Sociology and the critique of neoliberalism

reflections on Peter Wagner and Axel Honneth

Pauline Johnson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Citations (Scopus)


Neoliberalism's project of making the market the model for all modern freedoms means that critique needs to be able to unmask the distortions and to weigh the costs of its cultural appropriations and resignifications. This diagnostic/evaluative task presents a seeming challenge to the sociologist who is also answerable to scientific purposes that demand objectivity and impartiality. This article investigates two very different attempts to grasp this nettle. It contrasts Peter Wagner's proposal to reclaim critique as 'an essential feature of the social sciences' with Axel Honneth's call for a reinvigoration of the 'sociologizing dimension' of a critical theory tradition. It is argued that neither approach is fully adequate to the challenges set by neoliberalism. The final section of the article suggests that to demonstrate the efficacy of sociology's contribution to a critique of neoliberalism we need to review the relationship between theoretical reflection and everyday thinking and permit the former to do more analytic/evaluative work.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)516-533
Number of pages18
JournalEuropean Journal of Social Theory
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2014


  • critique
  • Honneth
  • neoliberalism
  • sociology
  • Wagner

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