Emancipatory National Accounting: The Nigerian Case 

by Maria Bach[1]


The Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which forms part of a country’s national accounts, is the most dominantly used measure to gauge the health of an economy.  However, the history of national accounting, and its effects on our economies, have been informed by the experiences of the Global North, with academic attention limited to the form of national accounting developed in North America in the 1930s and 40s (Vanoli, 2005; Hirschman, 2016), despite a longer and more diverse history.

I aim to break new ground in the history of national accounting by examining understudied regions with diverse histories and contexts distinct from the Global North. Studying such instances from the Global South offers further insight into measurement methods, how they reflect and shape our reality, and the issue of what’s worth counting is not ahistorical or apolitical. While there is growing literature exploring links between accounting and imperial processes,[2] there is much less on how economists from the Global South accounted their own economies. In this blog post, I present some initial findings from the national accounts of Nigeria published in 1962 by a Nigerian economist, Pius Okigbo.

Pius Okigbo, the economic advisor

Born in 1924 under British rule in Nigeria, Okigbo pursued degrees in economics with the aim of contributing to the betterment of the African subcontinent. After attending elite schools in Nigeria, he became the first African to receive an MA and PhD in Economics from Northwestern University, followed by a post-doctorate at Oxford University. Upon returning to Nigeria, Okigbo served as the economic advisor to the Prime Minister in the newly-formed Federal Government of Nigeria. In 1962, just two years after Nigeria’s independence, he published his Nigerian National Accounts. According to him, new estimates were necessary as the previous estimates made by Europeans were inadequate (Okigbo, 1962, p. 285).

Okigbo opposed both imperialist regimes and the “development regimes” advocated by institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank after the formal end of colonialism. He argued that the unbalanced agricultural and industrial development in imperial territories in West Africa could be traced back to imperialist factors, such as the slave-trade, the forced introduction of a monetary system, and the raw material interests of foreign monopolies. He criticised the strong focus on food programmes in these development schemes, which, according to him, merely propped up food production rather than spur investment in manufacturing programs and agricultural inputs. Instead, Okigbo called for policies that would enhance domestic production and managerial skills (Okigbo, 1957).

In this way, Okigbo’s National Accounts contributed to a debate on national accounting that otherwise conformed to standardised practice set in the context and experiences of the Global North. The national accounting framework developed in the US in the 1930s quickly spread worldwide (Bos, 2006). But even so, by the end of the colonial period in the 1940s, officials and intellectuals began questioning whether international national accounting standards could apply to the Global South. Indeed, Simon Kuznet and Richard Stone – credited with development of the National Accounting System – doubted that their method, conceptualised for the “advanced” economies, would apply universally (Morgan, 2009, p. 10). Okigbo’s contributions showed how national income accounting could be adapted to the Nigerian context, without the need for expertise from the Global North.

How and what was counted

In the 1960s, Okigbo[3] conducted surveys and collected data to estimate Nigeria’s GDP for the years from 1950 to 1957. He estimated national income using both the production and expenditure approach. From the production side, he included agriculture, livestock, fishing, forest products, mining and oil exploration, manufacturing and public utilities, communications, building and civil engineering, ownership of buildings, transport, crafts, missions, government, marketing boards, banking, insurance and the professions, domestic services, miscellaneous services, land development and distribution, residual error, etc. In the expenditure estimate, he included consumer expenditure, government expenditure on goods and services, gross fixed investment in Nigeria, increase in marketing boards’ stocks, net exports of goods and services, and net income from abroad (Okigbo, 1962, pp. 289–291).

Okigbo felt the need to recalculate the Nigeria national account and build a time series, because earlier estimates were problematic. The major problem, according to Okigbo, with the earlier estimates was the treatment of the non-monetary or intra-household activities. Okigbo particularly challenged A.R. Prest’s and I.G. Stewart’s estimate, who has been  appointed by the colonial office in 1950 to produce a national account for Nigeria. They thought it important to include figures for what they referred to as ‘intra-household activity’ (Okigbo, 1962, p. 294). They must, wrote Prest and Stewart, “try to discover the most appropriate forms for a West African economy emerging from primitive forms of economic life” (Prest and Stewart, 1953, p. 6). Nigeria’s national account then, as a “primitive economy,” should include “the output of drummers, beggars, praisers and housewives and […] prostitutes” (Okigbo, 1962, p. 294). Okigbo disagreed and excluded these figures from his estimate, “to keep subjective estimates and imputations to a minimum” (Okigbo, 1962, p. 294).

Prest and Stewart had also included transfer payments, such as “purchase of old houses and gifts to beggars,” which were generally excluded from national accounts (Prest and Stewart, 1953; Okigbo, 1962, p. 296). They suggested these payments were a social necessity and therefore should be included in the national account. Okigbo’s argued that “the so-called ‘social necessity’ [was] no stronger and no more necessary in Nigeria than elsewhere and that the Nigerian economy did not offer any special reason either in 1950 or 1960 for the position taken by Prest” (Okigbo, 1962, p. 296). Okigbo also disagreed with Prest and Stewart’s definition of capital goods. Prest and Stewart included bikes and personal cars in their capital figure, which Okigbo argued could be defined as durable consumer goods – and often were in “more mature economies” (Okigbo, 1962, p. 297).[4] Okigbo felt the need to harmonise the method to facilitate comparisons between Nigeria and other countries.

Okigbo also critiqued Prest and Stewart’s method of estimating agricultural prices. As an example of Prest and Stewart’s conceptual limitations, Okigbo specified that they had treated “all firewood as part of the gross domestic product” (Okigbo, 1962, p. 296) even though it was simply collected, not bought, in rural areas. He therefore treated rural firewood as a free good, while only counting urban consumption of firewood.

Similar to a contemporary economist, P.T. Bauer, Okigbo argued that the Nigerian national account needed to include peasant investment, which was missing from earlier estimates of the Nigerian economy (Bauer, 1955; Okigbo, 1962, p. 303). By neglecting the investments in “the establishment, extension, and improvement of agricultural holdings, whether for subsistence or cash crops,” he wrote, the earlier national accounts “neglect[ed] all capital formation in the nonmonetary sector” (Bauer, 1955, p. 410). As this sector made up a large proportion of the Nigerian economy, the figures were misleading. Okigbo thus included what he labeled “peasant investment” (Okigbo, 1962, p. 303), which “[took] the form of new seedlings, clearing and preparing new land, purchase of new farm implements, and inventory accumulation” (Okigbo, 1962, p. 303). In contrast to Okigbo’s argument against including beggars and housewives etc., Okigbo argued for including the peasant’s investments in these assets, because they yielded income.

My case study exposes the specific socio-economic and political context within which this measurement took place. We show how counting necessarily happened on the local level, making the figures produced specific to a country’s context. At the same, however, we find that it also happened on the international level. By bringing Okigbo’s estimate into the global discussion around national accounting standards, we challenge the tendency to continuously emphasise how specific and different the Global South realities are from the Global North.

Shifting the focus to economists from the Global South, rather than their colonisers, offers room to new perspectives on what national accounting did for the Global South and what was worth accounting for. Studies that examine the imperial practises of counting their foreign territories have uncovered how national accounting was yet another tool to govern, control and suppress the populations of the Global South. My study shows the contrary: economists from the Global South used national accounting as an emancipatory tool. Okigbo wanted to count the Nigerian economy the way he saw fit, not the way the British had done before. Nigeria could, argued Okigbo, become its own nation on the world stage with a comparable GDP figure. 


Bauer, P.T. (1955) ‘The Economic Development of Nigeria’, Journal of Political Economy, 63(5), pp. 398–411.

Bos, F. (2006) ‘A History of National Accounting’, The Economic History Review, 59(4), pp. 872–873.

Davie, S. (2007) ‘A colonial “social experiment”: Accounting and a communal system in British-ruled Fiji’, Accounting Forum, 31(3), pp. 255–276.

Davie, S.S. and McLean, T. (2017) ‘Accounting, cultural hybridisation and colonial globalisation: a case of British civilising mission in Fiji’, Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 30(4), pp. 932–954.

Deane, P. (1953) Colonial Social Accounting. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hirschman, D.A. (2016) Inventing the Economy Or: How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the GDP. University of Michigan, Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies.

Kalpagam, U. (2014) Rule by Numbers: Governmentality in Colonial India. Lexington Books.

Morgan, M.S. (2009) Seeking Parts, Looking for Wholes, History of Observation in Economics Working Paper Series. Available at: https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1496882.

Neu, D. and Graham, C. (2006) ‘The birth of a nation: Accounting and Canada’s first nations, 1860-1900’, Accounting, Organizations and Society, 31(1), pp. 47–76. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aos.2004.10.002.

Okigbo, P. (1957) ‘Factors in West African Economic History’, Journal of World History/Cahiers d’histoire mondiale, 4(1), pp. 218–230.

