Joas is a Permanent Fellow at the University of Freiburg in Germany and Professor of Sociology and a Member of the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. He was the Director of the Max Weber Center for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies at the University of Erfurt from 2002-2011. He served as the Vice-President of the International Sociological Association from 2006-2010. Joas has taught at many institutions, most recently in Berlin, and has published several books on social theory, most notably The Creativity of Action.
Joas' work has focused primarily on reconstructing the tradition of American pragmatism, defending its philosophical interest and explicating its significance for social theory.
For Joas, pragmatism offers a novel solution to the problem of value, bridging between the normative concerns of philosophy and the sociological investigation of norms. Starting from an early study of George Herbert Mead (G.H. Mead: A Contemporary Re-examination of His Thought, 1983), Joas has gone on to explore the European reception of pragmatism in Pragmatism and Social Theory (1993) and to reconstruct the sociological theory of action based on the pragmatist conception of creativity (The Creativity of Action, 1996). A wide-ranging examination of ideas about The Genesis of Values (2000) draws heavily on William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience.