Axel van den Berg

Photo of Axel van den BergProfessor

Stephen Leacock Building, Room 712
855 Sherbrooke Street West
Montreal, Quebec, H3A 2T7

Tel.: 514-398-6846
Fax: 514-398-7276
E-Mail: axel [dot] vandenberg [at] mcgill [dot] ca (Axel van den Berg)
Office: Leacock 816

Research Areas

Economic sociology; welfare states and labour markets; the relation between sociology and economics; contemporary sociological theory



(PhD, McGill University, 1985)

Professor, at McGill since 1984. He has taught at the University of Alberta (1982-1984) and been visiting research fellow at the Swedish Institute for Social Research (1988-1990 and 1991-1992) and the Amsterdam School of Social Science Research (1997-1998), visiting professor at the Vienna Institute for Advanced Studies (2001), European Union Marie Curie Incoming International Fellow at SISWO/ Social Policy Research and the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies (AIAS) (2004-2005), Visiting Professor at the Centre de l’économie de la Sorbonne, Paris, (2009) and at the Department of Sociology of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (2012-2013).

Since the late 1980s Professor van den Berg has been involved in a series of collaborative research projects comparing labour market and social policies in Canada with those in the US and Europe. Most recently he co-directed two research projects with the late Professor Paul Bernard of the Université de Montréal, funded by the SSHRC and the Ministère du développement économique, de l’innovation et de l’exportation du Québec (MDEIE), associated with a large International Collaborative Research Project funded by the European Commission’s 7th Framework Program. These have produced a number of articles and a book, Combatting Poverty: Quebec’s Pursuit of a Distinctive Welfare State, written with a group of van den Berg’s and Bernard’s graduate students, published in 2017 by the University of Toronto Press.

Professor van den Berg’s recent work in sociological theory has dealt with the debates about the uses of rational choice theory in the social sciences, the uses and abuses of sociological grand theory and the relation between politics, values and social science. Together with Professor Hudson Meadwell (Political Science) he has edited Rationality and the Social Sciences (Transaction, 2004) and with Professor André Blais (Political Science, Université de Montréal) a special issue of Sociologie et sociétés entitled La théorie du choix rationnel contre les sciences sociales? Bilan des débats contemporains (Vol.XXXIV, No. 1, Spring 2002). He has published a couple of articles criticizing Michael Burawoy’s call for a (politicized) ‘public sociology’. In his chapter, “Is Sociological Theory Too Grand for Social Mechanisms?” in Social Mechanisms, edited by Peter Hedström and Richard Swedberg, van den Berg aligns himself theoretically with the emerging school of ‘analytical’ sociologists. His earlier book on the Marxist theory of the state, The Immanent Utopia: From Marxism on the State to the State of Marxism, was re-published in 2003, with a new Introduction (Transaction).

Together with Professors David Pariser (Concordia University) and Anna Kindler (University of British Columbia) Professor van den Berg has done SSHRC-funded research on the differences in the criteria of aesthetic judgment applied to amateur and professional art in different cultures. The results of their multi-country, multi-generational comparative research project strongly suggest one should be sceptical about the universalist pretentions of the ‘modernist’ aesthetic that is taken for granted and taught at Western institutions of art education.

Professor van den Berg continues to write on a range of topics in sociological theory, from debates about the value neutrality of (social) science to the implications of social constructionism for knowledge claims, to the ongoing confusions about the relation between ‘agency’ and ‘structure.’

Professor van den Berg is interested in supervising graduate work on topics in political economy, the welfare state, labour markets and industrial sociology, the sociology of the economy, and the problematic status of sociology as "science." He has worked with graduate students on wide range of topics, including the new Russian business class and liberal democracy; the movement to Canadianize sociology; physical attractiveness and earnings; the sociology of US Supreme Court decisions; implementation of the single-currency regime in the EU; press coverage of controversies about the environment; the 2008 financial crisis and bank bailouts; the sociology of road safety policy. Professor van den Berg teaches courses on contemporary sociological theory, sociology of the welfare state and economic sociology.