Okigbo, P. (1962) ‘Nigerian National Accounts, 1950-7’, The review of income and wealth, (1), pp. 285–306.

O’Regan, P. (2010) ‘“A dense mass of petty accountability”: Accounting in the service of cultural imperialism during the Irish Famine, 1846-1847’, Accounting, Organizations and Society, 35(4), pp. 416–430.

Prest, A.R. and Stewart, I.G. (1953) The National Income of Nigeria 1950-51, Colonial Research Studies. London: H.M. Stationary Office for the Colonial Office. Available at: https://doi.org/10.2307/2227907.

Vanoli, A. (2005) A History of National Accounting. Amsterdam: IOS Press.

[1] Maria Bach is a postdoc at the Walras-Pareto Centre at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. This blog post is part of an ongoing project to examine instances of national accounting in the Global South. Wilhelm Aminoff also contributed to understanding this Nigerian case.

[2] See e.g., (Neu and Graham, 2006; Davie, 2007; O’Regan, 2010; Kalpagam, 2014; Davie and McLean, 2017)

[3] Along with E. F. Jackson, although the estimate was finally published by the government in 1962 under only Okigbo’s name.

[4] Okigbo was likely referring to the internationally agreed standard to compile measures of economic activity, first published in 1947 under the leadership of Stone at the United Nations Statistical Commission. A report based on this standard and published in 1960 , where “transport equipment” under capital formation “include[d] ships, motor cars, trucks and commercial vehicles, aircrafts, tractors for road haulage, vehicles used for public transport systems, railway and tramway rolling stock, carts and wagons” (UN, 1960, p. 29), excluded bikes and personal cars.

The Role of Students in Decolonising the Economics Curriculum

by João Pedro Braga, Kristin Dilani, and Carles Paré Ogg[1]

The Black Lives Matter movement has inspired vigorous debate on the forms and legacies of colonialism in today’s world. Within the economics discipline, it has motivated an examination of inadequacies in understanding structural inequalities, and as a result, how they are reproduced. It is therefore important that we, as economists and citizens, take an active role in decolonising economics. But what does it mean to decolonise economics? How can students take part in this process?

Many may know the meaning of and understand the need for decolonisation, but are less clear on how to practise it. After all, the language and concepts around decolonisation are often inaccessible to students at first. However, this task is as necessary as it is challenging. As part of the Diversify and Decolonise (DnD) Action circle of Rethinking Economics, we debated these questions and posed them in more accessible terms to students across the network in an Introductory Workshop on Diversifying and Decolonising Economics.

In this blog post, we briefly explain our understanding of the need to decolonise economics by reclaiming its political economy roots via active student participation. We argue that, as young people conscious of the flaws of the mainstream paradigm, students play a pivotal role in this project through campaigning for decolonisation of the curriculum. This post presents some suggested actions to help Rethinkers campaign for the decolonisation of curricula. In addition, we present a non-exhaustive list of resources to help their exploration of the decolonisation of knowledge.[2]

What does it mean to ‘decolonise the mindset’?

Decolonisation can be understood as a mindset in which the categories of race, gender, power, and privilege are held to be of historical importance to the object of analysis. They form the foundation from which we ask questions. This definition, arrived at after multiple open-ended discussions with students in our action group’s workshop, implies an understanding that:

  • The modern world was built on the exploitation and enslavement of African, Asian, and American peoples.
  • Colonialism not only coincided with the development of capitalism but it is also foundational to capitalist economic thought and development.
  • To successfully exploit these peoples, colonial states developed purportedly scientific concepts of racial superiority as justification.
  • The colonial legacy affects knowledge creation by disregarding the role of power and rendering invisible the lives and voices of the global majority who are not European or of European descent.
  • A decolonising mindset rejects the structural silencing of non-European voices and seeks to redress it by reframing issues around the experiences of invisibilised people.

Seen from this perspective, the decolonising mindset is important for everyone. Every life has been affected by colonialism, racism, and their intersecting structures, whether as an oppressed majority in the Global South or as beneficiaries of continuing privilege of colonial legacy in the Global North. Indeed, those benefiting from these privileges are often particularly blind to these systemic injustices. The manifestations of privileges in the discipline perpetuate a mindset that hinders critical perspectives, reinforces power imbalances, and undermines the urgent need for decolonization.

A decolonising mindset, however, entails both acknowledging these privileges, but also actively working against such inequalities and inequities. In other words, the decolonising mindset rejects the silencing of non-European voices, rejects racist structures, and seeks to redress this historical imbalance by reframing issues around the experiences of people who have been marginalised.

How to do this in practice? By decolonising the curriculum!

As argued, the decolonisation of economicsimplies a change in perspective towards power and knowledge structures. A decolonised curriculum can act as a catalyst to spur debate and discussion that contributes to this change in perspective. It is therefore important to ask what a decolonised curriculum would look like. In our understanding, it would:

  • acknowledge power as a central element of economics, recognising its manifestations in racism, sexism, and every form of discrimination,
  • treat equally African, Asian, American, and European philosophy, methods, lived experiences, readings, and writings in the curriculum,
  • take a critical, pluralist, and real-world approach to development, including the perspectives of marginalised people on the economy,
  • incentivise students to be self-reflective and ask questions about what they are taught, and actively engage and consult them in the education process.

It is important to emphasise that decolonising is a constant process. Every improvement in curricula, institutions, and approaches to our subject of study will open new challenges and further possibilities. A decolonised curriculum will help in institutionalising this self-reflective pursuit of changing the mindset and of systemic change to create a more equitable society.

What is the role of students in the decolonisation of economics?

In this blog post, we have briefly reviewed the ideas and practice of decolonising economics and emphasised the space for ambitious campaigns around this project. A resource-list at the end of this post offers material for a more thorough understanding of the issues at hand. But how do we encourage this change in the curriculum from within the classroom? How can this understanding be put into practice by students? Here, we offer a few suggestions on what can be done by students.

  • Curriculum research:
    • Investigate an economic issue which is pressing to your national context through a decolonising lens. How to address it?
    • Write a short paper by centering non-Western, marginalised scholars. What writers will you discover when you go off the path?
  • Building networks:
    • Create alternative reading lists. When you’ve got a few books and articles down, why not start a book club?
    • Diversify your local group events by inviting researchers from underrepresented backgrounds via the D-Econ Database
  • Ask questions:
    • Do you feel represented by the type of economics you learn?What do you understand by decolonisation in your context?How can my local group include decolonisation in their events?
    • How can I challenge my curriculum to be more diverse?
  • Act!:
    • Ask lecturers to include curricula that draw upon materials and ideas by non-Western scholars and educators from the Global South,Press lecturers to interdisciplinary engagement with knowledge systems used around the world to make their curricula less Eurocentric,
    • Ask for a dedicated of the semester to projects investigating what they think is key to learn in an ever-changing world, especially if this can be done through a decolonial mindset.

Most importantly, share your thoughts and questions! This way we can learn from one another and build momentum for the campaign. Over the coming months, Rethinking Economics will be arranging calls to bring together members of our network to engage in a campaign around the need to #DecolonizeTheCurriculum. Stay tuned, and if you would like to collaborate with the RE network on this topic, then email for more information.


The following resources were collected when writing this piece, during previous collective web searches for other projects, and for our individual reading. They range from the general issues of decolonisation to more specific topic-based ones. The resources selected here are highly coloured by what we found accessible as well as what was materially accessible to us, as we only recently have embarked on this journey. It can be seen as a tentative list, a proposal, which has the aim to somewhat guide first readers who don’t know where to start, especially students. However, it is not an exhaustive list or a finished menu and does not pretend to cover all topics and discussions in the field. We hope it sparks interest of the reader and motivates them to continue discovering the ever-blooming field of decolonisation.



Teaching tool-kits:



  • Rethinking Economics – Learning to unlearn to relearn: Using decolonial scholarship to challenge your economics curriculum w/ Michelle Groenewald
  • URPE – Decolonizing Economics: A Guide to Theory and Practice
  • Plurale Ökonomik – Decolonizing Economics: Perspectives of young African economists w/ Michelle Groenewald, Bandile Ngidi, and Abel Gaiya
  • Plurale Ökonomik – Decolonising Economics in Practice in cooperation with D-Econ w/ Danielle Guizzo, Surbhi Kesar, Devika Dutt, and Amir Lebdiou
  • Rethinking Economics India – Decolonising Economics w/ Priyamvada Gopal, Carolina Cristina Alves, and Carol Anne Hilton
  • The Sociological Review – Decolonising Methodologies, 20 Years On w/ Linda Tuhiwai Smith
  • Pluto Press – A Decolonial Feminism w/ Françoise Vergès and Lola Olufemi

[1] The authors are members of Rethinking Economics International and co-construct its Diversify and Decolonise (DnD) Action circle.

