A Detoxed Heterodox Praxis to Lead Authentic Diversification and Decolonisation of Economics

By Lynne Chester

The mission of D-Econ (Diversifying and Decolonising Economics) is to promote inclusivity within the content and institutions of the economics discipline due to the dominance of Eurocentric thinking. This situation has occurred because of the longstanding exclusion of alternate views — based on identity (gender, race, geography), and theoretical-methodological discrimination — from the teaching of economics in higher education institutions. Thus, D-Econ argues, the knowledge base and debate of issues to be relevant to the world’s majority needs to include non-white and non-male voices as well as heterodox approaches.

D-Econ’s mission is framed at countering mainstream (conventional) economics. I think this ambition needs to be bolder. It needs to extend beyond the mainstream to explicitly encompass the entire social science discipline of economics.

Why?

The mainstream is ‘guilty as charged’. I think many within our heterodox community can be similarly charged.

Many sites that determine ‘legitimate heterodox knowledge’ cannot be characterised as always displaying tolerance and respect for difference. Contributions to heterodox conferences, workshops, journals, teachings, and more, are marred — not just on the odd occasion — by one perspective asserted as the ‘truth’, or reluctance (sometimes even open hostility) for constructive dialogue about the contributions of alternative perspectives. These practices replicate orthodoxy’s ills.

Heterodox economic scholars also have an ethical and moral obligation — thus responsibility — to ‘diversify and decolonise’ their teaching, research, and other practices given our own experiences of marginalisation, exclusion, and disregard by the mainstream. To not do so is tantamount to condoning the discriminatory practices that have buttressed the mainstream’s hegemony.

Diversification and decolonisation will not be — but should be — innate to all members of the heterodox economics community. Deliberative actions are required that require more than — as needed with the mainstream — ‘changing the narrative’.

The praxis of many heterodox economists needs to change. By praxis, I mean the activity of human beings (in this case, heterodox economists) that directly shapes both aspects of social reality (in this case, the teaching of economics and its application to explaining social reality) and themselves as producers of knowledge.

Why?

Decolonialisation is not about rewriting or erasing history. Nor can it be achieved by academics and students completing an anti-slavery awareness training module. Decolonisation is also more than the revision of curriculum content, assessment tasks, and reading lists to include scholarly works by women and persons of colour.

Decolonisation requires collective critical critique of knowledge creation through an historical lens — by whom, where, why, and how — to illuminate the embedded colonial practices that are the foundations of existing gender, racial, ethnicity, disability, class, sexuality, geographic, and other divisions.

Decolonisation also requires the ‘practice’ of an ongoing reflexive process given the institutionalised nature, and reproduction, of inequalities in the higher education sector, the primary site of knowledge production.

Decolonisation should not be conflated with diversification. Diversification is more than moving beyond the dominance of white heterosexual Eurocentric male voices in the creation and dissemination of knowledge.

Diversification is also much more deliberative than job advertisements stating that ‘women and minorities are encouraged to apply’, much more than an institution providing training in ‘conscious bias’, and much more than special journal issues, editorial boards, conference panels and workshops including women, persons of colour, or scholars from the Global South. These actions are mere tokenism, as is the advocacy and not the overt practice of theoretical-methodological pluralism in knowledge production and pluralism in the topics investigated.

To achieve and maintain substantive and authentic diversification and decolonisation of economics, the praxis of all heterodox economists needs to embrace a conjunction of interrelated actions. A single action is inadequate for the task. Moreover, unending vigilance is required to embed the ‘gains’ so that these become conceived as ‘norms’.

There are, I contend, four key interrelated actions for heterodoxy to ‘detoxify’ and lead the way on diversifying and decolonising the social science discipline of economics.

One key action is transparency about one’s ‘positionality’.  I am referring to a scholar’s social ontology — her ‘world view’ of the nature, character, basic features, structures, and constituents of social reality — and her epistemological views (how knowledge is created by, for example, observation and induction or model building and deduction). Analytical constructs reflect a chosen research methodology which, in turn, reflects ontological and epistemological beliefs. These should be rendered explicit.

Why?

The purpose of social inquiry, and the practice of economics as a social science, should be to explain an ever-changing and increasingly complex social reality. The knowledge produced needs to accord with social reality to be relevant to the many and be able to address persistent issues and crises such as the climate emergency, inequality, and global pandemics. The analytical approach of the mainstream denotes reality as a closed system devoid of social, political, and historical contexts. Thus, issues are falsely framed, and the approach is the antithesis of the research task at hand. Positional transparency evokes openness about the ‘methodological position’ the researcher has taken to the problem under investigation and thus, appropriateness to explain social reality.

Positionality reflects a scholar’s gender, race, ethnicity, history, nationality, geographic location, political views and more. Thus, positional transparency is interrelated with a second action — acknowledgement of the social construction of knowledge, and the exclusionary role that language can play.

Knowledge is situated. Any knowledge created is inevitably framed by the lives and experiences of the knowledge producers (and reflected through their positionality). The language of mainstream scholarship presents it as ‘objective’ and ‘scientific’, and thus authoritative, not influenced by the positions and lives of its creators. This is inherently dishonest and should be always called out.

Explicit acknowledgment that knowledge creation is situated in lived experiences — and thus, are arguments/analyses — recognises that a plurality of explanations is possible. As Sheila Dow wrote 25 years ago, ‘no one knowledge system can capture totality because each is partial, reflecting a vision of reality’.  Visibility of the positioned nature of knowledge will mean greater integrity in scholarship.

Further, the rhetoric deployed by knowledge producers plays a significant role in silencing underrepresented voices, and the reproduction of insular communities. Rhetoric can act as a social control mechanism by dismissing the scholarship of others as ‘biased’ or ‘unscientific’. This should not only be revealed but heterodox economists should consciously seek not to replicate. This, in turn, means clear recognition that the English language actively creates, not just conveys, the message.

