About this site

Welcome to my site. My friends and I created this to share some of my work and - more importantly - to invite an exchange of ideas.

I've been a sociologist for a long time. and ventured into a number of different fields over the years: birth and midwifery (which I still think of as my home base); the new genetics and reproductive technologies; medical sociology; bioethics; issues in disability; adoption; race; and now food studies too. Some of you might know my work in one of these areas, others in a different area. What would be really interesting would be to have people talk, with each other and with me, across areas. I've tried, with some success over the years, to talk to midwives about genetics; to encourage people who do new reproductive technologies to think about home birth; to have bioethicists pay more attention to what medical sociology can offer; to get people in Food Studies thinking where midwifery issues overlap with their concerns. These are invariably the most fun and stimulating conversations I've ever been a part of. Connecting people, connecting ideas, weaving the webs that pull us together - nothing could make me happier. So this site, a gift from my friends, is my place to do this kind of weaving.

We've grouped my work by area - but please, if you're here because you have gotten anything useful out of my work in one area, do poke around for a minute in another. Bring your insights and wisdom and experience to a new place, a new issue. Let's see what we can weave together.

- Barbara Katz Rothman

Risky Business?

We live, it’s been said, in a ‘risk society,’ a phrase most associated in academia with the work of Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens, but now pretty widely used by people who never heard of them. Of course life’s always been risky – and one could argue that in some ways people, at least the ones who are having public discussions of ‘risk,’ are as safe as people ever have been. I’ll leave it to others to explain why the swings are disappearing from the playgrounds, why kids can’t walk home three blocks by themselves, why it’s important, as I am constantly told by friends and family, that I know my risks and be tested for breast and a dozen other kinds of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Are those the things that make us less ‘at risk’? Is that really why we are safer? Or is there something else at work here?

And why can I not seem to discuss this issue without constantly asking rhetorical questions?

HEALTH, RISK AND SOCIETY is a journal asking just these questions, or as it says on its home page: “Health Risk & Society is an international scholarly journal devoted to a theoretical and empirical understanding of the social processes which influence the ways in which health risks are taken, communicated, assessed and managed.” Andy Alaszewski, the editor of the journal, invited me to do an introduction to a special issue on the subject of pregnancy and birth. And Andy pointed out that my article was peppered with question marks, and that rhetorical questions are really not appropriate journal style. And yet, as we discussed the problem, he decided that my rhetorical questions were intrinsic to what I was saying and doing, so he let them stand.

What do you think? Is this an unnecessary rhetorical gimmick or flourish? Or do we need to keep asking ourselves these questions?

Click here to read my intro