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Palgrave Macmillan

Marx’s Wager

Das Kapital and Classical Sociology

  • Book
  • © 2022


  • Demonstrates how influential classical sociologists read Capital
  • Identifies the implications of Marx's reception for later social scientists
  • Examines how early thinkers understand theory and practice

Part of the book series: Marx, Engels, and Marxisms (MAENMA)

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About this book

Marx's masterpiece Capital (Das Kapital) ignored or misread as well as selectively and creatively interpreted by the generation of social scientists that came after him. Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Georg Simmel attempt to supplement what they call ‘historical materialism’ or to engage in debates about ‘socialism’ through their readings of The Communist Manifesto and occasional Capital. Although these and other classical sociologists did not have access to most of Marx’s published and unpublished works as we do today, each is concerned with revising and refining Marx’s unfinished critique of political economy. Despite their differences with Marx and with one another, they share his concern with how empirically detailed and scientifically valid knowledge of the social world may inform historical struggles for a more human world. This commitment can be called ‘Faustian’, after the title character of the poet J. W. von Goethe’s tragic epic of modernity,insofar as Marx and the classical sociologists hope to translate theory into practice while making a pact or wager with the diabolical social, political, and economic forces of the modern world.

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Table of contents (5 chapters)


"Marx’s Wager explores the interconnections between the various classical sociological thinkers by focusing on their relations (direct and indirect) to the work of Karl Marx. In the process we are offered fascinating new insights into Marx, together with new ways of looking at figures as various as Herbert Spencer, Auguste Comte, Harriet Martineau, Emile Durkheim, Georg Simmel, Max Weber, Thorstein Veblen, W.E.B. Du Bois, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Sigmund Freud. The result is an intellectual feast for sociologists." – John Bellamy Foster, Professor of Sociology, University of Oregon, author of The Return of Nature: Socialism and Ecology

“In Marx’s Wager, Thomas Kemple explores the dense and thorny bramble where the classic sociological tradition wrestled with Marx’s critique of political economy even as it tried to escape from his socialist conclusions. A book replete with keen observations and insights, this is also a profound meditation on what it means to really engage with the modern world, to study its forces and dynamics in the hope that one might, in some measure, transform it.”— William Clare Roberts, Associate Professor of Political Science, McGill University, author of Marx’s Inferno: The Political Theory of Marx’s Capital

“What a treasure of insight awaits readers who open this fine book!  With a light touch and a lapidary style, Thomas Kemple offers a master class in Marx's Capital, which he views through a double lens—on the one hand, the literary masterpieces from which Marx drew inspiration, and second, the classical sociology which drew inspiration from Marx and Capital.  Wearing his erudition lightly, Kemple weaves a tapestry in which Marx appears alongside Goethe, Dante, Durkheim, Weber, Simmel, and a cornucopia of others.  Subtleties of Marx's analysis are matched with corresponding subtleties in the works of his successors, and it becomes clear that, clichés to the contrary notwithstanding, all of the major classical sociologists contributed to the project he inaugurated—the effort to understand capital in the light of what Kemple calls Marx's "surplus-value theory of labour-power."  That effort, in the age of globalization, remains as relevant as ever, and Thomas Kemple is a sure-footed guide to the classical literatures that, I am convinced, remain central to our insight into this subject.”— David N. Smith, Professor of Sociology, University of Kansas, author of Marx’s Capital: An Illustrated Introduction

“This book takes its reader on a Faustian journey, with Marx's Capital—one of the most profound works in social theory ever written, yet largely underappreciated or misrepresented—at the center of its own wager. An exemplary work of interpretive sociology, the book animates encounters with some of the most influential early sociologists through brilliantly constructed juxtapositions and creative syntheses.The journey is as thrilling as it is thought provoking.” — Babak Amini, Visiting Research Fellow in Sociology at the London School of Economics, co-editor of the forthcoming Routledge Handbook of Marx's Capital: A Global History of Translation.

“Provides some very creative readings of Marx in relation to social theory for the twenty-first century.” — Kevin B. Anderson, Professor of Sociology, University of California at Santa Barbara, author of Marx at the Margins

Authors and Affiliations

  • Department of Sociology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

    Thomas Kemple

About the author

Thomas Kemple is Professor of Sociology at the University of British Columbia, Canada. His articles appear in Theory, Culture & Society, Journal of Classical Sociology, and Rethinking Marxism. He is the author of Reading Marx Writing: Melodrama, the Market, and the ‘Grundrisse’ (1995), Intellectual Work and the Spirit of Capitalism: Weber’s Calling (2014), and Simmel (2018). 

Bibliographic Information

  • Book Title: Marx’s Wager

  • Book Subtitle: Das Kapital and Classical Sociology

  • Authors: Thomas Kemple

  • Series Title: Marx, Engels, and Marxisms

  • DOI:

  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan Cham

  • eBook Packages: Social Sciences, Social Sciences (R0)

  • Copyright Information: The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2022

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-3-031-08064-7Published: 14 October 2022

  • eBook ISBN: 978-3-031-08065-4Published: 13 October 2022

  • Series ISSN: 2524-7123

  • Series E-ISSN: 2524-7131

  • Edition Number: 1

  • Number of Pages: XXIX, 162

  • Number of Illustrations: 9 b/w illustrations

  • Topics: Sociological Theory, Social Theory, Political Theory, Political Sociology

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