Acknowledgment of the social construction of knowledge and language use leads to a third action—a transformative approach to knowledge building and learning. With the inclusion of new information and different perspectives, frank, open conversations can expose the realities of marginalisation, discrimination, and power relations, and societal privilege (not necessarily intellectual superiority) resulting in the ubiquity of white, male, Eurocentric voices.  Knowledge creation and learning then become transformative processes of mutual critique and discovery.

Transparency about positionality, meaningful recognition of the social construction of knowledge and language, and transformative processes for knowledge production and learning are the foundations to enable achievement of a fourth critical action — a decolonised economic pedagogy.

As posited by Kvangraven and Kesar, a decolonised economic pedagogy is effectively structured around at least the following: the economy is consistently treated as embedded within the social sphere; explicit acknowledgement of the bias and values inherent to different perspectives, and the repression of some epistemologies by others; not relying on one perspective or approach nor advocating universality of explanation; exposing students to the Eurocentric underpinnings of different theoretical perspectives; the presentation of knowledge within its colonial and post-colonial contexts; exposing the spectrum of power inequalities within communities; and, taking a student-centred approach to pedagogy requiring teacher-student co-responsibility to create a common co-operative learning space and to create knowledge.

Ongoing attention and effort focused on these four interrelated actions as a conjunction — by all heterodox economists, not a few — will drive meaningful change to the practice and teaching of economics through authentic diversification and decolonisation. If not, the praxis of heterodoxy will remain as susceptible to charges of insularity, bias, and discrimination as the mainstream.

These comments extend those I made, earlier this year, as a participant in the URPE@ASSA panel Diversity in Heterodox Economics: Radical Solutions for an Old Problem organised by D-Econ, and the inaugural webinar of the Association of Heterodox Economics series Heterodox Economics Goes Global .


Lynne Chester is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Sydney.

Note: This post was originally published at the Progress in Political Economy (PPE) blog and is reproduced here with the permission of the author.

Image credit: Brooke Anderson

Decolonising Knowledge in the Medium of a Monolithic Language

by Farwa Sial

‘If we spoke a different language, we would perceive a somewhat different world.’

– Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Matters of form, usually viewed as ornament, are commonly in fact matters of argument.’

– McCloskey (1992:56).

This short article explores the construction of Economic Neologism in English and its global impact on shaping implicit and explicit policies in countries around the world. I focus on how economic neologisms in English language project an air of neutrality, but in fact have no basis in the socio-economic realities of developing countries. This is demonstrated through explaining 

a) the role of English as an organised system of thought,

b) the nature of academic English in economics and its influence on developing countries,

c) a recent example of the use of Value of Statistical Life (VSL) in Pakistan based on a misguided comparison with the US, and

d) the limitations of interpreting other languages in English. 

English as an Organised System of Thought

One of the great successes of empire, binding its economic and cultural usurpation of the colonies, was the proliferation of English as a global language and as the only ‘official’ language of the world.  The strength of this legacy has defied time; the diverse geographies, languages and cultures of India are more strongly overcome by the use of English today than by any local language, signifying how English, as the language of the colonial state, took precedence over the many languages of India.

Although the Francophone sphere has remained a well-preserved niche, this enclave is no match for the global stamp of English. Outside the colonies, English has very much overshadowed the regionalism of the European Union (EU). International organisations such as the UN, IMF and the World Bank continue to lean towards the ascendency of English, in spite of their charters of multiple languages. The rise of the Chinese language as a formidable opponent, is uncertain.

As the most dominant currency, English is not particular to race, but cuts across class and geography. Its exclusiveness is not so much in the basics of the spoken word but in the intricacies of how it fuels knowledge. People across countries can communicate on some basic level using minimal English, but the source of its inaccessibility lies in the dense articulation of the language as a specialised realm of knowledge production.  This is not straightforward, since many academics from developed countries do not use English as a first language; on the other hand, many in developing countries have learned it from their earliest years of education. Nonetheless, a distinction emerges in the use of English, not simply as a language of communication but as an organised system of thought. The empire’s proliferation of language reproduced a structure of socialisation, which streamlined a linear set of ideas as opposed to embracing diverse and alternative systems of thought.

The Russian linguist V.N Voloshinov, explored the origins of language as an inherently social phenomenon, and saw language as the most efficient medium of capturing the dynamics of material changes. He described the ‘word’ as ‘the most sensitive index of social changes’ (Voloshinov 1973:19). Importantly, for Voloshinov, the significance of words was not just limited to their representational role of capturing change but went beyond the symbolism, enabling a transformation, which added new dimensions and layers to a word’s original meaning.

‘‘[l]ooked at from the angle of our concerns, the essence of this problem comes down to how actual existence…determines the sign and how the sign reflects and refracts existence in its process of generation (ibid:19).

Voloshinov aimed to develop a theory of linkages between structure and agency in the framework of particular semantic frameworks. His emphasis here is on how signs are influenced; refracting the material and social existence of a phenomenon. The socialised impact of English, as an imperial language lies not simply in what it signifies but also in what forms its refractions take on. Patois and Pidgin English are some particular linguistic examples. Additionally, English has also been instrumental in exporting Anglo-American soft power to developing countries. This is visible especially in the formation and the role of media in developing countries (Suleria 2016). These derivative languages and effectively hollowed cultural influences are accompanied by the shaping of the global academic landscape, with English as the monopolistic medium for exploring knowledge. The consumption of the English language, precedes consumption, in any sphere of knowledge. In economics, the refractive role of English lies in how it shapes ideas and economic policies.