[2] It is also important to say that this blog post is not an end-all guideline of decolonisation, so if you think there’s something missing here, join us in conversation by email!

D-Econ’s Seasonal Alternative Reading List – 2023, pt. 1

As we are halfway through 2023 and many people across the world are heading off on holiday – or simply looking for new inspirations for readings – we are publishing our top choice of books from the first half of 2023 that you may have missed because of the identity of the author, or their geographical location, or because the topic is not typically considered interesting to those interested in reading about the economy. We include 11 books that cover a range of topics that we think provide a richer understanding of socioeconomic phenomena and are therefore crucial to understanding economics and the world.

We hope you find some time to read these brilliant books. If you’d like to read more, you can find our previous reading lists here. If you enjoy our reading lists, please let us know by emailing us at info@d-econ.org, and please feel free to send us suggestions of books we should read and include in our next reading list!

South-North Dialogues on Democracy, Development and Sustainability

By Cristina Fróes de Borja Reis, Tatiana Berringer (editors)

This book is highly innovative in its approach, as each chapter is written in the form of a dialogue between one scholar from a Brazilian institution and one scholar based either elsewhere in the Global South or in the Global North. These ‘South-North dialogues’ cover many contemporary debates, all with the aim of shedding light on how best to understand and combat global economic, political, and social inequalities. One of the key aims of the book is to move beyond Eurocentrism and to bring theorisation and thinking from the Global South to the forefront of economic and political thought. It does so by bringing in a range of heterodox economic thinkers and putting them in conversation with each other about themes such as democracy, sustainability, geopolitics, urban development, decoloniality, dependency, (de)industrialization, food systems, and racism. Buy the book here.

Zimbos Never Die? Negotiating Survival in a Challenged Economy, 1990s to 2015 

By Ushehwedu Kufakurinani, Eric Kushinga Makombe, Nathaniel Chimhete, and Pius Nyambara (editors)

Economic and financial crises in Zimbabwe have long enjoyed global attention, especially the crises of the 2000s that culminated in the second highest inflation rate globally for an economy not at war. However, what is less known is how Zimbabweans have dealt with these crises in different spheres of economic life. This book fills that gap by exploring how Zimbabwean society and its institutions have survived economic crises in the country, spanning from the 1990s to 2015. The chapters are characterized not only by clarity and depth on a topic that is only superficially understood by most people, but also by careful attention to historiography. Overall, the chapters address survival in informal spaces – such as displacements in Harare’s flea markets, street vendors, and small scale tobacco growers – as well as survival of state and non-state institutions – such as the public health service, social security provision, the army, the education sector, and the banking sector. Finally, it discusses how the crises have impacted patterns of migration and smuggling of humans and commodities. Buy the book here.

Everyday Politics in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya

By Matteo Capasso

In this book, Matteo Capasso provides a counterargument to those who frame the history of Libya as a stateless, authoritarian, and rogue state by focusing on international and geopolitical dynamics that have impacted Libya’s governance. Capasso reconstructs the last two decades of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, leading up to the 2011 events that led to its fall. It carefully presents a collection of oral histories, including personal anecdotes, moods, popular jokes and rumors, in order to trace the ‘everyday’ as central for studying regional and international politics. As such, it gives powerful insights into the workings of power from below. Beyond the historical analysis, it also offers an important foundation for understanding the current state of violence, war, and hope in Libya. Buy the book here.

What Is Antiracism?: And Why It Means Anticapitalism

By Arun Kundnani

This book, written by Arun Kundnani – author, activist and scholar – raises and discusses two key questions: ‘What is “racial capitalism”?’ and ‘How do we overcome it?’ The book contrasts modern liberal anti-racism with radical anti-racism. Liberal anti-racism and its focus on individual attitudes, unconscious biases, celebration and understanding of cultural diversity tends to see racism as an extremist mindset. Radical anti-racism understands racism as a matter of power, resource distribution between different racial groups and the role state violence operates in to uphold these inequalities.. It argues that while liberal antiracism has contributed to the transformation which has happened over recent decades in terms of interpersonal exchanges, structural forces have not improved, but rather expanded. Liberal anti-racism methodology cannot enable the structural changes that are needed, but a radical anti-racism is needed. The book delves into how colonialism expresses itself in today’s world, and its direct relationship to capitalism and racism, illustrated with key moments in modern history. It further argues that the role of racism in the class issue is misread, and needs to be understood for a successful united movement. You can buy the book here.

India from Latin America Peripherisation, Statebuilding, and Demand-Led Growth

By Manuel Gonzalo

This book is written by economist Manuel Gonzalo who in addition to his many academic roles assesses the ‘Latin America – India’ relationship focusing on governments, firms, think tanks, and international organisations. The emerging trade partnership between India and Latin America has expanded over the last decades and is expected to grow rapidly in the near future. While much of Indian and Latin American trade is understood through a westernised lens, this book offers a Latin American perspective of India as an economy and trade nation. The author, with personal as well as professional experience, analyses India from three perspectives: Peripherisation, State Building and Demand-led growth. The book is contributing to a common research agenda for the economic development of the Global South.

Deadly and Slick: Sexual Modernity and the Making of Race

By Sita Balani

In Deadly and Slick, Sita Balani draws on the tradition of British cultural studies associated with Stuart Hall and the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. Balani highlights the intimate connection between techniques used to govern sex, domestic life and children – and techniques used to make, maintain and manage ‘race’ as both a set of social structures and a common sense understanding of bodily and social difference. This book draws on histories of sexual and racial governance in colonial India, as well as the racialisation of British Asians in the present. In contemporary Britain, the Conservative government’s support for gay marriage – and policy of aid conditionality for countries where British colonial laws opposing homosexuality were still on the statute books – cannot be understood independently from its embrace of austerity, the privatization of social welfare and a renewed emphasis on ‘family’ as the site of sole economic responsibility. By highlighting these ‘deadly and slick’ operations of power, Balani’s book is replete with reminders that ‘the economy’ cannot be understood independently of the entanglements of race and sexuality. 

Against Racial Capitalism: Selected Writings

Neville Alexander, edited by Salim Vally and Enver Motala

This volume collects the writings of Neville Alexander, a South African activist, educator, trade unionist and founder of the National Liberation Front, who spent many years imprisoned on Robben Island alongside Nelson Mandela and other anti-apartheid freedom fighters. In recent years, ‘racial capitalism’ has become much discussed within and without academia. Yet Neville Alexander’s contributions to theorizing and challenging ‘racial capitalism’ in South Africa have only recently started to garner wider attention. The editors of this volume have collected Alexander’s writing on education, language, and the national question in a post-apartheid South Africa, alongside his direct contributions to theorising ‘racial capitalism’. As they make clear, racism and capitalism were never merely “theoretical constructs requiring reconciliation” for Alexander. Rather, racial capitalism was seen as the material basis of a political economy, of socio-linguistic orders, and even as shaping the consciousness and strategies of the liberation movement itself.

 White Saviorism in International Development: Theories, Practises, and Lived Experiences

Edited by Themrise Khan, Kanakulya Dickson, and Maïka Sondarjee

In this new book, the authors argue that the colonial idea that the Global South is characterized by gaps and inferiorities, which is at the very foundation of the development field. As a result, much of the field is oriented towards White development practitioners trying to “save” racialized communities in the Global South while supporting the capitalist system that perpetuates their exploitation and dispossession. The authors argue that in many instances, not only is this not helpful, it is often actively harming communities in the Global South. The book gives several examples of scandals of violation of privacy and human rights, sexual violence, and bodily harm caused by Western development practitioners. But it goes further to argue that these aren’t standalone instances, but manifestations of a structural feature of the field in which White/Western people in development are seen as experts in all things, often measuring the political, socio-economic, and cultural processes in developing countries against a standard of Northern Whiteness. It is a provocative collection of contributions comprising academic work, practitioner-based approaches and personal stories of those who have experienced what the editors call White Saviorism in global development and is essential reading for anyone interested or involved in the field. 

Work and Alienation in the Platform Economy: Amazon and the Power of Organization

By Sarah Kassem

The world of work has been transformed by platforms like Google, Amazon, Uber, Netflix and many others, and it is very difficult to now avoid using these platforms in our daily lives as they have become an intrinsic part of our social fabric. In this book, Kassem explores the world of workers that power one of the largest platform economy firms, Amazon, and focuses her attention on its e-commerce platform and its digital labour platform MTurk. Notably, she takes the reader through a discussion of how workers organize and reshape the structure of the platform that seeks to atomize them from one another. Even though the structure of work alienates and individualizes the workforce, these platforms are sites for crucial labour struggle. This book is an important read to understand work in the 21st century, and how labour processes and struggles have and can shape the future of Artificial Intelligence.

