Ideas and Ideologies of Methodological Individualism in Sociology of Knowledge and Neoliberal Economics

  • Vijay Kumar Yadavendu


This chapter begins with an analysis of methodological individualism in the sociology of knowledge. There is a current orthodoxy in social sciences that explanations of social phenomena are deficient if they fail to take into account the agent’s own point of view. Such orthodoxy is the reflection of a commitment to MI. According to MI, all social phenomena must be explained wholly and exclusively by individual human actions. In contrast, methodological holism emphasises social determination and materialist macrostructural explanations, which have been largely ignored in the development of contemporary social sciences. Interestingly, a few theoreticians challenged the traditional notion of Marxism as scientific, materialist, holistic, anti-empiricist, antipositivist, dialectical and historical and instead claimed that Marxist philosophy can also be located in the paradigm of individualism. The other social science, which has had immense influence on public health, economics also displays a similar progression towards individualism through the Walrasian, Austrian and finally Chicago schools. The shift away from classical political economics broke the link of economic discourses with holism. The conception that emerged was that of a ‘free’ rational agent facing a set of choices in the open market. This conception was, by its very nature, ahistorical and ignored the constraints against choosing where market fetishism and behaviourism strengthened the case for biomedical and individual centric approaches in public health. The result was an overemphasis on the determination of specific aetiology, development of curative medicines and preventive vaccines and promotion of the notion of behaviour modification. It also meant that the sphere of the state’s responsibility shrank progressively away from the social sector in general and public health in particular.


Social Phenomenon Neoclassical Economic Chicago School Neoclassical Theory Methodological Individualism 