The Medium is the Message

As a conduit of pedagogy, the English language has a history of not simply conveying the message but actively creating it. Concepts like ‘western enlightenment’, ‘scientific rationality’ of the market and a consequent linear vision of growth, encompass a message of neutrality because the language embeds an exclusivity, canonising a singular system of thought. This canonisation is fuelled by ideologies, which seek homogenisation across geographies; the ‘Washington Consensus’ for instance was exported beyond Washington but never as a consensus. In addition, compared to other social sciences, economic concepts and neologisms, carry the potential of shaping the entire direction of scholarship. A brief look at any basic course in the history of economic thought verifies this.

The ascendency of neoclassical economics and its impact in transforming the entire discipline to become an imitation of natural sciences had a reductive impact on the scope of economics as a social science. For Mirowski (1993) the pursuit of projecting economics as a ‘science’, borrowing metaphors from physics and resorting to mathematical formalism is rooted in the Western tradition of economics. By imitating natural sciences and giving a central value to empiricism, neoclassical economics transforms how metaphors operate. This is evident in metaphors, which constitute the conceptual basis and pedagogy of economics using natural laws but ultimately bearing little resemblance to the social processes, which constitute an economy. Statistical rigour, and mathematical proofs thus often take a life of their own by validating a seemingly value-free concept.

If economics is considered as a repository of selectivity as well as of careful omissions (McCloskey 1992) the responsibility of exploring the structure of metanarrative behind the curated message is a constant struggle for those outside this thought system. Other languages are inserted in the English language as loan words, strictly tied to culture (such as the Chinese concept of Guanxi or the Japanese business philosophy Kaizen). Words also sneak into English through a shared history of colonial/imperial experiences.  However, ‘foreign languages’ have no power to determine economic methods or produce similar neologisms. Economic concepts in English on the other hand are canonised, refracted and socialised, as the most objective and rational ways of determining other concepts such as efficiency, growth and ultimately, ways of living life.  The usage of the Value of Statistical Life (VSL) in context to the COVID-19 pandemic and its internationalisation as a ‘global policy’ tool is of relevance here.

Interrogating the Universality of Economic Neologisms: The Value of Statistical Life (VSL)

The Value of a Statistical Life (VSL)  is normally used to monetise fatality risks in cost-benefit analyses and reflects the amount of money that a society is willing to pay for the reduction in the probability of the loss of a human life. This human life is generally, a statistical, hypothetical person on a population-average basis and refers to the hypothetical victim of a circumstance or of a policy or the lack thereof, and fully discounts class, ethnicity, nationality, religion or other characteristics that such a person may or may not have. It is designed as an objective, value-neutral concept to be applicable in contexts, where cost-benefit analysis would enable a synthesis or reach an objective resolution, to an empirical evaluation of saving lives. 

As a statistical measure of predicting fatality risks, VSL, like Ogden tables[1] etc. is a construct and subject to the broader operations of how an economy is structured. This method of assessing risks to human lives are ultimately a valuation exercise and the underlying ethical concerns are tied to how capitalist systems perceive value and public utility. This is important since the construction and adoption of VSL in the US has a complex history, rooted in its origins in the Cold War.

These considerations remain unexplored, especially in the internationalisation of the concept. For example, VSL for climate change, calibrated to different contexts of developing countries, is in widespread use. These calculations do not address the fact that climate change in developing countries has been primarily led by accumulative patterns initialised and deepened by developed countries, rooted in the history of colonialism. For those arguing for a long-standing case of climate reparations, such applications of VSL to developing countries would be akin to technical fixes which pay no attention to history. Tailoring the VSL to country-contexts also raises questions about the criteria of implementing VSL based on mitigating fatality risk. Although VSL had origins in the Cold War, it has not emerged as a basis for measuring the fatality risks of soldiers or casualties in recent conflicts, for instance in the ‘War on Terror’ in Afghanistan and the invasion in Iraq.  Needless to say, in situations which  are invariably related to the opportunity cost to human life, VSL is an objectionable measure.

However, the current Covid-19 pandemic has revived the appeal of using economic modelling based on VSL. In a recent paper, Barnett-Howell & Mobarak (2020) used VSL to advocate social distancing policies in some “developed” countries as opposed to others, in the developing world. Pakistan was one of those countries cited in the paper. The Government of Pakistan eased its lockdown on May 9, 2020, with the Planning Minister invoking this paper among other reasons to support the government’s policy stance. As a result of the ease of the lockdown, the infection count in Pakistan increased from 36,000 (April-May 2020) to 165,062 (June 2020).  A full account of the paper, its critique and the situation in Pakistan has already been covered succinctly by Khurram Hussain and also debated by academics and activists here (in Urdu language). Without repeating the details of their critique, I summarise the bases for the largely erroneous use of VSL in this case, as follows.

Barnet-Howell and Mobarak’s estimated country-specific costs of mortality and use of VSL is based on another paper by Viscusi and Masterman (2017). The latter employed an analysis of data from the US Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) to value VSL, “to avoid hypothetical bias.” Referring to low to upper-middle income countries as “economies” as opposed to upper income “countries” Viscusi & Masterman conclude from a base U.S. VSL of $9.6 million, that different countries value human life differently[2].  Following this paper, Barnet-Howell and Mobarak’s used this US VSL of $9.6 million, to then discuss essentially Covid-19 policy recommendations, employing the VSL figures suggested for different developing countries.

A first problem with this analysis is that this value does not in any way reflect the value that the US society places on a human life vis-à-vis the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead it is actually a representation of hypothetical costs to US policy makers and businesses, of making marginal improvements and mitigations to all those risks, be they in the workplace or by the quality of civic infrastructure and so on, which affect human life.  Aside from issues of monopoly pricing across the wider economy, the US has the most artificially inflated healthcare costs in the world. It would follow that VSL (if indeed a normal good as Barnett-Howell & Mobarak seem to be insinuating) would thus be equally over-valuated.