Divided: Racism, Medicine and Why We Need to Decolonise Healthcare

Annabel Sowemimo

Annabel Sowemimo draws on her experience of medical education, and working as a Sexual and Reproductive Health clinician, in this examination of the persistent – and often unacknowledged – influence of race science on medicine. Sowemimo shows how racial inequalities underpin a health system that doesn’t work for Black patients. But she also traces the history of race science from 18th century Europe, making explicit that unequal health outcomes for Black people are shaped not only by ideas inherited from race science, but by a medical profession often unwilling to unlearn this inheritance. 

Decolonisation and Legal Knowledge – Reflections on Power and Possibility

Folúkẹ́ Adébísí

In this book Folúkẹ́ Adébísí examines how the foundations of law are intertwined in colonial thought and how it [re]produces ideas of commodification of bodies and space-time. Adébísí explores the implications of the law creating, maintaining and reproducing racialised hierarchies which then creates and preserves severe global disparities and injustices. This analysis discusses crucial themes that would be of interest to any social scientist seeking to engage beyond their disciplinary boundaries. With chapters such as: “(Un)Making the Wretched of the Earth and “Another University is Necessary to Take us towards Pluriversal Worlds”, this promises to be a read that both deconstructs, as well as encourages us to reconstruct. In Adébísí’s own words: “In response, the decolonisation movement, gives us an option for imagining together, new ways of thinking, being and doing in the world, to avert global injustice, deprivation and climate disaster.” This book is a vital contribution to anyone who views these ideas as central to our research, teaching and practice.

This list was compiled by Alexandra Arnsten, Devika Dutt, Paul Gilbert, Michelle Groenewald, and Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven.

D-Econ’s Seasonal Alternative Reading List 2022- Part II

2022 is coming to a close and to send it off in style we are back with our second reading list of 2022, which has our recommendations of books published in 2022. These include books you may have missed because of the identity of the author, or their geographical location, or because the topic is not typically considered interesting to those interested in reading about the economy. We include 11 books that cover a range of topics that we think provide a richer understanding of socioeconomic phenomena and are therefore crucial to understanding economics and the world.

This time we include two books on understanding the ecological crisis facing the world: one that exposes the class conflict at the heart of the climate catastrophe, and one that questions whether green capitalism is capable of creating a habitable future for us all. This year, we also read books on how structural racism is reified through education, and how anti-racist and other progressive social movements are undermined by elite capture. Among the great new books this year, we found two books that engaged with Marxist analyses of racial capitalism and slavery, especially in the work of critical Black scholars from the Global South. As always, we cannot help but read about the economics discipline, and especially about the scholars and ideas that the field tends to ignore. This time, we read about the women in the history of economic thought that have been overlooked, about the importance of the vibrant discipline of heterodox economics, and about how Dependency theory has evolved over the past half century. We round out the list with a new volume on post-colonial social theory and a fascinating new book that looks at sex as a political phenomenon. 

We hope you find some time to read these brilliant books. If you’d like to read more, you can find our previous reading lists here. If you enjoy our reading lists, please let us know by emailing us at info@d-econ.org, and please feel free to send us suggestions of books we should read and include in our next reading list!


By Edith Kuiper

Where are the women in the history of economics? In this exciting volume, Edith Kuiper (a feminist historian of economics) uncovers the contributions of many forgotten women in the history of the discipline, showing that the contributions of women go beyond Joan Robinson and Rosa Luxemburg. By transforming the field of history into herstory, Kuiper describes how women economists have contributed to the making and discussion of economics, ranging from production, work, and the economics of the household, to income and wealth distribution, consumption, education, public policy, and much more. Kuiper elegantly shows how many important theories and concepts were left aside from the early formation of classical political economy until the end of the 20th century, providing a thematic summary of these contributions. It is a must read for those interested in economics from a different perspective, putting many unknown and forgotten names under the spotlight in a notably male-dominated discipline.


Claudio Katz (translated by Stanley Malinowitz)

How has Dependency Theory evolved and transformed itself since the 1950s? How can it offer relevant insights for economists, politicians and the public debate today? In this volume, Katz offers a detailed summary of the foundations, evolutions and approaches of Dependency Theory in Latin America, focusing on the regional interpretations of Marxism, Developmentalism and World-Systems Theory. By touching upon structural issues of colonialism, imperialism, hegemony, power, and dominance, Katz eloquently connects Dependency Theory to the most up to date social issues that Latin America faces, as well as the challenges to overcome its permanently dependent condition under a trap of “subimperialism”. It is a must read for those interested in the contemporary economic and political reality of Latin America and the debates surrounding underdevelopment of peripheral countries. 


By Arathi Sriprakash, Sophie Rudolph and Jessica Gerrard

Whiteness is a process of learning: one is not born white, but becomes one. In this rich and compelling volume, Sriprakash, Rudolph and Gerrard offer a meticulous (and eye-opening) reading of educational experiences and structures that endorse systemic racism. They examine the material conditions, knowledge politics and complex feelings that create and relay systems of racial domination, exploring how the structural formations of racial domination tied to European colonialism continue to be reinscribed across all aspects of social life, but particularly in education – which reinforces structural racism and social inequalities. The volume describes the example of Australia, using it to demonstrate how Australian education offered a grounded account of the workings of British settler colonialism as a globally enduring project. Further, they also summarise many educational practices of how one “learns whiteness” through materialities, knowledges, and feelings as a process of capturing and normalising identities. An impressive book for those interested in further deepening their knowledge about the role of education in perpetuating racism.


Edited by Dilip M Menon

This edited volume offers an impressive array of essays aiming to profoundly change the Euro-American episteme of postcolonial theory and the politics of Western academy. It discusses eight main themes (relation; commensuration; the political; the social; language; rooted words; indeterminacy; insurrection) to drastically change social theory from the ground up, putting the theories and frameworks that emerged from the Global South as the main point of departure. Rather than arguing for a geographical South, it discusses the emergence of an “epistemological South”, and how it has been marginalised under centuries of exclusion. By arguing that colonialism and modernity has made us suffer from “intellectual amnesia” from regional knowledge/practices, the volume presents concepts from Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, the Arab World, and Latin America to reorient how social theory is (and should be) made. By putting a rich collection of chapters at the availability of the reader, this volume is a must read for social scientists, educationalists, developmentalists, economists, and the general public interested in finding out more about the variety of regional theories and interpretations about modes of living.


By Walter Rodney

This is a fascinating collection of previously unpublished essays on Marxism by Walter Rodney. While the race-class nexus is a unifying theme of the essays, the range of questions and issues he delves into is incredibly broad, including Black Power, Ujamaa villages, forms of resistance to colonialism, radical pedagogy, programs for the newly independent states, anti-colonial historiography, and balance sheets for wars for national liberation. Interestingly, the book also demonstrates the way he explored and reinvented Marxism in light of struggles for economic independence across the globe. This is particularly relevant given the 50th anniversary of Rodney’s classic How Europe Underdeveloped Africa this year. 


By Lynne Chester and Tae-Hee Jo (editors)

This is an important contribution that defends the importance of heterodox economics. It discusses what constitutes heterodox economics as an intellectual, social, and political project, with a range of contributions from leading heterodox thinkers coming from a diversity of theoretical vantage points. Some of the key identifying aspects of heterodox economics that are identified are its  interdisciplinarity, openness, relevance for understanding the real world, pluralism, and social concerns. The purpose of the edited collection is to provide a constructive account of the future of heterodox economics, and it does so in a way that will be intriguing for many readers, including those less familiar with heterodox economics.


By Matthew T. Huber

This is a crucial book at this moment of climate breakdown. Although there are many important books on class out there, there are not that many that integrate issues of climate change with class analysis. Huber’s book is therefore an incredibly important addition to scholarship on climate change thus far. He argues that while the carbon-intensive capitalist class must be confronted with its disproportionate effect on the climate, the contemporary climate movement – which is largely rooted in the professional class – has remained incapable of meeting this challenge. The alternative Huber proposes is a climate politics to appeal to the majority – the working class. His proposal includes building union power and transforming the energy system. Finally, and crucially, he underlines the importance of an internationalist approach based on planetary working-class solidarity. 


By Amia Srinivasan

Amia Srinivasan’s new book is of crucial importance to economists and non-economists alike, and is especially relevant in the wake of the focus on consent that has pervaded public discussions after the #MeToo movement. It traces the meaning of sex in our world, animated by the hope of a different world. She reaches back into an older feminist tradition that was unafraid to think of sex as a political phenomenon. She discusses a range of fraught relationships—between discrimination and preference, pornography and freedom, rape and racial injustice, punishment and accountability, students and teachers, pleasure and power, capitalism and liberation. To grasp sex in all its complexity, including its relationship to gender, class, race and power, Srinivasan argues that we need to move beyond the simplistic views of consent in the form of yes-no, to rather consider the more complex question of wanted-unwanted.


