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For the Sake of the Children

The Social Organization of Responsibility in the Hospital and the Home

For the Sake of the Children examines the social organization of responsibility by asking who takes responsibility for critically ill newborns. Drawing on medical records and interviews with parents and medical staff, the authors take us into two neonatal intensive care units, showing us the traumas of extreme medical measures and the sufferings of infants. The accounts are by turns heroic and disturbing as we see people trying to take charge of these infants’ care, thinking about long-term plans, redefining their roles as adults and parents, and coping with sometimes awful contingencies.

Rather than treating responsibility as an ethical issue, the authors focus on how responsibility is socially produced and sustained. The authors ask: How do staff members encourage parents to take responsibility, but keep them from interfering in medical matters, and how do parents encourage staff vigilance when they are novices attempting to supervise the experts?

The authors conclude that it is not sufficient simply to be responsible individuals. Instead, we must learn how to be responsible in an organizational world, and organizations must learn how to support responsible individuals.

436 pages | 3 line drawings, 16 tables | 6 x 9 | © 1998

Morality and Society Series


Sociology: General Sociology, Medical Sociology, Social Institutions

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1: Why We Need a Sociology of Responsibility
2: Life in Two Neonatal Intensive Care Units
3: What Do We Mean by Responsibility?
4: Responsibility as a Joint Enterprise: The Role of the State in the NICU and the Home
5: The Social Control of Parenting in the NICU
6: Novice Managers of Expert Labor: Parents as Agents of Social Control in the NICU
7: Beyond the NICU: Variations in the Acceptance of Long-Term Responsibility
8: Responsible Individuals in an Organizational World
Appendix on Methods
Index of Interviews
General Index


Society for the Study of Social Problems: C. Wright Mills Award
Honorable Mention

ASA Section on Medial Sociology: Eliot Freidson Award

ASA Theory Section: The Theory Book Prize

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