This situation is not true of other countries including emerging economies, in which different systems of goods and services pricings persist. Using this highly (and artificially) overvaluated US base VSL as a concrete foundation for “upper income countries” as the basis for an extrapolated comparison, is thus unjustified.  Alongside having amongst the highest global rates of infection and deaths, the United States also has one of the highest unemployment rates and attendant social unrest, as a result of the pandemic. The Covid-19 pandemic, if anything shows that life in the US has become exceedingly cheap, and indeed far cheaper than one would have imagined, merely a decade ago. This application of VSL in this manner, assumes that monopoly-pricing in the US, is somehow a base condition by which to measure the rest of the world. Such attempts at valuation only serve to insinuate a global marketplace for human lives, almost imperialistically conforming to the norms of the American market and economy.

Interpreting Methods

Methodological problems are often also problems of unchallenged ideas. Economic ideas, concepts and textbooks in English are translated and absorbed globally, in effect strengthening the canon as opposed to opening the space, for careful examination. Translations are not interpretations. Describing the third world literature’s feeble attempts at expanding text in other languages, Aijaz reminds us that a

 ‘mere aggregation of texts and individuals does not give rise to the construction of a counter-cannon… for the latter to arise there has to be the cement of a powerful ideology’ (Aijaz 1992:93).

Attempts at counter-ideology are made more complex, by the fact that knowledge production in English reproduces the erasure of knowledge production in other languages; many academics writing in English in fact lose formal writing and speaking skills, in their native languages.

For these reasons decolonising knowledge in economics is a complex process since it entails excavating alternatives, which demand a reimagination of possibilities and limits. Being truly multilingual would mean equal attention to all languages. Separating the objectivity of the language from its message and pluralising and empowering pedagogical practices in other languages is a start.


[1] The ‘Ogden’ tables help actuaries, lawyers and others calculate the lump sum compensation due in personal injury and fatal accident cases.

[2] According to their calculation’s lower income countries value human life at of $171,000, lower-middle income countries at $420,000 to $676,000, upper-middle income countries at $1.23 million to $2.09 million and finally the average upper income countries at $6.40 million. 


Knowledge, Power, and Economics: D-Econ Blog Launch

By Deepak Kumar, Carolina Alves, Aditi Dixit, and Surbhi Kesar

In a world marked by stark hierarchies, the constitution of knowledge is not immune to social contradictions. Varied axes of power relations among and across genders, classes, races, castes, and nations play a pivotal role in the making, remaking, and regulation of knowledge. Critical scholars from across the disciplinary and geographical spectrum have tried to understand how the social production of knowledge perpetuates inequitable power (see Stoddard, 2007).

This phenomenon is all the more critical in the field of economics where the disciplinary objective is the study of economic relations through which societies create and distribute wealth. The role of economics has not only been to passively identify and analyse these relations but also in actively moulding them. Given the significance of the economic in reproducing the social, it is important that economics as a discipline be conscious of the myriad ways in which these hierarchies influence the scope of its study, its frameworks, and methods of analyses.

Mainstream and the scientific method

While social reality is shaped by historical contingency and social conflict, mainstream economics is premised on eternal natural laws and harmony of social interests. The discipline relies on an approach that is largely limited to viewing social behaviour through the lens of methodological individualism and economic macrodynamics within the framework of equilibrium solutions of mathematical models (Hausman, 1992; Dow, 1997; Alves and Kvangraven, 2020). In this view, the ‘scientific’ progress of the discipline has been an incremental march, each ‘development’ leaving behind some inadequacy in theories past, towards a more proximate understanding of historically invariant laws.

Ideologues and adherents have rationalised this view of a ‘pure economics’ on grounds of a near exclusive claim among social sciences on the scientific method. They argue that it proffers on their disciplinary framework, and by extension its practice, a ‘value-neutrality’  – impartiality and overcoming of biases – that other approaches and social science disciplines purportedly lack (Robbins, 1932; Friedman, 1966). This is expressed in the branding of ‘economic sciences’ that gained common currency through the 20th century.

The belief and attachment to a unique ‘way’ to do economics has imbibed in it an inflexible hierarchy, with scholars located in positions of relative privilege having disproportionate influence in defining and regulating necessary bounds of knowledge and participation. This gatekeeping is evidenced in the tyranny of the top five journals (Heckman and Moktan, 2020), the prejudice against  ideas from outside the economics mainstream (Javdani and Chang, 2019), the exclusion of heterodox contributions from mainstream journals (Reardon, 2008), dominance of the US and Europe in the discipline (Das et al, 2013), and the largely white male social constitution of the profession (Bayer and Rouse, 2016; CSMGEP, 2020).

There are inherent limitations in searching for invariant laws of the social world in the image of the natural sciences. People’s behaviour is shaped by a confluence of social, economic, cultural, and legal factors; coevolving with their relation to the natural-physical world. The laws of motion of society are then far more contingent, diverse, and volatile than can be accommodated in the reductive estimation of science subscribed to by mainstream economists. The issue here is not one of whether some degree of abstraction is necessary (to which the answer is yes), but rather if such unrealistic assumptions and claims of universality, objectivity, and neutrality are necessary. 

Heterodoxy, diversification, and decolonisation

The discipline’s monolithic approach has limited the development of a pluralist intellectual edifice suited to study the reproductive mechanism of the economic system and the society in which it is embedded. It does this by delegitimising and relegating to the side-lines people and perspectives whose contribution to knowledge systems is at odds with and therefore poses a challenge to this ideological hegemony. 

This hegemony has from the outset birthed opposition from scholars and allies located on the punitive end of exploitative social relations. Contributions from feminists, people of colour, scholars from the underdeveloped world, and scholars writing from non-mainstream perspectives have not only advocated greater representation and diversity of perspectives in the discipline but also enriched its practice by overcoming scholarly limitations of its more orthodox persuasions. They have operated – at times only implicitly – within the mould of heterodoxy given its more organic treatment of power.

