Towards a Social Theory of the Economy

Round table
Juli 3, 2024 18:00 - 20:00
Studio 1, Uferstudios Badstraße 41a, 13357 Berlin

Round Table with Ingrid Robeyns, Kolja Möller, Lisa Herzog, Rahel Jaeggi, and David Kennedy


The economy is irrefutably social. The division of labor, the distribution of social wealth, the modes of production and exchange are defining features of every society. What is more, economic practices depend on social and political institutions as well as cultural understandings without which the interactions of economic agents would become unstable or fail altogether. In other words, what we call “the economy” boils down to human activity and, as such, is subject to historical change. However, the precise relationship between economic practices and the other forms of social, political, and cultural agency is rather difficult to conceptualize. The economy seems to presuppose social dispositions (as the analyses of Max Weber and Louis Althusser suggest) as well as the social reproduction of human life and labor power (as feminist theorists have insisted). And – as the neoliberal era has amply shown – economic logics are capable of transforming and “colonizing” (Habermas) other social spheres, such as education and health care, science and art, and are embedded in historically entrenched relations of domination, dispossession, and extraction on a global scale (as postcolonial critics have argued). Weak versions of economic determinism could point to the dependence of all other social spheres on resources provided by the economy exemplified by the dependence on the economy’s dominant medium: money.

Conversely, the dependence of economic practices on social, political, and cultural background conditions, as well as on functioning ecosystems and sustainable access to natural resources, implies the possibility of dissonance, and thus conflict, between divergent social rationalities. Contrary to social theories that conceptualize the economy as a particular social system with definite boundaries and a specific rationality, the complex interactions and interdependencies of social spheres suggest the need for a wider, more social concept of the economy. Economy and society permeate each other and form a compound of socio-economic practices – a form of life. Such a wide concept of the economy revives core claims of classical Critical Theory. Social critique must address the material foundations of society, i.e. the ways in which society reproduces itself. The public roundtable of this year’s International Critical Theory Summer School will provide an opportunity to discuss approaches to the economy in contemporary social theory.

The Round Table is in English. Free entrance.


Ingrid Robeyns holds the Chair in Ethics of Institutions at Utrecht University. She holds degrees in economics and (analytical) philosophy, and also studied some social and political sciences. She did her PhD with Amartya Sen at Cambridge University and worked for many years on the capability approach and various questions of inequality and social justice, including institutional design issues (like UBI, parental leave, etc.). In 2024 she published a book written for the wider public on limitarianism – the view that there should be an upper limit to how much wealth each person can have.

Lisa Herzog  works at the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Groningen since 2019. She holds a master (Diplom) in economics from LMU Munich, and an M.St. in Philosophy and D.Phil. in Political Theory from the University of Oxford. She has worked at the universities of St. Gallen (CH), Frankfurt/Main (D), and Stanford (US), and has held fellowships of Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin and Hamburg Institute for Advanced Study. Herzog has published on the philosophical dimensions of markets, economic justice, ethics in organizations and political epistemology. The current focus of her work are economic democracy, the future of work, and the role of knowledge in democracies.

Rahel Jaeggi is Professor for Practical and Social Philosophy and director of the Centre for Social Critique at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Her main historical research is on Critical Theory, whilst her main systematic research is on social philosophy, social theory, social ontology, and social anthropology as well as political philosophy and ethics.

Kolja Möller is a Post-Doc at the Institute of Political Science, University of Technology Dresden and the research project ‘legal populism’ (founded by the German-Israeli Foundation). His research focuses on social, political and legal theory, and constitutional law. Currently, he is working both on a critical theory of populism and on how the emerging balance of power on the international level challenges the quest for social transformation. He has a background in so-called critical systems theory which combines insights of the critical theory tradition with systems approaches.

David Kennedy  is Manley O. Hudson Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Institute for Global Law and Policy at Harvard Law School where he teaches international law, international economic policy, legal theory, law and development, and European law. He is the author of numerous books and articles on international law and global governance. His research uses interdisciplinary materials from sociology and social theory, economics, and history to explore issues of global governance, development policy, and the nature of professional expertise.  A member of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, Kennedy has worked as a practicing lawyer and consultant on numerous international projects, both commercial and public.