By Adrienne Buller

Limiting global temperature increases to 1.5 degree celsius is the defining challenge of our time. To this end, economic actors have found ways to monetise and trade “ecosystem services”. The idea is that by creating a market in biodiversity and carbon offsets can create investment to prevent the unfolding environmental and climate catastrophe. In part, these efforts show how the Overton window has shifted from outright climate denialism to grappling directly with the realities of environmental degradation. Despite unprecedented levels of public knowledge and concern, commitment from governments, technical innovation, and the staggering impact of climate change and environmental damage on our lives, why are we still so far from a “habitable future and safe present?” In this great new book, Adrienne Buller poses these important questions about green capitalism, the effort to preserve existing capitalist systems and relations and ensure new domains for accumulation in order to respond to the ecological crisis. She argues that the dominance of the approach of green capitalism is self-defeating, and needlessly confines the shape of the society we need to build. Specifically, as regards the role of neo-classical economics and market governance in shaping green capitalism, this book is a must-read. 


By Nick Nesbitt

What is the role played by slavery in the development of capitalism? Nick Nesbitt revisits this question by examining Marx’s analysis of slavery across his seminal Capital. In addition, he outlines the writings of key figures in what he calls the Black Jacobin Marxist critical tradition, such as Toussaint Louverture, Henry Christophe, C.L.R. James, Aime Cesaire, Jacques Stephen Alexis, and Suzanne Cesaire, and argues that the critique of slavery, colonialism, and capitalism can be understood in terms of Marx’s social forms. He argues that even though slave-based production was crucial for the development of capitalism, in the Marxist sense, slavery was an unproductive system, that is, it does not contribute surplus value to the process of accumulation. Nonetheless, production by slave labor captures massive average profits for production even if they do not produce surplus value. He also takes the reader through the Black Jacobin thought on revolutionary overthrow of slavery, Antillean plantation slavery and competing social forms, and critiques of colonial forms of labor and the state. Nesbitt produces a theoretical articulation of slavery and capitalism that is illuminating and worth a read. 


By Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò

In this important and powerful book, Taiwo argues how important political movements are captured and derailed by elite interests, specifically by weaponizing identity politics. Identity politics, he argues, has equipped people, organizations, and institutions with a new vocabulary to describe their politics and aesthetics, even if the substance of those political decisions are irrelevant or counter to the interests of the marginalized people whose identity is used. However, this is not a failing of identity politics per se, but rather how it is used. Elite capture helps explain how political projects are hijacked and by those that are well positioned and well resourced, and how knowledge, attention, and values become distorted and distributed by power structures. He argues that movements need to build constructive politics that focuses on outcome over process rather than mere avoidance of complicity in injustice. It is a thought provoking book for everyone interested in the dynamics of contemporary political movements, and how effective political movements can be built.

This list was compiled by Devika Dutt, Danielle Guizzo, and Ingrid Kvangraven.

Do you want to teach economics more critically? Here are some suggestions

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

https://www.cadtm.org/A-United-Front-Against-the-Debt  (16 mins)

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.

#Banking #InterestRates

Twitter threads

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? 

#decolonisingdevelopment #coloniality 

See the full lecture here and the e-book chapter where the speech transcript is published here

8. DivDecEcon on the work of Thandika Mkandawire

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

Blog posts

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. 

Kanta Ranadive: A Forgotten Indian Political Economist

Alex M. Thomas[1]

This post is part of a larger attempt to document and revive the economic ideas of the forgotten Indian political economists. Earlier, I had written introductory pieces on the economic ideas of Krishna Bharadwaj and K. N. Raj. Like many other Indian economists who have been forgotten, so too has Kanta Ranadive. She is the author of Income Distribution: The Unsolved Puzzle (Oxford University Press, 1978) and The Political Economy of Poverty (Orient Longman, 1990). Besides these two books, she has published several articles in Artha Vijnana, Bulletin of the Oxford University Institute of Economics and Statistics, Economic & Political Weekly, and Indian Economic Journal

Kanta Ranadive figures in passing in two recent newspaper articles; the first article by Niranjan Rajadhyaksha (July 28, 2020) contributes to the history of Indian economic thought by focusing on the education and educators at the Bombay School of Economics; the second article by Kadambari Shah and Shreyas Narla (March 30, 2022) provides a brief on India’s women economists and policy makers.

Ranadive’s 1978 book on income distribution is mentioned by Agnar Sandmo as one of the “more recent surveys” on income distribution in the Handbook of Income Distribution, Volume 2 (2015), edited by Anthony Atkinson and François Bourguignon. A similar description of Ranadive’s book—one of the “important surveys on income distribution”—is found in Scott Carter’s chapter ‘Heterodox theories of distribution’ in The Routledge Handbook of Heterodox Economics (2017), edited by Tae-Hee Jo, Lynne Chester, and Carlo D’Ippoliti.

A brief life sketch

Ranadive spent most of her teaching career at the Department of Economics, University of Bombay. During 1976-7, she was Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum. In 1987, Ranadive gave the Kale Memorial Lecture at the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics (GIPE), which was published the same year in Artha Vijnana under the title ‘Town and Country in Economy in Transition’. Ranadive was made an honorary fellow of the Asiatic Society of Bombay in 1991; she delivered a lecture there on 22nd November 1993, which was published in the following year under the title ‘Market, Democracy and Unequal Relation’ in the Economic & Political Weekly.

After her demise on 15th April 1996, Ashok Mitra and Prabhat Patnaik wrote obituaries in the Economic & Political Weekly, and Meghnad Desai in the Times of India. According to Mitra, “[h]er empirical findings led her to one or two important theorems on the nature of social exploitation and income inequalities which were close to standard Marxist formulations. She, in other words, reached to her Marxism along her private route.” But Mitra does not tell us anything more about her “one or two important theorems”. Mitra informs us that Ranadive “was a fiercely private person.” Patnaik’s obituary is the form of a letter to the editor, which is in turn based on the resolution passed by the condolence meeting by the teachers of Jawaharlal Nehru University on April 22. “She”, Patnaik writes, “will be remembered for her pioneering research work on theoretical and empirical issues relating to income distribution.” Sadly, no such intellectual remembrance has been visible.

In his letter, Desai provides a personal account of his interactions with Ranadive, and therefore we get some insight into her persona. Desai, along with Vikas Chitre, belonged to the first batch of economics PhD students who were mentored by Ranadive, who had just joined University of Bombay (in 1960). Desai’s closing remarks are valuable in understanding the milieu in which Ranadive worked: “Not only was she a super teacher. But she was also a pioneering woman economist in the Indian context where even today in India as abroad very few women occupy the top echelon. It would not have been easy to survive in the male atmosphere of the department. She not only survived; she made her mark.” 1960 was also the year that Krishna Bharadwaj submitted her PhD thesis to the University of Bombay.

The Political Economy of Income Distribution

Ranadive’s 1978 book Income Distribution has its origins in the six lectures she gave on ‘Theories of Distribution’ at M. S. University, Baroda in 1968. It “is a survey of the economics of distribution”. As she writes in the preface, “[t]he size distribution of income involves, on the one hand, technical problems of concepts and measurement and, on the other, philosophical issues like justice and equity.” She acknowledges Maurice Dobb, the Marxist economist, for his comments on the chapter on ‘The Ricardo Problem’.

In this book, she critically engages with theories of personal and functional income distribution, reviews the economic ideas of Smith, Ricardo and Marx, presents the empirical behaviour of income shares, criticizes the marginalist production function and the elasticity of substitution, discusses market structure and degree of monopoly in relation to Kalecki’s of income distribution, and ends with a discussion on the investment-output ratio and savings propensities.

Not surprisingly, Ranadive favoured Kalecki’s theory and not the marginal productivity theory of income distribution because the former recognized structural power. As she concludes her critical discussion of Kalecki’s theory, “[t]through explicit recognition of the role of market imperfections, oligopoly agreements and relative bargaining strength of trade unions and employers in determining wages and profit margins, Kalecki’s model makes distribution a function of class conflict.”

Poverty: A Marxian Approach

Her 1990 book The Political Economy of Poverty was put together based on her 1987 R. C. Dutt Lectures on Political Economy. In the first chapter/lecture, Ranadive argues against the narrow approach to understanding poverty, and calls for a holistic approach to understand poverty. As she writes, “[t]he only way to understand the modality of both continuity and change is therefore to have the whole network of closely interrelated concepts, because social phenomena are inherently dynamic in the sense that they are parts of an overall social structure which needs reproduction for its continued existence” (p. 27). After all, as she argues, “[a] realistic appraisal of ‘necessaries’ cannot be made without taking into account the fact that spending habits are socially determined” (p. 9). According to me, such holistic approaches to economics are available in the works of the political economists such as Smith, Ricardo and Marx.

