be applied to those of human

heredity, to the recent successful completion of

the human genome project identifying all the

genes in the human body, developments in genetics

have accelerated so that they now dominate

the science arena. If the field of nuclear physics

dominated post-World-War-II science, it is the

fields of genetics and genomics that have come to

supplant it. These fields are often referred to as

“big science,” a term used to describe both the scale

and complexity of large-scale post-World-War-II scientific

endeavors. Commentators have suggested

that genetics is not only influential in shaping

ideas about human identity, but also a powerful

economic and political force aligning considerations

of health and wealth and generating new

forms of biocapital. As we move into the twentyfirst

century, genetic science and its associated

technologies seem likely to have an even greater

impact on society and upon understandings of

what it is to be human.

The idea of eugenics, a process for selectively

breeding humans in order to preserve and promote

“desirable” characteristics, was first formulated

by scientist and cousin of Charles Darwin,

Francis Galton (1822–1911). In 1904 at a meeting

of the Sociological Society, Galton is reported to

have said that, “Eugenics is the science which

deals with all influences that improve the inborn

qualities of a race; also with those that develop

them to the utmost advantage.” Eugenics was defined

by Galton as the study of agencies under

social control that may improve or impair the

qualities of future generations either physically

or mentally. He intended eugenics to extend to

any technique that might serve to increase the

representation of those with “good genes,” in

this way accelerating evolution. A major motivation

of many eugenicists was an idea of human

progress. The idea of progress was based not

solely on the advancement of scientific knowledge

but also on genetic improvement. This was supported

by Darwin’s evolutionary theory, wherein

the survival of the fittest was equated with the

survival of the best. The best were thought to be

the best people to cope with modern life. Galton

tended to equate people’s genetic fitness with

their social position. Social Darwinist ideology

provided a good climate for eugenic thought,

and many qualities such as intelligence, temperament,

and behavior were believed to be inherited.

Galton proposed that the human race might be

improved by eliminating society’s so-called undesirables

and multiplying its so-called desirables.

Such ideas became increasingly popular in the

political sphere with both democratic and totalitarian


The eugenic movement was supported by the

upper-middle classes, with scientists and geneticists

in particular playing an important role in

this movement. Research into human heredity

was carried out in scientific laboratories to develop

eugenically useful knowledge. A human

genetics program emerged, focusing on the analysis

of various conditions, particularly those seen

to be creating a social burden for society. The socalled

feeble-minded were a particular focus.

Psychologist and eugenicist Henry Goddard was

of the opinion that “feeble-mindedness” was a

hereditary condition of the brain that made those

who had inherited such a condition more prone to

becoming criminals, paupers, and prostitutes. Societal

problems such as poverty, vagrancy, prostitution,

and alcoholism were understood by

eugenicists as primarily the outcome of a person’s

genetic inheritance rather than emanating from

social, political, and economic factors. The mental

and behavioral characteristics of different “races”

were also a focus of the eugenic movement, and,

in genetic science in northern Europe and the

United States, eugenics was frequently used to

support ideas of the existence of a superior white,

middle-class Protestant elite, such as the so-called

Aryan race. Beginning in 1907, compulsory sterilization

laws were passed in many states in the

genetic engineering genetics


United States, with Denmark and Germany passing

such measures in the 1930s. While these countries

adopted compulsory sterilization programs

designed to prevent the continued breeding of

those deemed to be undesirable, the eugenic

movement in Nazi Germany led not only to

the sterilization of hundreds of thousands of

individuals but ultimately to the death camps

where millions of Jews and “undesirables” were


The story of eugenics is not only characterized

by such negative aspects; the eugenic program

also included many initiatives that were classified

as “positive.” Galton originally classified eugenics

as consisting of two types: positive and negative.