Take, for instance, issues surrounding gender. Feminist contributions alleviate the otherwise blindness of economics to gender (Ferber and Nelson, 1993). Their contributions supplant much of the traditional mainstream analysis based on rational-choice and utility-maximizing frameworks by gendered processes and embeddedness of individual action in social and economic structures (England, 1989; Ferber, 2003; Woolley, 1989).

In the same vein, economists working on the political economy of race emphasise mechanisms and practices that give rise to unequal opportunities and the explicit discrimination that racial minorities confront in the labour market. They centre the role of power, emphasise the social construction of race, and focus on social relations that condition these economic outcomes. This explicitly contests the mainstream frameworks that explain racial inequalities as mere outcomes of differences in productivity owing to differences in human capital, preference, market incompleteness, or informational asymmetries (Feiner and Roberts 1990; Darity et al, 2006; Cook & Kongcharoen, 2010). 

There have, likewise, been remarkable contributions from the peripheral economies of the world, examining how unequal global relations have affected economic outcomes for underdeveloped countries (Shie & Meer, 2010; Patnaik & Patnaik, 2016). A distinctive illustration is the sharp criticism of structural-adjustment policies (Ghosh, 1997, Chandrasekhar and Ghosh, 2002) expressly rationalised with the self-assured ‘value-free’ and ‘scientific’ claims of mainstream economists. Furthermore, several scholars from the South have critiqued the conception of economic development in the image of capitalist institutions of the Global North (Frank, 1967; Amin, 2009) and have articulated alternative ways of understanding the post-colonial development process (Sanyal, 2007).

These instances are illustrative of how a pluralist approach to economics has strengthened not only the representative element in the discipline but also its intellectual prowess in explaining the nature and dynamics of economic relations. 

Resolving the contradictions

An intellectual project that seeks to decolonise and diversify economics then necessarily progresses through a re-examination of the philosophical and methodological basis of mainstream economics and by questioning its disconcerting lack of representation in terms of both identity and alternate schools of thought. It is by design a radical project. It is not, however, without formidable opposition from entrenched interests in the discipline. 

Mainstream economic thought plays a fundamental role in reproducing and valorising structures of power both in its disciplinary practice and in the social world it seeks to investigate. In doing so, it in effect hinders the progress of the discipline and its potentially progressive, democratising welfare implications for the real world. The nature of contradictions arising in the contemporary world – intensifying social hierarchies, their reactionary political manifestations, and pressing ecological constraints – demand from the discipline breaking of these restrictive moulds that hinder their comprehension and their resolution. 

The D-Econ blog series is a collective initiative to bring together contributions from academics and activists who share the vision of decolonisation and diversification of economics. It is a positive project of enhancing scholarship that challenges the Global North-centric mainstream understanding and its universal and objective claim. It promotes a diverse community of scholars and pluralism of perspectives in order to emancipate the economic study of society from the restrictive clutches of privilege and power. It seeks to engage with a community of scholars employing a Global South-centric lens of analyses, located in marginalised social spaces, and discuss issues and concerns systematically overlooked in the discipline. In doing so it hopes to democratise participation and practice of the discipline, to better understand and overcome the intense social contradictions of the contemporary world.

The blog facilitates conversations that explore and emphasise how varied axes of power relations, such as gender, class, race, caste, colonialism, religion, and sexuality among others, affect participation in the academy, limit knowledge production, and contribute to its colonisation. Through this engagement, it seeks to enrich the economic study of society with a plurality of perspectives and methods rooted in objective realities of marginalised and oppressed communities.

The D-Econ Database: a response to the most common excuse

The Economics profession has long been too white, too male, too Western-centric, and too hostile to non-mainstream approaches. Today, a new tool – the D-Econ Database – is being launched to address this. 

“All the women were busy.” “There are no people of color working on this topic.” “It’s the male-dominated field that’s the problem, not this particular panel.” We needed big names and all the big names just happen to be white men based in the Global North.”

We’ve all heard these excuses many times over. Women, minorities, and scholars from the Global South are severely underrepresented in the field of Economics – and that makes putting together panels that do not simply reproduce the dominant identities in the field a challenge. The high concentration of a few dominant identities in the Economics field has rightly led to outrage against all-white and all-male panels .  

It is becoming increasingly accepted that this underrepresentation is not simply an issue of fewer women, minorities, and scholars from the Global South choosing not to be a part of the field. On the contrary, research shows that there are systemic biases that make it more difficult for economists who are not white, not male, and not based in the Global North, to be heard. An additional layer of discrimination has to do with approach. Indeed, Economics is “unique among the social sciences in having a single monolithic mainstream, which is either unaware of or actively hostile to alternative approaches” (King, 2013: 17). 

The structural exclusions in Economics

Discrimination based on identity has been thoroughly documented in the economics field. To name but a few examples of discrimination of women in economics: they face higher publishing standards than men, they are less likely to be given credit for their work when they co-author with men, and they are more likely to face a lengthy peer-review process, even while they will have a harder time getting tenure.  

The case of minority women exposes an even more alarming reality. 62% of African American women economists have reported some sort of harassment, discrimination and unfair or disrespectful treatment. Black women economists not only experience a discriminatory, sexist and hostile culture but are also cited less, paid less and are less successful in applying for promotions compared to their white peers. One can see similar patterns in the Global South, for example in Brazil where women are a small minority in the top ranks of academia or in South Africa where black women continue to be marginalised in academia.

The consequences of a narrow field

The lack of diversity in the field leads to a lack of attention to issues that specifically affect underrepresented groups, in everything from the theories and models employed to understand the world, to economic research, to public policy decisions. Economic theories, as other social theories, are affected by the context in which they are produced. Hence, theories produced in the Global North – that dominate economics textbooks globally – may not be particularly relevant for understanding global problems or economies with different institutional structures, for example, due to their colonial past or peripheral position in the global economy (see for example Chelwa 2016 or Jayadev 2018).

