Northumbria University Centre for Forensic Science

Sociology, Ethics, and the Priority of the Particular: learning from a case study of genetic deliberations

E. Haimes & R. Williams. British Journal of Sociology, 58, pp. 457-476. (2007).


There are growing debates about the relationship between the two disciplines of sociology and ethics, particularly as they each become increasingly involved in research and policy formation on the life sciences, especially genetics. Much of this debate has been highly abstract, often stipulating the seemingly different character of the two disciplines and speculating on their theoretical potential–or lack thereof–for future collaborative work. This article uses an existing collaboration between a sociologist and an ethicist, on a study of participation in genetic databases, to explore some of the challenges, for both disciplines, of working together. Building upon this case study, we examine the suggestion that the Aristotelian concept of ‘phronesis’ provides the grounds for establishing one possible theoretical framework with which the disciplines can be bridged. Further exploration of this approach leads to suggestions for ways of thinking about the apparently fundamental divides between the disciplines and for ways of adding to notions of a ‘public sociology’.

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