While negative campaigns were concerned with

getting rid of the “undesirables,” positive eugenics

involved the promotion of “desirable” human

stock. In Britain, positive eugenic campaigns

sought to encourage the middle classes to breed

through a system of tax concessions and grants,

and in the United States the American Eugenics

Society sponsored Better Babies competitions and

Fitter Families contests as part of their positive

eugenic campaign. Beginning in the 1950s, there

was a rise in nondirective genetic counseling in an

attempt to dissociate the field from the negative

eugenics of the Nazi regime. Such measures were

based on the understanding that couples wanted

healthy children, and such interventions were

seen as important in providing impartial advice

to enable couples to make choices concerning


Scientific endeavors to discover the chromosomal

location of genes and their relation to

each other initially began slowly at the start of

the twentieth century. Scientists understood that

a gene was a single unit located on a chromosome,

passed from one generation to the next, and that

this material was coded in cells determining how

an organism looked and behaved. In 1913, the first

genetic map appeared, identifying the relative location

of six genes on one chromosome. In the

following decades, this process remained painstakingly

slow and difficult. In 1953, two Cambridge

University scientists, James Watson (1928– ) and

Francis Crick (1916–2004), made what is considered

to be a landmark scientific breakthrough

by discovering the physical structure of DNA

(the molecular structure that holds genetic information).

Nevertheless, scientists still faced a

daunting task in identifying all the genes of the

human body, particularly as it was incorrectly

assumed that there were likely to be in excess of

100,000. However, by the 1980s, genetic maps

were good enough to allow scientists to go

“hunting” for genes among families of people

with inherited diseases such as Huntington’s disease

and cystic fibrosis. In the 1980s, with the

invention of a new technology called PCR (polymerase

chain reaction) that enabled DNA to be

replicated and amplified, and the availability of

new high-speed computer-sequencing technology,

scientists began to consider a global endeavor to

map and sequence the entire human genome –

that is, to identify the now more accurately

assessed 20,000–25,000 genes of the human body

and determine the sequences of the 3 billion

chemical base pairs that make up human DNA.

The human genome project marks the entry of

genetics into the realm of big science and officially

began in 1990 with the aim of completing

the genetic sequencing of certain forms of bacteria,

yeast, plants, animals, and ultimately

human beings. It was anticipated that a complete

human sequence would be produced by 2005. The

scale of the project was such that it was as much a

political endeavor as a scientific one. In the United

States, the project was headed by James Watson,

who played a key role as both scientist and political

lobbyist. Although the majority of the research

was undertaken in the United States, the

project became an international collaboration, involving

twenty research groups from six countries.

The intention was to divide the mapping of

the twenty-four human chromosomes among

some dozen or so laboratories around the world.

One-third of the human genome was sequenced in

the United Kingdom at the Sanger Institute. The

scale and cost of the project was huge. It is estimated

that work carried out in sequencing the

single gene responsible for the disease cystic fibrosis

cost between US$50 million and US$150


The human genome project has political dimensions,

as could be expected for any project requiring

so much funding, with huge potential

rewards for the biotechnology industry in terms

of the possible application of genetics to medicine

and agriculture. The enormous expense of this

project was justified primarily on the basis of the

likely medical benefits. There was also an implicit

understanding that such an enterprise would

have economic benefits by helping to fuel a growing

biotechnology sector. Indeed, as the project

progressed, many countries involved, including

the United Kingdom, were quite explicit in their

plans to use genomics to help generate national

wealth. The International Human Genome Consortium

(the group which coordinated and

genetics genetics


managed the human genome project) made extravagant

speculations about the practical importance

of their work for human health, claiming

that the human genome project would lead to

profound long-term consequences for medicine,

by enabling an understanding of the underlying

molecular mechanisms of disease and the design

of drugs and other therapeutics targeted at those

mechanisms. As the project developed, so too did

the “hype,” with many speaking of genetics as the

key to unlocking the secrets of life and providing a

genetic blueprint of what it is to be human.

Many scientists involved were also keen to

ensure that scientific competition would not

undermine or delay the project. In particular,

there was concern that the granting of patents

allowing exclusive property rights over data

would undermine international collaboration. It

was therefore agreed that this worldwide, multibillion-

dollar project would be funded solely from

public funds and medical charities such as the

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