Marginalised groups are also more likely to bring in viewpoints that would otherwise be absent or undervalued. An example of this is that women were far more likely to recognise and engage with problems associated with excluding household work from GDP (see, for example, Nancy Folbre’s work and the Women’s Budget Group). Similarly, papers with at least one Black author are more likely to report a finding of racial discrimination than papers with no Black authors.

Moreover, diversity also tends to lead to better outcomes which can be beneficial for policy decisions. For example, gender and ethnically diverse groups tend to outperform homogeneous groups. Research has shown that creating diverse groups results in developing group intelligence because of the combination of different insights. 

Working towards a more diverse and decolonised economics is thus likely to stimulate new insights and debates in economics that monism might stifle. Decolonising economic theory, then, is not simply about providing historical context, but to acknowledge that theories from outside the Global North can provide fruitful starting points. 

In line with this, D-Econ has three interlinked goals to diversify and decolonise economics:

1. More equal representation in terms of identity,

2. More openness in terms of theoretical and methodological approach, and

3. Decolonising economics by tackling the historically produced Eurocentrism in our field and its claim to neutrality and universality.

Addressing the most common excuse

Today, Diversifying and Decolonising Economics (D-Econ) is launching the D-Econ Database to tackle exclusions in terms of both identity and approach. It is a database of non-mainstream scholars that are underrepresented in terms of gender, ethnicity and/or location. The aim of the database is to increase the visibility and opportunities of these scholars by addressing some of the most common excuses for the lack of diversity in the economics profession: lack of knowledge of non-white, non-male, or non-Western scholars in the field. 

The database already has over 100 entries and new scholars are being added every day. This is a communal project of co-creation driven by a grassroots movement – we rely on your help to add scholars. Are you wondering if you qualify as ‘underrepresented’? The infographic below can help you figure it out. Read more about the database here and submit an entry here.

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D-Econ’s 2021 Alternative Reading List, pt. 1

It’s time for D-Econ’s alternative reading list. We have picked 11 books that we believe are of particular importance to provide an alternative and richer understanding of the socioeconomic world we live in, that what the mainstream media provides. We include books that we hope not only present a wider selection of books in terms of who writes them, but also in terms of the topic and/or perspective. As you can see from the list, we consider economics to be about more than just money and finance, to also be about race, imperialism, and climate justice.  

Reflecting the ongoing conversation about structural racism, which became a global one after the murder of George Floyd last year, it is only fitting that we include reflections on how this time the resurgent Black Lives Matters movement is different. We situate this in a historical context by including an exploration of the histories of racial capitalism. Any discussion of structural racism is incomplete without a discussion of imperialism and colonialism, and therefore we cannot leave out new books that analyze how capitalism and imperialism have and continue to shape the world. 

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is not only a public health crisis that has exposed fissures in the global health system but is also creating related crises of rising private and public debt and homelessness in many countries. Therefore, we include books that looks at these related crises from a decolonial and feminist lens, which we find quite refreshing and insightful. 

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D-Econ Blog Editorial Statement

The D-Econ blog series is a collective initiative to bring together contributions from academics and activists who share the vision of decolonisation and diversification of economics. The blog seeks to facilitate conversations that explore and emphasize how varied axes of power relations, such as gender, class, race, caste, colonialism, religion, and sexuality among others, affect participation in the academy, limit knowledge production, and contribute to its colonisation. Through this engagement, it seeks to to enrich the economic study of society with a plurality of perspectives and methods rooted in objective realities of marginalised and oppressed communities. 

We are happy to receive contributions in the form of articles, opinions, and rich media content (photographic, and audio and video material). We welcome original contributions of up to 1500-2000 words and short commentaries and book reviews up to 1000 words.

Entries can be addressed to members of the editorial team at blog@d-econ.org.

Editorial team: 

Carolina Alves is an economist with an interest in international macro-finance, macroeconomic theory, Marxist economics and Latin America.

Aditi Dixit is a historian with an interest in social and economic history, development, and global histories of labour and capital.

Surbhi Kesar is an economist with an interest in political economy, development economics, applied microeconometrics, specifically informality, capitalist transition in labour surplus economies, and issues of growth and exclusion.

Deepak Kumar is an economist with an interest in political economy, development, philosophy, and social justice.

D-Econ @ Bristol Festival of Ideas (videos)

This month D-Econ Steering Group member Carolina Alves curated two very exciting panels on decolonising Economics at the Bristol Festival of Ideas. First up, there was the panel Why Diversifying and Decolonising Economics Matters to Everyone, which was a lively discussion featuring Keston Perry, Imran Rasul and Rhonda Vonshay Sharpe. The following panel, Decolonising Economics: What does it mean and how is it done? featured Fadekemi Abiru, Surbhi Kesar, Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven and Farwa Sia. Both of the sessions were chaired by Romesh Vaitilingam. You can view the recordings below.

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Diversify and Decolonise your Economics Reading List- Fall 2020

As the Summer draws to a close, we bring together our list of the best and most interesting books from the first half of this year. Most Economics reading lists that one typically sees from the usual sources are usually stocked with books written predominantly by white men, or those that focus on the US or Western Europe, or approach questions from a mainstream perspective. We include books that we hope not only present a wider selection of books in terms of who writes them, but also in terms of the topic and/or perspective. 

Typically we release our list in the Summer, but unfortunately this pandemic has delayed us on several fronts as well. Hopefully, our Pandemic Reading List kept you busy. And we hope that after six months of COVID-19 related lockdowns, your schedules have become more predictable so that you have some time to peruse some or all of these books. In this list we included books that re-examine digitalization of finance, mass consumption of chocolate, the role of corruption in development, the production of data, modern slavery, and neoliberalism. It reflects our belief that structural racism, sexism, and imperialism shape our lives, and any understanding of economic phenomenon is incomplete without an understanding of structural power. 