The second chapter/lecture ‘Poverty and Social Formation’ is an application of, in Ranadive’s own words, the “Marxian paradigm”. She employs the Marxian categories of property, production conditions, materialism, labour, among others to situate poverty as a structural characteristic of capitalist societies. In all this, she highlights the need to recognize the nature of power relations. Her references demonstrate engagement with a wide range of ideas; for instance, she cites the work of Braudel, Brenner, Hobsbawm, Kalecki, Kuznets, Leontief, Polanyi, and Titmuss. In this chapter, she critically reviews the economic ideas of the classical economists, especially Smith and Ricardo, and arrives at the conclusion that history “has no role even in classical economics as a closer scrutiny would indicate” (p. 33). Though I think that there is enough primary textual evidence to contest her claim, it does not seem appropriate for this introductory essay on Ranadive’s life and work.

The way forward

To conclude, the account of Kanta Ranadive as a “caring” and “demanding” (to borrow from Desai) teacher is an inspiring one, but also a difficult one to emulate because our universities have succumbed to managerialism. Second, there is much to be done in the history of Indian economic thought. A review article on Ranadive’s 1978 book, which contextualises the questions around the theories and empirics of income distribution would be insightful. Finally, her work offers a social approach to understanding income distribution and poverty, in the tradition of Marxian political economy; consequently, her work ought to be included in courses on Development Economics, Labour Economics, and Marxian Economics. 


Desai, Meghnad. 1996, ‘Kanta Ranadive’, Letter, Times of India, Mumbai, Monday, April 29.

Mitra, Ashok. 1996, ‘Radical in her own Manner’, Economic & Political Weekly, vol. 31, no. 16-17, April 20-27, p. 989. 

Patnaik, Prabhat. 1996, ‘Kanta Ranadive’, Letter, Economic & Political Weekly, vol. 31, no. 20, May 18, p. 1170.

Ranadive, Kanta. 1978, Income Distribution: The Unsolved Puzzle, Bombay: Oxford University Press.

– – 1990, The Political Economy of Poverty, Calcutta: Orient Longman.

[i] Alex M. Thomas teaches economics at Azim Premji University, Bengaluru, India. His primary field of research is the history of economic thought. His recent book, Macroeconomics: An Introduction (2021, Cambridge UP), is critical of marginalist macroeconomics, provides an alternative by drawing from the classical political  economy tradition, and adopts a critical pedagogy. He has published blog posts on the Indian political economists Krishna Bharadwaj and K. N. Raj.

D-Econ’s Seasonal Alternative Reading List – 2022

It’s time for Summer/Winter Holidays and we are back with our first reading list of 2022 which has our recommendations of books published in 2022, which you may have missed because of the identity of the author, or their geographical location, or because the topic is not typically considered interesting to those interested in reading about the economy. We include 10 books that cover a range of topics that we think provide a richer understanding of socioeconomic phenomena and are therefore crucial to understanding economics and the world. 

We include a new English translation of a book of essays on coloniality and power, and the persistence of colonial structures and institutions, specifically in the Latin American context. We also include the story of the intellectual history of theories of development in Latin America in general and its connection to the story of the United Nations Economic Commission on Latin America or CEPAL, and economic thought in Brazil. The evolution of economic thought and the influence of economists and economics on policymaking in the United States is the subject of another of our recommendations.

There are some great new books that deal with the history, political economy, and consequences of colonialism and imperialism from different lenses. We recommend a new compelling case for reparations as constructive justice, an account of how the British Empire dealt with/ continues to deal with its former colonies as independent nations, and a biography of one of the leading theorists of empire of the 20th century. We also recommend a new book about lesser known, and somewhat understudied, anti-colonial movements in Oceania. Given the ongoing war in Ukraine, we include in our list a timely new book that considers the relationship of Eastern Europe with decolonization. 

We hope you find some time to read these brilliant books. If you’d like to read more, you can find our previous reading lists here. If you enjoy our reading lists, please let us know by emailing us at info@d-econ.org, and please feel free to send us suggestions of books we should read and include in our next reading list!

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Diversification and Decolonization in a 4°C World: Quantifying the underrepresentation of Global South scholarship in climate economics

Natalie Gubbay

Economists for Future recently completed a project on the underrepresentation of scholarship from the Global South in climate economics. They analyzed the 50 most cited and 50 most recently published articles on climate change in the top 20-ranked economics journals, as identified by a Web of Science search. They linked publicly available biographical information for each author to determine the percentage of contributors who are affiliated with institutions in the Global South— and found less than 1% of authors in both the most cited and most recent articles were based in the Global South. The full report is posted here: https://econ4future.org/research-note/. Below is a summary of their project by Natalie Gubbay.

The limitations of neoclassical approaches in the economics of climate change have been well-documented. The market-based solutions typically proposed by environmental economists are unlikely to deliver emissions cuts with the scale and speed demanded by the climate crisis (E4F, INET). ‘State-of-the-art’ integrated assessment models understate the threat of climate change by excluding human responses to climatic shifts (like migration), focusing only on rising temperature (not natural disasters), and baking in assumptions of full information, rational expectations, and the stability of elasticities across time (Asefi-Najafabady et. al., 2021; Keen, 2020). Then, broader questions emerge around the meaning of “efficient” policy in the dynamic, uncertain context of climate change. As Roos and Hoffart (2020) note, the impact of a warming climate depends greatly on whether or not the Earth system tilts into dangerous feedback loops or past irreversible tipping points—for instance, the complete melting of artic summer sea ice, or in a more extreme case, the collapse of the Gulf Stream. Choosing how to respond to such “inherent unpredictability” requires more than cost-benefit thinking. It requires a value judgement. It is “a philosophy and ethics of science question of how science should deal with uncertainty and the limits of predictability and knowledge” as much as an analytical one (p. 9).

The normative and ethical considerations embedded in climate economics make real commitment to diversification and decolonization in the field a policy imperative. Economists from the Global South face structural barriers to participation across the research and publication processes (Economists for Future, 2020). Key distributional questions have been dismissed as difficult to quantify, even as Southern and indigenous activists make clear that climate change multiplies existing inequities in the political economy and demand climate justice (Gabbatiss & Tandon, 2021).[1]

To learn more, the Economists for Future team examined geographical representation in one key dimension of knowledge production in climate economics– elite journal publications. In March 2021, we used a Web of Science search to pull articles with keywords “climate change”, “global warming”, “greenhouse gasses/GHG”, or “carbon” from the top 20 journals of economics identified by the same platform. Using online, publicly available biographical information, we identified the current home institutions of each author to break down the geographic distribution within highly circulated contributions to the climate economics literature. Additional methodological details, including the full list of journals included in the analysis, can be found in the original publication.

Our findings confirm significant underrepresentation of Global South authors and scholarship in climate economics publications– not one of the authors of the fifty most cited articles in climate economics is affiliated with an institution in the Global South. Such patterns of marginalization may help explain a body of climate economics research that is too often out-of-touch with frontline communities, limited in methodological richness, and ultimately ill-positioned to arrest the planetary emergency.

Geographical Imbalance in Climate Economics Publications

Our research is motivated by the recognition that all knowledge, including scientific research, is shaped by the socio-economic context in which it was produced (Haraway, 1991; Crasnow, 2014). That is, the assumptions, research questions, and methodologies that a researcher chooses are influenced by their own positions within structures of race, gender, class, and nationality, among other identities.

Heterodox scholars across the social sciences have argued that highlighting these dynamics, far from undermining the objectivity of scientific inquiry, yields a more accurate understanding of social reality and the creation of knowledge with liberatory potential. As Dr. Lynne Chester wrote in a recent D-Econ blog, only with positional transparency can an author’s chosen methodology (and thus their research conclusions) be fully and openly evaluated.

For example, Chelwa (2021) interrogates the systematic exclusion of native researchers in economic scholarship on Africa. He identifies four implications of geographical imbalance that apply well in the context of climate research: (1) the formulation of false consensus among isolated pools of academics, (2) a reliance on hegemonic theories as the starting point of analysis, (3) the concentration of research on a small number of questions, and (4) an unquestioning use of data that is variable, limited in scope, or otherwise unreliable.

His work demonstrates how the production of research within a colonized terrain can generate epistemic injustice– a form of injustice in which “someone is wronged specifically in her capacity as a knower” (Fricker, 2007). Such injustices are intensified in the context of the planetary emergency, to which societies in the Global South are far more vulnerable.

Our analysis shows that the prominent literature in climate economics is overwhelmingly produced by authors working in the US and UK, suggesting serious limitations in its ability to center the perspectives of climate-vulnerable populations and address the goals of climate justice.

Of the authors of the 50 most cited articles in climate economics,

            • 82% are affiliated with U.S.-based universities or institutions

            • 91% are affiliated with U.S.- or U.K-based institutions

            •  0% are affiliated with institutions in the Global South

The countries represented in the 50 most cited articles are the United States, United Kingdom, Sweden, Australia, China, Canada, France, Norway, and Switzerland.

