How to combine sociology with biology – and why do it?

David Blane is professor emeritus of Imperial College London and professorial research associate of University College London. Former (2008-2012) deputy director of ESRC International Centre for Life Course Studies in Society and Health (ICLS), his interests include health inequalities, social gerontology and life course research.

Here, in the latest of our biosocial blogs, Professor Blane gives his ‘how to’ on combining sociology and biology in research.


Rudolf Virchow was a physician who believed that “Medicine is a social science; and politics is nothing else but medicine on a large scale”.

Rudolf Virchow

Rudolf Virchow

In 1848 he served on a commission of investigation into an epidemic of typhus in Prussian Upper Silesia. His report identified the social conditions there that made typhus (a louse-borne disease) endemic, and periodically epidemic, and wrote a social prescription to eliminate these circumstances by building roads, schools, democracy and jobs. As well as being one of the founders of public health, Virchow was a medical specialist in pathology, which he saw as the way to understand the link between social conditions and disease. Continue reading

The AB(B)CDE of biosocial research

In the third of our series of blogs on biosocial research, Professor John Hobcraft – who for several years has been a Strategic Advisor to the ESRC on data resources in the longitudinal and biosocial domains – writes about how our behaviours and experiences alter our biology and our biology plays a part in shaping our behaviours

 John Hobcraft

Can we understand choices and behaviours without combining neuroscience and social science? Can we understand employment and social relationships without attention to mental and physical health, and the underlying biological pathways?  Continue reading

Mental health: is it associated with our genes or our early years surroundings – or both?

In the second in a series of blogs about biosocial research Professor Gordon Harold, University of Sussex, writes about the new research on parenting.

A member of the ESRC Capability Committee, Professor Harold has specific expertise in the area of child and adolescent mental health.

Gordon Harold

On the sleeve of an album by the band Snow Patrol, the following words appear “mums and dads of the world, be patient with your children”.

As an early career researcher at the time (2004 – a long time ago now!), studying the role of the inter-parental relationship on children’s mental health and development, I thought “that’s it, that’s the bottom line message from millions of pounds worth of international research aimed at promoting positive links between family relationship experiences and children’s mental health – ‘parents, be patient with your children’”.

So, why do we continue with research on this topic? Continue reading

Nature vs nurture: how the ‘social’ in biosocial studies has shifted the debate

Rebecca Fairbairn is ESRC’s new Head of Longitudinal Studies. She was Head of Knowledge Exchange until summer 2015 when she took up a short-term role to look strategically across ESRC’s biosocial activity.

Rebecca Fairbairn

“Biosocial? Is that even a thing?” was what ran through my mind when I was approached to undertake a piece of work looking across ESRC’s biosocial engagement. The more I learned, however, the more interested I became in this exciting area – and I’m now completely hooked!

Continue reading