At the opening plenary for the annual Rethinking Economics for Africa festival, Professor Jayati Ghosh spoke of the importance of curriculum reform in economics, stressing the need to rethink the traditional divisions between sub-fields within mainstream economics. By now it is well understood that this schematic separation of studying individual behavior into the domain of microeconomics, aggregates within macroeconomics, and issues of underdeveloped economies in development economics, sits at odds with each other, and with the real working of economies.
This has serious implications for the teaching of economics, including both curriculum reform and pedagogy. In this post, we would like to provide fellow educators and students with a few concrete suggestions for resources that could be helpful to use in economics teaching that go beyond the conventional textbooks and curricula and also that go beyond the standard formats. In doing so, we are following the work of Sabelo Ndlovu Gatsheni in acknowledging the importance of “democratizing ‘knowledge’ from this current rendition in the singular into its plural known as ‘knowledges’” (p.18). As such, the resources below attempt to show that knowledges exist in a multiplicity of forms.
Each contributor has highlighted some resources (article, book chapter, video, blog, Twitter thread etc) they found to be particularly insightful when using this as teaching material, with a short explanation to contextualize its usefulness, especially how it allows for a teaching of economics through a more critical lens, and how it can be used to address a range of different themes within economics.
1. Bank Munoz C (2017) Building Power From Below: Chilean Workers take on Walmart. Ithaca and London. Cornell University Press.
This book is helpful in discussing the relationship between capital and labour within the aggregation level of the firm while combining insights from the aggregation level of the individual and state. It highlights how unions can build a strong countervailing power to exploitative mechanisms by revealing everyday practices and moving away from the focus on Western countries.
#Worker’sRights #Power #Exploitation
2. Nelson J A (2012) Gender and Risk-Taking: Economics, Evidence, and Why the Answer Matters. London: Routledge.
This book is particularly useful because it tackles a lot of different issues such as the built in assumptions when using statistics and the underlying stereotypical assumptions of business practices and policies. It is helpful for stimulating critical thinking when teaching economics and discussing gender inequalities within the aggregation level of the individual and the firm.
#EconomicAssumptions #CriticalThinking #GenderInequalities
3. Suwandi I (2019) Value Chains: The New Economic Imperialism. New York: Monthly Review Press.
Within the aggregation level of international institutions, this resource can be employed to explain how capital-labor relations are reflected on an international stage and what the impact of international treaties have on work practices. It highlights real-life examples of global value chains and the impact of multinational corporations on the dependency relationship between the Global North and Global South.
#Dependency #GlobalValueChains #Imperialism
4. I-peel.org website: The International Political Economy of the Everyday Life
This is an easily accessible source where students can follow up some of the concepts discussed during the modules and see everyday examples.
5. “A United Front Against the Debt.” A speech by Thomas Sankara, delivered at the Organisation of African Unity conference held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 1987
The urgency and passion with which Sankara delivers his speech demonstrates how the debt crisis of the 1980s was an issue of justice, and of life and death; and not simply an issue of economic mismanagement or adjustment.
#debtjustice #structualadjustment #sankara
6. Silvana Tenreyro 2021: speech on negative interest rates
This speech by Silvana Tenreyro from the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee is a great teaching resource on the functioning of modern banking systems and the role of monetary policy. It is very accessible and explains the core concepts and real life challenges better than most textbooks.
7. How to decolonise international development studies today? This twitter thread summarizes a speech by Olivia U. Rutazibwa. https://twitter.com/SussexDev/status/938818818213859328
This thought-provoking speech by @o_rutazibwa asks key questions that are pertinent for decolonising international development: When we seek to part with coloniality, but not with the desire and imperative of global solidarity and justice, what do we keep and what do we throw out?
This twitter thread is particularly useful to introduce undergraduate students to the work of Thandika Mkandawire. Making use of this as a teaching resource is great if you explicitly make students aware of the work of a very important African Economist, which can also be embedded within a broader conversation about knowledge production and dissemination, as well as which economists ideas are at the forefront of our curricula and which are not. This can make for a really robust discussion around power and more specifically around the forms in which knowledge is often shared with students. This is not to diminish the important work that exists in journal articles and books, but once again – explicitly discussing with students that knowledge can exist in many different forms (including Twitter threads), can be a useful starting point for critical engagement on what is seen as “acceptable” knowledge in economics.
#ThandikaMkandawire #TwitterThreads #KnowledgeDissemination
9. Güney Işıkara: Ecological breakdown: What are externalities external to?
Fantastic blog post that forces students to question the very logic of ‘externalities’ that is so prominent in discussions about environmental policies. The post also, very cleverly and clearly, demonstrates how the concept of externalities can itself be linked to ideology.
