Relativizing Universality: Sociological Reactions to Liberal Universalism

Mark Horsley

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    This paper offers an appraisal of the relationship between sociology and philosophy grounded in a critique of the former discipline’s failure to contend with the dominance of neoliberalism in the run up to the financial crisis. In the first instance, it considers the prevailing philosophical ethos after the end of the Cold War and what Francis Fukuyama (1992) called the ‘End of History’. It observes the emergence of an increasingly unchallenged political monad around the conjoined principles of liberal democracy and neoliberal economics and its ascendance to the status of socio-historical universality despite becoming increasingly problematic. The second half of the essay then carries this political-philosophical analysis into an exploration of contemporary sociology and its approach to the intellectual critique of dominant ideas and structures. It proposes that an emergent strain of philosophical relativism has inadvertently moved us away from some of the critical responsibilities of the traditional intellectual and eroded our capacity to offer practical alternatives to overwhelmingly neoliberal governance. The article ends on the hopeful note that a slight change in tack might push us toward reclaiming responsibilities and revitalising the debate on social transformation.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalInternational Journal of Criminology and Sociological Theory
    Publication statusPublished - 4 Dec 2013


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