Sabine Frerichs (Vienna/Bonn): Behavioural and Neuroeconomics in Socio-Legal Perspective


Behavioural and neuroeconomics is a fast-growing research field which aims to make economics more realistic, further the unification of the social, behavioural, and natural sciences, and provide new levers for welfare-increasing policies. Instead of starting from a narrow understanding of homo oeconomicus as a fully-informed, self-interested, and entirely consistent utility maximizer, it aims to provide a psychologically and physiologically more accurate account of economic decision-making.

Behavioural economics attracts much attention in political and public discourse, and its extension into neuroeconomics likewise seems to gain traction. However, the ‘new realism’ in economics also has its downside. As will be argued in this talk, behavioural and neuroeconomics manifests a truncated understanding of the social, which is problematic both from a scientific point of view, with regard to the generalisability of empirical findings, and a normative point of view, with regard to its implications for law and policy.

While institutional arguments do play a role at the margins of the field, the ‘mainstream’ of behavioural and neuroeconomics is marked by a naturalist and individualist research orientation, whether it is concerned with cognitive biases in individual decision-making, with social preferences in situations of strategic interaction, or with reworking neoclassical models to better reflect brain processes. Contingent social phenomena are boiled down to behavioural invariants and neurobiological constraints, and ultimately to human nature.

Besides introducing into different strands of behavioural and neuroeconomics and their respective social ontologies, this talk will explore the potential of a sociological critique in several dimensions: as sociology of economics (which extends beyond the economy as a sphere of reality to economics as an academic discipline), sociology of science (which focuses on the construction of scientific knowledge), and sociology of law (which includes the relation of law, economy, and science as spheres of reality and domains of knowledge).

Curriculum Vitae

Prof. Dr. Sabine Frerichs studied Sociology, Economics, and Political Science at the University of Trier. In 2005, she earned her doctorate at an interdisciplinary graduate research center at the University of Bamberg with a thesis on “Judicial Governance in the European Community of Law: Integration through Law beyond the State”. In 2013, she also received her post-doctoral degree (habilitation) in Sociology at the University of Bamberg. Both her doctoral and habilitation theses were honored with dissertation and habilitation prizes from the University of Bamberg, respectively. Furthermore, Sabine Frerichs received the Dissertation Award from the German Sociological Association. Following her habilitation, Sabine Frerichs was Assistant Professor at the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Law, where she also previously worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the “Centre of Excellence ‘Foundations of European Law and Polity’”. In addition, she was a postdoctoral fellow at the European University Institute in Florence in 2012 as well as a visiting lecturer at Charles University in Prague in 2015. Since 2016, she is Professor of Economic Sociology at Vienna University of Economics and Business.

Her research focuses on sociological theory, macrosociology, and economic and legal sociology. In particular, she focuses on problems at the intersection of law, economy, and society as well as on European integration and globalization.

Since October 2018 Professor Dr. Sabine Frerichs is Fellow at the Käte Hamburger Center “Law as Culture”.