#environmentaleconomics #greengrowth #climatechange #externalities
10. Juliette Alenda-Demoutiez & Daniel Mügge (2019): The Lure of Ill-Fitting Unemployment Statistics: How South Africa’s Discouraged Work Seekers Disappeared From the Unemployment Rate, New Political Economy 25(4): 590-606.
This is an excellent article for the purposes of teaching students about the political economy of data. It illustrates how international macroeconomic data reporting standards (particularly using the Western industrial definitions for unemployment) should be questioned. It is also a great example of showing students how to use qualitative methods to provide nuanced analysis of, in this instance, why countries use international reporting standards for development indicators, even if they do not reflect local realities well. It makes use of 25 interviews with South African statisticians, business representatives, politicians, consultants and researchers.
#Unemployment #PoliticalEconomyOfData #SouthAfrica
11. Jemima Pierre (2020): The Racial Vernaculars of Development: A View from West Africa, American Anthropologist 122(1): 86-98.
This article is especially useful to push economics students to engage with other disciplines. This could help them to see the value of pluralism through the use of an interdisciplinary approach. Asking this question is likely one that most economics students would never have engaged with otherwise: “how do we understand the processes through which racial codes are embedded and naturalised in practices ranging from the management and bureaucracy of resources extraction to the power structure of the world system that places African sovereignty below Western nongovernmental organizations and corporations?”. It can be really useful to set this article along with a more mainstream economics article on economic development. Asking students to compare and contrast these two pieces of work, can help them to see how engaging with Pierre’s work provides a much richer understanding because one is blurring the boundaries of what economics students “should” be studying.
#Development #GlobalSouthGlobalNorth #RacialVernaculars #Race
12. Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni (2015): Decoloniality as the Future of Africa, History Compass 13(10): 485-496.
Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s article is a brilliant resource for economics students as it ensures the “backgrounding [of] the long term impact of colonialism as a constitutive part of Euro-North American-centric modernity as it challenges the notion of colonialism being considered a mere event/episode in African history”. This type of historical understanding can be really useful to use as an introductory resource in numerous economics courses to better contextualize the importance of decoloniality, which many students may not be familiar with.
#History #Colonialism #Imperialism #Decoloniality
13. DeRock 2019: Hidden in Plain Sight: Unpaid Household Services and the Politics of GDP Measurement, New Political Economy 26(2):1-16
This article discusses the limitations of the standard systems of national accounting from the point of view of unpaid care work. The author provides detailed empirical evidence on the value of unpaid care work in economic activity, as well as a critical overview of the different theoretical considerations of why and how national accounting systems should be improved.
#UnpaidCareWork #GDPCritique #NationalAccounting
14. Assa and Kvangraven 2021: Imputing Away the Ladder: Implications of Changes in GDP Measurement for Convergence Debates and the Political Economy of Development, New Political Economy 26(6): 985-1014.
This article provides a new understanding of the limitations of the national accounting systems that are globally adopted to measure economic activity. The authors’ analysis of how the standard national accounting systems reproduce global inequalities is thorough and accessible, further strengthening the criticisms of the GDP as a measure of economic well-being.
#Wellbeing #PoliticalEconomy #GDPCritique
15. Johnston and Land-Kazlauskas 2019: Organizing on-demand: Representation,voice, and collective bargaining in the gig economy. Conditions of Work and Employment Series (94). Geneva: ILO.
This ILO working paper discusses a timely topic of workers rights in the gig economy. It gives an in-depth overview of the theories and empirical evidence of different forms of collective organising, and a critical analysis of how the emerging new forms of employment impact on workers’ and the economy’s well-being.
#WorkersRights #GigEconomy #Employment
16. Green New Deal Group Report 2019: Joined-up policies to solve the triple crunch of the credit crisis, climate change and high oil prices
This is a very timely report from the Green New Deal Group Report based at the New Economics Foundation. How they link key challenges facing many economies (inequality, environmental degradation and climate change) to macroeconomic policy and systemic factors related to e.g. financial systems is particularly helpful.
#Environment #Ecological #Inequality
17. The Rate of Exploitation (The Case of the iPhone)
This pamphlet produced by Tricontinental is very helpful for both explaining Marx’s concept of labor exploitation and also for showing how it can be applied to the production of the iPhone specifically. It is great to demonstrate how theory can help inform the categories that we employ and how we understand a ‘real’ issue related to global production.
This list is not intended to be a comprehensive or exhaustive list, but we hope it will be a potentially useful starting point for lecturers and/or students, to discuss more critical resources than are commonly part of an economics curricula.
These 17 suggestions have been used in teaching by Ariane Agunsoye, Michelle Meixieira Groenewald, Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven and Hanna Szymborska.