The Exclusionary Politics of Digital Financial Inclusion – Mobile Money, Gendered Walls

By Serena Natile

This is important interdisciplinary book ties together the political economy of digital financial inclusion with socio-legal, feminist, financial and political analysis in a very fruitful manner. It critically interrogates how Kenya’s pathbreaking mobile money platform M-Pesa has been built on narratives and institutional arrangements that present M-Pesa as a success, while it is premised on a logic of opportunity rather than distribution. Bringing in a feminist lens to the study of financial inclusion is particularly important and timely as it is becoming increasingly clear that such efforts have gendered implications. Natile also connects the case of M-Pesa to broader development debates about social entrepreneurship and philanthrocapitalism, which makes the book relevant for anyone interested in understanding social policy in development today. 

Planetary Mine – Territories of Extraction under Late Capitalism

Martín Arboleda

In this new book, Arboleda discusses several contemporary phenomenon like mechanization of mining, the emergence of Global Value Chains, especially in East Asia, and the use of state violence to weave an interesting and compelling story of extraction and exploitation of natural resources. However, this is not just a book about the political economy of research extraction in Chile in particular and Latin America, generally, but it uses resource extraction as an analytical entry point to theorize uneven geographical development. This is done in this book in the tradition of the World Systems approach, though it claims to break with the tradition of dependency theory and uneven exchange, especially insofar as Arboleda emphasizes that the processes outlined transcend national economies and are based on a global class antagonism. This book presents an understanding of imperialism as one of the forms in which global value relations assert themselves. Planetary Mines is a must-read for a fresh examination of the global inequality and the asymmetric relationships along the global production assembly line. 

Empire, Political Economy, and the Diffusion of Chocolate in the Atlantic World

Irene Fattacciu

This new book tells the story of how chocolate came to be the product that so many of us love today, while centering its colonial origins and its current structures of production that are dominated by US and European multinational corporations. Fattacciu brings us the uncomfortable truth of how production of chocolate has long been tainted with coerced and unethically sourced labour, by taking us on a journey of how cocoa became the first seed to cross the Atlantic from ex-Spanish colonies to Africa in an attempt by the Spanish colonizers to regain control over colonial trade, and journeying further to Western European consumers. She investigates the key moments of intersection between the various actors involved in chocolate’s successful trajectory over the years to explain the subsequent boom in chocolate consumption at the end of the 18th century. It gives us a great insight into colonial extraction, monopoly capitalism, and the democratization of a formerly exotic and luxury product.

China’s Gilded Age – The Paradox of Economic Boom and Vast Corruption

Yuen Yuen Ang

This book debunks one of the most popular and strong assumptions about economic development: that corruption hurts economic growth. Therefore, eradicating corruption in the government is generally thought of as a precondition of sustained economic development. However, the Chinese economy that has been one of the fastest growing economies in the past three decades is plagued with widespread corruption. Ang breaks down conventional wisdom about corruption and argues that not all corruption is the same, and that in all instances corruption does not hamper growth. Ang argues that corruption is a fundamental feature of capitalism, and some types of corruption that involves elite political actors and high monetary stakes and the allocation of valuable resources such as land and legislations can actually spur investment, and thereby economic development. However, corruption has other implications for resource allocation, systemic risks, and inequality. 

Tea War – A History of Capitalism in China and India

Andrew B. Liu

A persistent feature of some contemporary economic history is the fragmented study of nation-states as atomistic entities and the ontological premise of inherent, traditional features of societies as teleological explanations for their relative historical success or failure in economic modernisation. Andrew B. Liu in Tea Wars offers an important remedy. He explores the case of the British-Indian and Chinese tea industry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, focusing on competitive interdependent ties forged by trade and the historically contingent outcomes. The emergent production systems in India and China came to be based on intensive, unfree forms of çoolie and peasant labour that contributed to immense fortunes for the British and Chinese traders alike and were central to capitalist accumulation. This contrasts with the more euro-centric accounts that placed mechanised production and free labour within the West as the primary mode and site of capitalist accumulation; and the persistence of unfree labour in the South as a cause for its historical backwardness. Replete with interesting historical anecdotes, this book offers a lucid and original contribution to the debate on historical economic divergence and global history of capitalism.

From Here to Equality Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century 

William A. Darity Jr., A. Kirsten Mullen

The current juncture has exposed and magnified the several existing cracks in our social and economic system, particularly those along the lines of gender, race, caste, sexuality, religion. The Black Lives Movement that recently gained momentum is a representation of the discontent with the current unjust economic order. In this context, this book is a timely and powerful intervention that makes a case for economic reparations for the US descendants of slavery. The authors provide a detailed historical evaluation of inequality that is ‘born of slavery’, and examine the intergenerational impact of the racial hierarchy in the social and political sphere on the economic well-being of the black population in the US. They assign a monetary value to these historical injustices and make a compelling case for a reparation program for the US descendants of slavery.

Combating Modern Slavery: Why Labour Governance is Failing and What we can do about it

Genevieve LeBaron

This is an important book that explores the contradiction of multinational corporations, such as Coca Cola, Amazon, Apple and Unilever, positioning themselves as fighters of modern slavery. It goes beyond the study of exploitative labor relations on the ground to trace how they are legitimized through a complex governance network centered in the Global North, despite the involvement of anti-slavery networks and ethical certification schemes. Indeed, the book details how severe labor exploitation is legitimized precisely through futile attempts to implement ‘corporate social responsibility’. LeBaron also presents an alternative way of confronting modern slavery which addresses the prevalent business models head on to enforce the necessary labor standards.  

Nine lives of Neoliberalism

Edited by Philip Mirowski, Dieter Plehwe, and Quinn Slobodian

Given the criticality of the current economic and political juncture, this collection of articles on neoliberalism provides a rather timely intervention. The collection explores the heterogeneities and the various aspects that encompass the ‘neoliberal thought style’. It examines how the project of neoliberalism goes beyond the commonly (mis)understood reasoning of market fundamentalism and homoeconomicus, and encompasses various political, ideological, and other ‘extra-economic’ processes that create and sustain the neoliberal order. The volume, through an evaluation of these different processes, explores the complexity of this project and how it has evolved historically.