Selected Publications


Equality versus Liberty?  Radical and Reformist Theories of Capitalist Democracy. Amsterdam: Sociologisch Instituut van de Universiteit van Amsterdam, 1981.  

The Immanent Utopia: From Marxism on the State to the State of Marxism. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1988. Republished, with a new introduction, by Transaction Publishers, Brunswick, NJ, 2003.

The Sociology of Labour Markets: Efficiency, Equity, Security, Toronto: Prentice-Hall Canada, 1997. Axel van den Berg and Joseph Smucker, eds.

Labour market Regimes and Patterns of Flexibility: A Sweden-Canada Comparison, Lund: Arkiv. 1997. Axel van den Berg, Bengt Furåker and Leif Johansson.

La théorie du choix rationnel contre les sciences sociales? Bilan des débats contemporains , special theme issue of Sociologie et sociétés, Vol.XXXIV, No. 1, Spring 2002. Axel van den Berg and André Blais, eds.

The Social Sciences and Rationality: Promise, Limits and Problems, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2004. Axel van den Berg and Hudson Meadwell, eds.

Managing Social Risks through Transitional Labour Markets: towards an enriched European Employment Strategy, Erik de Gier and Axel van den Berg, Amsterdam: Het Spinhuis/Transaction Publishers, 2006.

Combatting Poverty: Quebec’s Pursuit of a Distinctive Welfare State, Axel van den Berg, Charles Plante, Hicham Raïq, Christine Proulx and Samuel Faustmann, University of Toronto Press, 2017.

Articles and Chapters

Articles and Chapters

“Critical Theory: Is There Still Hope?,” American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 86, No. 3, Nov. 1980, pp. 449-78. 

“Habermas and Modernity: A Critique of the Theory of Communicative Action”, Current Perspectives in Sociological Theory, Vol. 10, 1990, pp. 161-193.

“Creeping Embourgeoisement? Some Comments on the Marxist Discovery of the New Middle Class,” Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, Volume 12, 1993, pp. 295-328.

“Sweden: Still the Model?,” in Avi Gottlieb, Ephraim Yuchtman-Yaar, Burkhard Strümpel, eds., Socioeconomic Change and Individual Adaptation: Comparing East and West, Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 1994, pp. 159-192. Axel van den Berg and Ryszard Szulkin.

“External Flexibility in Sweden and Canada: A Three Industry Comparison,” Work, Employment and Society, Vol.9, No.4, 1995, pp. 689-718. Michael R. Smith, Anthony C. Masi, Axel van den Berg and Joseph Smucker.

“Whatever Happened to the Legitimation Crisis? Some Reflections on the Evolution of the Québec Welfare State,” Québec Studies, Vol. 19, 1995, (Fall-Winter), pp. 41-58.

“Liberalism Without Reason?,” Contemporary Sociology, Vol.25, No.1, January 1996, pp.19-25.

“Insecurity, Labour Relations, and Flexibility in Two Process Industries: A Canada/Sweden Comparison,” Canadian Journal of Sociology, Vol. 22 (1997): 31-64. Michael R. Smith, Anthony C. Masi, Axel van den Berg and Joseph Smucker.

“The Mind of the Beholder: Some Provisional Doubts About the U-Curved Aesthetic Development Thesis,” Studies in Art Education, Vol. 38, Issue 3, Spring 1997: 158-178. David Pariser and Axel van den Berg.

“Beholder Beware: A Reply to Jessica Davis,” Studies in Art Education, Vol. 38, Issue 3, Spring 1997: 186-191. David Pariser and Axel van den Berg.

“To Cut or Not to Cut: A Cross-National Comparison of Attitudes toward Wage Flexibility,” Work and Occupations, Vol. 25, No.1, February 1998: 49-73. Axel van den Berg, Anthony C. Masi, Michael R. Smith and Joseph Smucker.
Reprinted in Cornfield, Daniel B., Campbell, Karen E. and McCannon, Holly J., eds. 2001. Working in Restructured Workplaces: Challenges and New Directions for the Sociology of Work, Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Ch. 18 (pp. 349-366).

“Labour Deployment within Plants in Canada and Sweden: A Three-Industry Comparison,” Relations Industrielles/Industrial Relations, vol. 53, no.3, Summer 1998: 430-457. Joseph Smucker, Axel van den Berg, Anthony C. Masi and Michael R. Smith.

“Out of Habit: Notes Toward a General Theory of Deliberate Action,” Amsterdams Sociologisch Tijdschrift, Vol. 25, No.3, October 1998: 429-463.

“Is Sociological Theory Too Grand for Social Mechanisms?” in Peter Hedström and Richard Swedberg, eds., Social Mechanisms: An Analytical Approach to Social Theory, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998, pp. 204-237.

“Manufacturing Change: A Two-Country, Three-Industry Comparison,” Acta Sociologica, Vol. 43, No. 2 (June), 2000: 139-156. Axel van den Berg, Anthony C. Masi, Joseph Smucker and Michael Smith.

“Teaching Art Versus Teaching Taste: What Art Teachers Can Learn from Looking at a Cross-Cultural Evaluation of Children’s Art,” Poetics, 29, 2001, pp. 331-350. David Pariser and Axel van den Berg

“Visions of Eden: The Differential Effects of Skill on Adults’ Judgements of Children’s Drawings: Two Cross-Cultural Studies,” Anna Kindler, David Pariser, Axel van den Berg and Wan-Chen Liu, Canadian Review of Art Education, 28 (2), 2001, pp. 35-63.

“Can Security Enhance Efficiency? Testing a Little-Noted Assumption of the Rehn-Meidner Model,”Chapter 6 (pp. 101-116) in Henry Milner and Eskil Wadensjö, eds., Gösta Rehn, the Swedish Model and Labour Market Policies, International and National Perspectives, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2001.

“Aesthetic Modernism, the First Among Equals? A Look At Aesthetic Value Systems in Cross-cultural, Age and Visual Arts Educated and Non-visual Arts Educated Judging Cohorts,”Anna Kindler, David Pariser, Axel van den Berg, Wan-Chen Liu and Belidson Dias, The International Journal of Cultural Policy, Vol.8, No.2, 2002, pp. 135-152.

“A Cultural Perspective on Graphic Development: Aesthetic Assessment of Local and Foreign Drawings in Taiwan,” (in Chinese) Anna Kindler, Wan-Chen Liu, David Pariser and Axel van den Berg, Research in Arts Education, Vol. 5, May 2003, pp. 23-47.

“Blindfolded Visions: The Creeping Hegemony of Avant Garde Aesthetics,” Anna M. Kindler, David A. Pariser, Axel van den Berg, Wan Chen Liu and Belidson Dias, International Journal of the Humanities, Vol. 1, 2003, pp. 1541-1557.

“Politics versus Markets: A Note on the Uses of Double Standards,” Chapter 9 (pp. 139-152) in Raymond Breton and Jeffrey Reitz, eds., Globalization and Society: Processes of Differentiation Examined, Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003.

“Public Choice, the Public Sector and the Market: The Sound of One Hand Clapping?” Chapter 2 (pp. 13-25) in Pauline Dibben, Geoffrey Wood and Ian Roper, eds., Contesting Public Sector Reforms: Critical Perspectives; International Debates, Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2004.

“Responses to Down-Sizing under Different Adjustment Regimes: A Two-Country Comparison,” Chapter 9 (pp. 155-186) in Job Insecurity, Union Involvement and Union Activism, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005, Hans de Witte, ed., Axel van den Berg and Anthony C. Masi.

“Conflict Theories in Political Sociology,” Chapter 3 (pp. 72-95) in Thomas Janoski, Robert Alford, Alexander M. Hicks and Mildred A. Schwartz, eds. The Handbook of Political Sociology: States, Civil Societies and Globalization, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005, Axel van den Berg and Thomas Janoski. 

