My first academic book review – Rhonda Shaw

My first academic paper was published last month (a book review).  It is the culmination of many hours spent reading, writing, revising (I refrain from disclosing how much for the sake of my dignity), as well as a four month period between first submission and publication.

Here is a quick re-review of the book (I do own the copyright to the published review but not the right to actually freely reproduce and distribute):


Rhonda Shaw's Ethics, moral life and the body

Ethics, Moral Life and the Body (2015) explores ethical issues involved in medical and health related practices involving the transfer of ‘body-matter’ between two or more people – practices not only between people but between the bodies of people, such as organ donation, surrogate pregnancy, and breast milk banks. Rhonda Shaw’s contention is that sociology has been left to the side of serious and consequential discussions; she characterises other fields, particularly philosophy, medical science, and the dictates of governmental policy as having assumed a sort of sovereignty over the domain.

How could (or should) sociology be more involved in debates about ethics, the body, and society? The author’s main modes of argument are participant interview and criticism through theory. By interviewing medical staff, donors, recipients amongst others, Shaw explores their accounts of on the ethical significance of these practices; emphasising the diversity of their views and how their experiences often run counter to hospital policy or public health narratives – for example one unintended effect of a public health campaign emphasising organ donation as a ‘gift’ (of life) is that it may lead recipients to feel an unrelenting sense of guilt for receiving so precious a ‘gift’ and yet being unable to reciprocate.

Another key way the book engages these issues is through an overview of various critical, and sometimes antagonistic academic theories. Shaw devotes particular attention to the idea that relation between bodies (intercorporeality) is an important but under-appreciated dimension of ethics. She also raises questions about the social consequences of organ donation practices which are intrinsically sociological in their ramifications (for example, the potential implications for our concept of ‘human’ (in theory and practice) if the for-profit sale of organs were allowed across the board).

By the end of the book the reader has been presented with many perspectives and a contention that there are critical flaws in current practices, but what next? How could we, as a society deal with these issues with a ‘better ethics’? This question is not answered explicitly, but a tacit undercurrent points toward a more democratic approach which might be characterised as ‘let everyone speak their concerns’, and ‘policy makers listen to all’, so ‘policy will be better’. But in this case the problem still remains of establishing the method to mediate between the concerns of the many in order to create policy that works for all.

What role might sociologists have to play in such deliberations?

Shaw M, Rhonda (2015). Ethics, Moral Life and the Body: Sociological Perspectives. United Kingdom, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan. pp 239. ISBN: 9781137312587

For people with access, the link to the official book review is here:


Producing this book review gave me the chance to reflect on the process of academic publication and the real or imagined constraints confronting aspiring academics – especially those, like myself, who lack genuine ‘academic affiliation’. I plan to write a more detailed post about this soon