Decolonizing the University, Knowledge Systems and Disciplines in Africa

Edited by by Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni and Siphamandla Zondi

This is an exciting book edited by two giants in the field of decolonial studies,  Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni and Siphamandla Zondi. It is particularly timely as the questions of what it means to ‘decolonize’ science has started to emerge in mainstream debates. The editors provide an accessible introduction to what coloniality of knowledge means, how African universities have become Westernized, and ways in which it is possible for African universities to ‘de-link’ from Eurocentric knowledge systems. Through 13 diverse chapters, the book delves into the roles of power, epistemology, methodology and ideology in creating and reproducing these Westernized knowledge systems across disciplines. Crucially, as the book makes clear that coloniality of knowledge is in itself a technology for suppression of alternative discourses and new imagination, the editors argue for ‘epistemic disobedience’. 

Data Feminism

Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren F. Klein

While there is much debate around the biases that underpin theories and tools that we employ in social sciences, this book extends this discussion to lay bare the biases that plague data as well. Using an intersectional feminist lens, the book explores how power shapes the way data is collected, classified, and interpreted. The book focuses on two specific aspects: how the standard practices in data science tend to exacerbate the existing inequalities and benefit the privileged social groups, and how data itself can be used to challenge these hierarchies and inequalities. Recognizing the importance of data in shaping policies, the book recommends concrete ways in which these biases can be challenged. A timely, important, and powerful intervention to expose and reform one of the several biases that plague the process of knowledge production.

Making the Modern Slum: The Power of Capital in Colonial Bombay

Sheetal Chhabria

This book presents a novel approach to histories of colonial urbanisation and to the study of the cities of the Global South by historically tracing the making of the Bombay slums. It delineates the official discourse on city development which emerged and ossified during times of intense crisis – the recurrent famines and later the bubonic plague – that gripped the surrounding hinterlands and the city and in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Comprising seven chapters, the book sifts through detailed archival records to argue that these crises were the central moments around which the politics of inclusion and exclusion was shaped through a confluence of interests of the colonial administration and those of the local city elites. The project of city making in a colonial underdeveloped context thus became one of defining what the city was by defining what it wasn’t, thus placing the city itself above those who created it. These official classifications problematised and excluded not just a vast majority of the city’s working class but also categorised and excluded industrial, spatial, architectural features that were perceived as “not quite city like”. Through the process of official categorisations and classifications, inclusions and exclusions, the official project of city-making created its “internal other” – the Bombay slums. This, in turn, ensured a poorer working class and higher capital accumulation for the elites. This book is an interesting read for not just those interested specifically in the colonial history of  Bombay, but even those who want to understand the “deviant” development of the cities of the Global South.

This list was compiled for D-Econ by Aditi Dixit, Devika Dutt, Surbhi Kesar, and Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven

Tackling gender inequalities in academia post-Covid 19: A Statement

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Since many countries are now emerging from self-imposed lockdowns, the question arises how academic institutions deal with the unequal workload during the lockdowns. Female academics have faced a multitude of challenges in the past months: a sudden increase in housework or care (including in a single parent or both-parent family), a higher workload due to the move to online teaching and a rising demand on pastoral care, a burden which tends to fall on women academics, given that students are more likely to go to women with their pastoral issues. It may thus be unsurprising that research outputs by women clearly slowed down in contrast to men, who have been able to advance with their research, with paper submissions even increasing up to 50%. Whilst women have had less time to work, paid work opportunities are also diminishing, reflected in a significant decrease in contingent contracts often taken up by women in the faculty. At the same time, women’s visibility in COVID-19 related discussions in the media have been marginal compared to their male peers. This is particularly worrying for areas such as economics, which are crucial in designing policies to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.

However, this is not a new phenomenon but a reflection of the persistent sexism that permeates academic work and higher education. Not only are women generally underrepresented in leading positions in academia, but they also disproportionately face the double burden of paid and unpaid work. Women still conduct the majority of caring dutieswithout a sufficient support system in place which in turn translates into less research output in comparison to their male colleagues. Another factor relates to the invisibility of women. Women are quoted less in comparison to their male peers, and just one third of all academic research in the UK lists women as authors. Barriers in academia are even further intensified when being a woman of colour, who are more scrutinised, progress less, have higher workloads and lack institutional support. These adversarial impacts on women’s performances measured by the current research evaluation system exacerbate gender inequality in promotion rounds.

Ignoring the impact of the pandemic and its concomitant lockdowns on women means that gender inequality will continue to rise in a post-COVID-19 world, with men being promoted faster and women taking longer than during usual times. We support a collective approach to this issue, rather than shifting the burden to individual academics to find the solution. Higher education institutions, research associations, journal editorial boards and funding bodies have a responsibility to tackle gender inequality in academia on a continuous basis. We therefore suggest the following non-exhaustive action points: Continue reading

Decolonise your Pandemic Reading List

The article originally appeared on openDemocracy as a part of their `Decolonising the Economy’ series.

To understand the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19, it is necessary to draw on insights from a broad range of disciplines and geographies. To this end, D-Econ has put together a list of readings to help you decolonize your reading list about the pandemic. Included in this list you’ll find research based on the West African experience with Ebola, China’s experience with SARS and Zimbabwe’s experience with Cholera, which is all relevant for understanding the present crisis. Furthermore, we’ve included books that unpack the racial inequalities underpinning the American health system, how the World Trade Organization as well as international financial institutions impact and interact with domestic health institutions, and how pandemics historically have shaped all aspects of society. You’ll also find books that present a feminist lens on understanding economies and useful background reading for understanding the risk of new debt crises in Africa.

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