The Phenomenology of Homo Economicus

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Much has been written about the fictitious nature of the atomistic model of homo economicus. Nevertheless, this economic model of self-interest and egoism has become conventional wisdom in market societies. This article offers a phenomenological explanation for the model’s commonsensical grip. Building on the work of Alfred Schutz, I argue that a reliance on homo economicus as an interpretive scheme for making sense of the behavior of economic Others has the effect of reversing the meaning of signs and doubts that challenge the model’s assumptions. Moreover, it orients social action in ways that prevent the model’s interpretive incongruences from rising to the reflective fore. Consequently, an interpretive reliance on homo economicus creates a “phenomenological gridlock.” Alternative sources of information and alternative interpretive schemes can bypass this entrapment of the economic interaction, but this article further explains why the norms and cultural horizons of market society limit the accessibility of these alternatives, thus, in effect, sedimenting gridlocked experiences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)36-50
Number of pages15
JournalSociological Theory
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© American Sociological Association 2020.


  • Alfred Schutz
  • economic interaction
  • homo economicus
  • market society
  • phenomenology


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