“Drawing and Aesthetic Judgments Across Cultures: Diverse Pathways to Graphic Development,” Ch. 13 (pp. 293-317) in Constance Milbrath and Hanns M. Trautner, eds., 2007, Children’s Understanding and Production of Pictures, Drawing, and Art: Theoretical and Empirical Approaches, Göttingen: Hogrefe & Huber Publishers, David Pariser, Anna Kindler and Axel van den Berg.

“Does Practice Make Perfect? Children’s and Adults’ Constructions of Graphic Merit and Development: A Cross-Cultural Study,” David A. Pariser, Anna Kindler, Axel van den Berg, Belidson Diaz and Wan Chen Liu Visual Arts Research, Vol. 33, Issue 65, 2007, pp. 96-114.

“From Unemployment to Employment Insurance: Towards Transitional Labour Markets in Canada?”, Ch. 12 (pp. 307-341) in Ruud Muffels, ed., 2008. Flexibility and Work Security in Europe: Labour Markets in Transition, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, Axel van den Berg, Claus-Henning von Restorff, Daniel Parent and Anthony C. Masi.

 “What Do Public Sociologists Do? A Critique of Burawoy,” Avi Goldberg and Axel van den Berg, Canadian Journal of Sociology/Cahiers canadiens de sociologie, Vol. 34, No. 3, 2009, pp. 765-802.

“Flexicurity: What Can We Learn from the Scandinavian Experience?”, European Journal of Social Security, Vol. 11, No. 3, September 2009, pp. 245-270.

 “Research in Transitional Labour Markets: Implications for the European Employment Strategy,” Ch. 3 (pp. 63-106) in Ralph Rogowski, ed., 2009. The European Social Model and Transitional Labour Markets: Law and Policy, Ashgate, Axel van den Berg and Erik de Gier.

“Adolescent Preferences and Drawing Performance,” David Pariser, Anna Kindler and Axel van den Berg, Actes du colloque sur la recherche en enseignement des arts visuels, Anne-Marie Émond, Alain Savoie, Francine Gagnon-Bourget and Pierre Gosselin, eds., 2010, pp. 69-80.

“Public Sociology, Professional Sociology and Democracy,” Ch. 2, pp. 53-73, in Ariane Hanemaayer and Christopher J. Schneider, eds., Public Sociology and Ethics: Premise, Profession, Pedagogy, 2014, Vancouver: UBC Press.

“Les familles, inégalement protégées par la redistribution”, Chapter 4 (pp. 79-90) in Miriam Fahmy and Alain Noël, eds., Miser sur l’égalité, 2014, Montreal: Fides, Axel van den Berg and Hicham Raïq.

“La lutte contre la pauvreté au Québec : Vers une social-démocratie nordique?,” Ch. 15 (pp. 337-354) in Stéphane Paquin and Pier-Luc Lévesque, eds., Social-démocratie 2.0 : Le Québec comparé aux pays scandinaves, 2014, Montreal : Presses de l’Université de Montréal, Hicham Raïq and Axel van den Berg.

“A Tale of Two Federalisms: Social Policy in Canada and the European Union,” Ch. 3 (pp. 103-132) in Arnaud Lechevalier and Jan Wielgohs, eds., Social Europe: A Dead End. What the Eurozone Crisis is Doing to Europe’s Social Dimension, 2015, Copenhagen, DJØF Forlag, Axel van den Berg and Jason Jensen.

“A Canadian Immigration Model for Europe? Labour Market Uncertainty and Migration Policy in Canada, Germany and Spain,” Comparative Social Research, Vol 32, pp. 81-106, 2016, Guglielmo Meardi, Antonio Martìn Artiles, and Axel van den Berg.


Courses Taught

Undergraduate Courses:
SOCI-304 Sociology of the Welfare State
SOCI 470 Topics in Economis Sociology

Graduate Seminar:
SOCI 652 Current Sociological Theory