  1. Althusser, L. (2005). For Marx. London: Verso Books.Google Scholar
  2. Bhardwaj, K. (1980). On some issues of method in the analysis of social change (Sri Krishna Rajendra Silver Jubilee Lectures Series). Mysore: University of Mysore.Google Scholar
  3. Bhargava, R. (1992). Individualism in social science: Forms and limits of a methodology. Oxford: Clarendon Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brentano, F. ([1887–1890] 2002). Descriptive psychology, Trans. & Ed. by B. Muller. London/New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  5. Brodbeck, M. (Ed.). (1968). Readings in the philosophy of social sciences. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  6. Cohen, G. A. (1995). Self-ownership, freedom and equality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Comte, A. ([1896] 2000). The positive philosophy, Vols. 3, Trans. and condensed by H. Martineau, Vol. 1. London: George Bell and Sons.Google Scholar
  8. Danto, A. C. (1968). Analytical philosophy of history. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Dilthey, W. ([1883] 1991). Introduction to the human sciences, selected works, R. A. Makkreel & F. Rodi (Eds.) (Vol. 1). Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Durkheim, E. (1915). The elementary forms of the religious life. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  11. Durkheim, E. (1938). The rules of sociological method. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  12. Durkheim, E. (1953). Sociology and philosophy. Glencoe: Free Press of Glencoe.Google Scholar
  13. Elster, J. (1985). Making sense of Marx. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Foucault, M. (1978). Discipline and punish (A. Sheridan, Trans.). New York: Pantheon.Google Scholar
  15. Friedman, M. (1953). Essays in positive economics. Chicago: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Ginsberg, M. (1957). Essays in sociology and social philosophy. In M. Ginsberg (Ed.), On the diversity of morals (Vol. 1). New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  17. Gramsci, A. (1971). Selections from Prison notebooks, Ed. & Trans. Q. Hoare & G. N. Smith. New York: International Publishers.Google Scholar
  18. Gurvitch, G. (1942). The sociology of law. New York: The Philosophical Library and Alliance Book Corporation.Google Scholar
  19. Hayek, F. A. (1948). The facts of the social sciences. In F. A. Hayek (Ed.), Individualism and economic order. Chicago: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Hayek, F. A. (1952). Scientism and the study of society. In F. A. Hayek (Ed.), The counter-revolution of science: Studies in the abuse of reason. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  21. Hayek, F. A. (1986). The road to serfdom. London: Ark.Google Scholar
  22. Herrera, R. (2006). The neoliberal ‘Rebirth’ of development economics. Analytical Monthly Review, 4, 37–49.Google Scholar
  23. Hobbes, T. ([1651]1968). Leviathan, C. B. Macpherson (Ed.). Harmondsworth: Penguin.Google Scholar
  24. Homans, G. C. (1967). The nature of social science. New York: Harcourt.Google Scholar
  25. James, S. (1984). The content of social explanation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Jevons, W. S. (1888). The theory of political economy. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  27. Kant, I. ([1781] 1965). Critique pure reason (N. K. Smith, Trans.). New York: St. Martin’s Press.Google Scholar
  28. Keynes, J. M. ([1936] 2009). The general theory of employment, interest and money. New York: Classic Books America.Google Scholar
  29. Lehmann, J. M. (1993). Deconstructing Durkheim: A post post-structuralist critique. London/New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  30. Lukes, S. (1968). Methodological individualism reconsidered. British Journal of Sociology, 19, 119–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lukes, S. (1973). Individualism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Marx, K. (1930). Capital (Eden & C. Paul, Trans., Vol. 2). New York: E.P. Dutton.Google Scholar
  33. Marx, K. (1975). “Notes on A Wagner,” in Karl Marx: Texts on method, Ed. & Trans. by T. Carver. New York: International Publishers.Google Scholar
  34. Marx, K. (1977a). Grundrisse. In D. McLellan (Ed.), Karl Marx: Selected writings. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Marx, K. ([1843] 1977b). The German ideology. In D. McLellan (Ed.), Karl Marx: Selected writings. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Meikle, S. (1985). The essentialism in the thought of Karl Marx. London: Duckworth.Google Scholar
  37. Menger, C. ([1883]1985). Investigation into the method of the social sciences with special reference to economics (J. N. Francis, Trans.). New York/London: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Mill, J. S. (1872). A system of logic (Vol. 2). London: Parker.Google Scholar
  39. Miller, R. W. (1978). Methodological individualism and social explanation. Philosophy of Science, 45, 387–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Mises, L. (1978). The ultimate foundation of economic science. Kansas City: Sheed Andrews and McMeel.Google Scholar
  41. Parsons, T. (1951). The social system. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  42. Popper, K. R. (1966). The open society and its enemies (Vol. 2). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  43. Poulantzas, N. (2000). Political power and social classes. London/New York: Verso New Left Books.Google Scholar
  44. Przeworski, A. (1977). Proletariat into a class: The process of class formation from Karl Kautsky’s the class struggle to recent controversies. Politics and Society, 7, 343–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Rapport, N., & Overing, J. (Eds.). (2000). Social and cultural anthropology: The key concepts. London/New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  46. Ricardo, D. ([1817] 2006). Principles of political economy and taxation. London: Cosimo Classics.Google Scholar
  47. Roegen, G. N. (1967). Analytical economics: Some orientation issues in economics. Harvard: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Roemer, J. (1994). A future for socialism. Harvard: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Roth, G., & Schluchter, W. (1979). Max Weber’s vision of history: Ethics and methods. Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  50. Rousseau, J. J. ([1762] 1947). The social contract (C. Frankel, Trans.). New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  51. Schumpeter, J. (1942). Capitalism, socialism and democracy. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  52. Simmel, G. (1950). The sociology of Georg Simmel, Trans. & Ed. by K. H. Wolff. Glencoe: Free Press of Glencoe.Google Scholar
  53. Slaughter, C. (1986). Making sense of Elster. Inquiry, 29, 45–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Smith, B. (1990). Aristotle, Menger, Mises: An essay in the metaphysics of economics. History of Political Economy, Annual Supplement, 22, 263–288.Google Scholar
  55. Smith, A. ([1776] 1999). The Wealth of Nation Books I–III, Ed. with an introduction and notes by A. S. Skinner. London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  56. Tarde, G. (1969). On communication and social influence; Selected papers, Ed. and introduction by T. N. Clark. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  57. Walrus, L. (1954). Elements of pure economics (W. Jaffe, Trans.). London: Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
  58. Warren, M. (1988). Marx and methodological individualism. Philosophy of Social Sciences, 18, 447–476.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Watkins, J. (1957). Historical explanations in the social sciences. British Journal of Science, 9, 104–117. (Reprinted as Methodological individualism and social tendencies. In M. Brodbeck (Ed.), Readings in the philosophy of social sciences (pp. 269–280). New York: Macmillan, 1968, page references are to the Brodbeck’s volume)Google Scholar
  60. Weber, M. (1947). The theory of social and economic organization. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  61. Weber, M. (1964). The theory of social and economic organization (T. Parsons & A. M. Henderson, Trans.). New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  62. Weber, M. (1978). Economy and society, G. Roth & C. Wittich (Eds.). Berkeley/Los Angeles/London: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  63. Wrong, D. H. (1961). The over-socialized conception of man in modern sociology. American Sociological Review, 26, 183–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer India 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vijay Kumar Yadavendu
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyMagadh UniversityBodh GayaIndia

Personalised recommendations