The ninety authors represent 49 universities, but the majority (63 percent) are affiliated with just 14 departments of Economics: those at the University of Chicago, Stanford, Yale, Princeton, the London School of Economics, Stockholm University, Harvard, MIT, Northwestern, Duke, Columbia, the University of Maryland, the University of Washington, and the University of California (multiple campuses). The University of California system hosts more contributors to the fifty most cited articles than do all countries outside the U.S. and U.K., accounting for over 15 percent of total authors. Harvard and MIT each account for 6.7 percent of total authors.

Such examples depict a body of thought that is narrowly situated, self-referential, and physically distant from many of climate change’s worst impacts. The countries represented are those in positions of socio-economic power. The figure below shows the GNI per capita in 2019 in countries represented by authors of the fifty most cited articles, relative to the distribution as a whole. All nine have a per-capita income above the global median; eight have a per-capita GNI more than double the global median. Meanwhile, consensus grows that low-income countries will be hit hardest by climate change and are already disproportionately affected by climate-related disasters (e.g., UNFCC, 2018; IPCC, 2018).

A notably stark shortcoming in the climate economics literature has been its failure to consider notions of differentiated responsibility in responding to the climate emergency. Southern scholars, policymakers, and activists have long argued that those countries most responsible for climate change should shoulder the costs of decarbonization, particularly since the benefits of early industrialization are directly related to a country’s position within global structures of power. The unwillingness of the United States to adopt a climate framework consistent with common but differentiated responsibility disrupted climate negotiations in Kyoto (1997) and Paris (2016), and has remained a sticking point in international mitigation efforts. Looking at the above chart, it is difficult not to suggest that the field’s Northern-centrism explains its silence on the matter.

The 50 most recent articles show increased geographic diversity without fundamental disruption to the patterns of exclusion present in the most cited literature.

Our decision to conduct the same analysis for the most recently published climate literature was motivated in part by the intensity of geographical concentration we observed in the most cited research. We wondered: have we seen movement toward greater diversity in climate publishing alongside the growing magnitude of the climate crisis?

Of the authors of the fifty most recently published articles (as of March 2021),

            • 49% are affiliated with U.S.-based universities or institutions

            • 51% are affiliated with U.S.- or U.K.-based institutions

            • Less than 1% are affiliated with institutions in the Global South

The dominance of the U.S. and U.K. is attenuated in the more recent dataset, but the results are far from radical change. The fifty most recently published articles include only one author from the Global South, at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. It’s also not clear whether the (somewhat) increased geographic representation indicates a true shift in the mainstream conversation, or rather reflects bias in citation patterns and research engagement. Alternative cut points may be relevant– for instance, Heckman and Moktan (2020) document the “tyranny” of the top 5 journals in economics, Ghosh (2020) and Subramanian and Kapur (2021) implicate the disproportionate influence of major RCT conductors, such as JPAL-IPA, in shaping policy agendas.

The full author counts by country within the most recent and most cited datasets can be found below.

50 Most Cited Articles 50 Most Recent Articles
 CountryN. Authors  CountryN. Authors
 United States74  United States60
 United Kingdom8  Germany15
 Sweden2  Norway6
 Australia1  Australia5
 China1  Canada5
 Canada1  China4
 France1  France4
 Norway1  Netherlands4
 Switzerland1  South Korea3
    United Kingdom2


At Economists for Future, our mission is to mobilize economists, and the influence they have, to arrest the planetary emergency. The climate crisis presents a profound intellectual challenge– and opportunity– for economists to drive transformative change across economic, social, political and natural systems and embrace pluralist approaches in doing so. Our work thus far suggests the economics profession is not meeting that opportunity. Research and publication on topics related to the climate or biosphere remain scant, comprising 0.4% of publishing on average (Butler-Sloss & Beckmann, 2021). Where mainstream economists have engaged, they have worked within isolated subfields, evaded questions of social responsibility, and– the results of this analysis add– have done so from the vantage point of institutions in the Global North. We can now say with some confidence that climate research in the economics profession is limited by geographical as well as methodological homogeneity. It is a field marked by colonization– and thus, effectively addressing the climate emergency rests on the practice of decolonization.


Asefi-Najafabady, S., Villegas-Ortiz, L., & Morgan, J. (2021). The failure of Integrated Assessment Models as a response to ‘climate emergency’ and ecological breakdown: the Emperor has no clothes. Globalizations, 18(7), 1178-1188.

Butler-Sloss, S. & Beckman,, M. (2021). Economics journals’ engagement in the planetary emergency: a misallocation of resources? Economists for Future.

Chelwa, G. (2021). Does economics have an ‘Africa problem’?. Economy and Society, 50(1), 78-99.

Crasnow, S. (2014). Feminist standpoint theory. Philosophy of social science: A new introduction, 1, 145-161.

Economists for Future (2020) Beyond Economics as Usual: Treating a Crisis Like a Crisis. https://econ4future.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Beyond-Economics-As-Usual-3.pdf

Fricker, M. (2007). Epistemic injustice: Power and the ethics of knowing. Oxford University Press.

Haraway, Donna. Simians, cyborgs, and women: The reinvention of nature. Routledge, 2013.

Heckman, J. J., & Moktan, S. (2020). Publishing and promotion in economics: the tyranny of the top five. Journal of Economic Literature, 58(2), 419-70.

Keen, S. (2021). The appallingly bad neoclassical economics of climate change. Globalizations, 18(7),1149-1177.

McKinnon, R. (2016). Epistemic injustice. Philosophy Compass, 11(8), 437-446.

Reinert, E. S., Ghosh, J., & Kattel, R. (Eds.). (2016). Handbook of alternative theories of economic development. Edward Elgar Publishing. 10

Roos, M., & Hoffart, F. M. (2020). Climate Economics: A Call for More Pluralism and Responsibility. Springer Nature.

Roy, J., P. Tschakert, H. Waisman, S. Abdul Halim, P. Antwi-Agyei, P. Dasgupta, B. Hayward, M. Kanninen, D. Liverman, C. Okereke, P.F. Pinho, K. Riahi, & A.G. Suarez Rodriguez. (2018). Sustainable Development, Poverty Eradication and Reducing Inequalities. In: Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty [Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, H.-O. Pörtner, D. Roberts, J. Skea, P.R. Shukla, A. Pirani, W. Moufouma-Okia, C. Péan, R. Pidcock, S. Connors, J.B.R. Matthews, Y. Chen, X. Zhou, M.I. Gomis, E. Lonnoy, T. Maycock, M. Tignor, and T. Waterfield (eds.)].

Subramanian, A. & Kapur, D. (2021). “The Absent Voices of Development Economics.” Project Syndicate. <https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/why-does-the-global-northdominate-development-economics-by-arvind-subramanian-and-devesh-kapur-2021-03?barrier=accesspaylog>

Gabbatiss, J & Tandon, A. (2021). “In-depth Q&A: What is ‘climate justice’?” Carbon Brief. https://www.carbonbrief.org/in-depth-qa-what-is-climate-justice

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. (2018). “Low-Income Countries Hit Hardest by Soaring Costs of Climate-Related Disasters.” https://unfccc.int/news/lowincome-countries-hit-hardest-by-soaring-costs-of-climate-related-disasters

[1] See also advocacy by Minga Indígena, Indigenous Climate Action, the Indigenous Environmental Network, the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, and participants of the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice, among others.

Decolonising economics teaching, Part 2: Some thoughts on pedagogy

Ariane Agunsoye, Michelle Groenewald, and Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven[1]

Decolonizing economics teaching is not simply about changing our reading lists, but also centrally about shifting the ways that we are teaching. We are therefore publishing two blog posts simultaneously on each of these pillars – the curriculum and pedagogy – given that we see them as fundamentally intertwined. As was discussed in part 1 of this blog post, in terms of decolonising the curriculum, there is no ‘one way’ to do this, but we find it to be a good starting point to ask ourselves a series of questions.

How do we teach? Decolonizing pedagogical practises

Some questions we might ask ourselves in terms of how we teach are: In our classrooms, are we implicitly adhering to the notion of the ‘superiority of economists’, meaning economists trying to distinguish themselves from other social sciences through their allegedly more ‘rigorous’ methods, and with it, more confidence in the ability of economics to ‘fix’ the world’s problems? Do we see our students as partners who we recognise as being able to teach us and their fellow peers concepts based on their lived experiences and on their expertise? Do we encourage critical thinking? Who are we inviting to lecture in the classroom as guest speakers? Might we invite informal traders themselves to share their experiences, along with setting a journal article that is trying to measure the size of the informal sector?

A starting point could be to avoid using one textbook to tackle key issues, but develop knowledges as discussed by Ndlovu-Gatsheni. In encouraging knowledges, we may need to be explicit in encouraging a wide variety of sources to be used as ways to acquire an understanding about the economy, going beyond books and articles, to also exploring blogs, videos, podcasts, tweets, and students’ own conversations in their households. This may be particularly fruitful at the undergraduate level to show that how we come to know and what is viewed as legitimate sources of knowledge are wide and varied.

