Methodological individualism

concept in political and social sciences

Methodological individualism is the principle that subjective individual motivation explains social phenomena.


  • Methodological individualism presupposes that historical change is fundamentally the outcome of great individual achievements, what is popularly known as the great man theory of history. The power of the hero—the great Black athlete who is able to leap over racism or sexism in a single bound plus a somersault—is a cathartic trope in African American sports history. It reflects a generic American story of individual triumph over adversity. Furthermore, methodological individualism assumes that the structural composition of society is reducible to an aggregate of individuals. Hence, methodological individualism discounts any politics that challenges social structures, the social character of capitalist exploitation, and how the institutional (social) structure of racism and sexism are grounded on capitalist social relations of production.
    • Stephen C. Ferguson, Philosophy of African American Studies: Nothing Left of Blackness (2015), p. 17