A fruitful way of decolonising pedagogy could also be to encourage students to become active co-creators in their journey of learning by leaving space in curricula for students to shape it. This might take a staggered approach for greater collaboration depending on the year group, but a starting point might be for students to choose a topic they are interested in and explore it further based on their economic realities. There could also be a week devoted to a student chosen topic or a group project could be set where students are responsible for collecting, synthesising and using their lived experiences to contextualise the content. Another possible avenue to include students as co-creators, is to involve them as partners in reviewing existing courses and modules to identify where changes could fruitfully be made, as well as partners in wider curriculum development processes.

It is far too easy to forget that students play an integral role in the decolonising process. It would be doing them a disservice to not value students as essential  to this process. Importantly, while students can be partners, we should also be aware of the difficulties that come along with this and seek to encourage open dialogue about some of the burdens student activists face as they challenge the university as an institution.

How do we assess and why?

How can we ensure that students are given more opportunities to develop their critical thinking skills and the confidence to share a well-informed opinion? Beyond even that, what options are there for students who may not test well in the written form? Whilst we certainly think that it is important to develop clear and coherent writing skills, is it not equally important that we encourage students to develop their verbal and social skills too? Are we encouraging students to see their peers as real collaborators, through group work that allows them to interrogate the idea of all lecturers being the “source” of knowledge? These questions are especially important when we think about how crucial it is for economists to be able to better communicate complex economic concepts in a compelling and honest way to the general public.

Methodological diversity in assessments can also be achieved by employing non-standard teaching methods such as asking students to conduct small research projects where they investigate a current issue with the help of an economic theoretical viewpoint and empirical data, including primary qualitative data, and presenting policy recommendations. This has often led students to recognise limitations of existing dominant economic theories and explore alternative theoretical viewpoints. Moreover, they work together throughout the whole module and learn how to engage in teams. Almost every economics student will encounter econometrics as a course throughout their degree. This places a heavy focus on quantitative methods, and we think that within a decolonised curriculum, while it is important for students to have strong quantitative skills, students should also be exposed to methodological diversity. To allow students the freedom to be able to ask broader research questions, they need to be taught and to practice these qualitative methods, something that is often sorely lacking in our curricula.

Finally, we might push ourselves and our students to engage with their communities or social movements outside of the confines of the university classroom. Might our students guide us on how they would want to engage with their communities (where students decide what form that community takes), and have students choose an economic topic to teach on, that they think is relevant for their communities, and in turn make use of reflection feedback to discuss what they learnt in turn from their communities on the topic they chose? While the lecturer can guide the students in terms of making sense of how curriculum content can be relevant for communities students find themselves in, as well as relevant social movements, there is potentially also a lot to learn for lecturers that may not be knowledgeable of all the different kinds of social groups that different student groups are a part of.

With such tasks, we can also recognise that our students are likely to be interested in topics far beyond the scope of what we can teach them in a single course, or for that matter in a single undergraduate degree. Indeed, some of us have trialled these different approaches with our students and gotten positive feedback. They report feeling empowered to seek knowledge on topics they have been interested in, but didn’t think were possible to link with their perceptions of what counted as ‘real economics’. Moreover, they discuss how valuable it is to be encouraged to have their own opinion on the work of scholars they would previously have seen as impossible to critique. They also explain the importance of using reflection over an extended period of time to construct and create their own ideas about a topic, instead of only memorising work out of a textbook.

Who does the teaching?

When we are in positions to do so, how can we ensure that women, ethnic minorities, scholars from the Global South and people who have been previously disadvantaged are given opportunities within academia? How do we ensure that those positions are not exploitative and offer a real chance at success? Related to this, are we willing to acknowledge our own privileges and our own biases, so that we can question how this might reflect in our teaching?

So too, we might link this to our own research. How does research influence our teaching? When we are conducting our own research, do we push ourselves to read outside of the established canon? Are we integrating research with an interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary or transdisciplinary approach? Do we search for answers in other disciplines and let those guide us in our teaching?

Decolonising economics curricula and pedagogy will be challenging due to the insular nature of the discipline. Haldane (2018) used the work of Van Noorden (2015) to show that economics is incredibly insular, ranking lower even than mathematics (using citations to other disciplines and citations from other disciplines). This type of insularity shows that those shaping economics curricula will probably be quite recalcitrant towards incorporating contributions from what might be, more narrowly defined, as sociological or political. As we seek to critically engage with ideas around supposed ‘universality’ and ‘neutrality’, question hierarchies and power structures, grapple with imperialism and eurocentrism, and incorporate more diverse authors and content in our curricula, we may find ourselves having to defend against those who would claim that a decolonised curriculum doesn’t teach ‘real economics’. Ultimately, we argue that economists should be excited by this process. This is an opportunity for change, for innovation, for discovery, for transformation. There are certainly challenges to decolonisation, enormous challenges and particularly in the field of economics. But given the importance of decolonising economics teaching to empower future cohorts of economists to challenge the alleged neutrality of colonial hierarchies and economic injustices, this is a challenge we as students and lecturers must collectively rise to as a part of the broader effort towards decolonising economics.

Positionality statement

Who we are and how we are brought up and trained matters for how we see the world. To be open about our own backgrounds, biases, and potential blind spots, we include a joint, yet differentiated, positionality statement. We invite all blog post contributors to consider doing the same, although we recognize that this may be too sensitive or not feel appropriate for some people. Ariane Agunsoye, Michelle Groenewald and Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven – the three of us – are all white heterosexual cis-women, which has certainly informed the ways in which we see the world and the kinds of injustices we most easily can spot. While Ingrid is from a middle class background, Ariane and Michelle’s working class backgrounds add a different layer to their experience of the world and the classroom. As a German, Ariane grew up in East Berlin which was up until she was 7 years old part of the GDR, as a South African, Michelle grew up in South Africa, and as a Norwegian and daughter of a teacher and development worker, Ingrid grew up in Mozambique, Botswana, and Cambodia, as well as Norway. Growing up white in South Africa, Michelle is personally well aware of the extraordinary privilege her skin colour has afforded her. Similarly, growing up in both the Global North and South, Ingrid’s sense of immense privilege originating in her skin colour and passport have been felt at a personal level early on. We are aware that our positionalities both allow us to see certain injustices more easily than others, but also that our positionalities create certain blind posts that we must interrogate in all social settings, including the classroom. What’s more, Michelle, Ariane, and Ingrid are all fundamentally shaped by their training in heterodox economics.  

[1] Refer to the positionality statement at the end of the post.

Decolonising economics teaching, Part 1: Some thoughts on the curriculum

Ariane Agunsoye, Michelle Groenewald, and Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven[1]

As it is becoming increasingly clear that the social sciences, including economics, have Eurocentric and colonial roots that need to be challenged (see e.g. Charusheela and Zein-Elabdin 2004), the question of how to do so is often not adequately engaged with (Bhambra et al. 2018). For this reason, D-Econ has established a working group to discuss how to think about decolonising academia in praxis: in research, teaching, academic partnerships, publishing, hiring and promotion practises, conference organising, and more.

We have decided to share our discussions and thoughts in a series of blogs in order to stimulate debate and critical thinking about these questions, and also to seek feedback and contributions from students, academics, and other members of society beyond the D-Econ network itself.

As many of us grapple with teaching  – as students or lecturers – we start our first post with some ideas around decolonising economics curricula, while the second one is on decolonising pedagogy. Given that decolonisation is a process and a collective endeavour, we strongly encourage you to make use of the ‘comment’ feature to provide feedback, to highlight where you might differ with some of the points we have raised and to share your ideas about decolonising curricula. This post is not intended to be prescriptive, but hopefully an opportunity for meaningful discussions and more engagement on a topic too easily dismissed and often largely unaddressed by many in the economics discipline.

Decolonisation as process

Before we launch into a discussion of how we might think through the process of decolonising the curriculum and what it can entail in practice, we want to emphasise that decolonisation is a much bigger and wider process than simply challenging the colonial university. Nonetheless, universities were also key sites through which colonialism was institutionalised and naturalised, so they are an important institution to challenge within broader anti-colonial efforts. These efforts to decolonise the curriculum itself should therefore be embedded in a wider approach to decolonising the university and society.

We take seriously the contributions made by Nayantara Sheoran Appleton that it is our “obligation as academics to make plans for a decolonized academia… and hold people to account who use this amazingly powerful word recklessly for their own self-interest.” As such, when thinking of ways to decolonise in practice, we must consider in which ways we – or others – may be perpetuating colonial inequalities and think deeply about to what extent we are challenging colonial hierarchies with our praxis.

As per some of Appleton’s suggestions, as members of D-Econ we believe decolonising the university involves diversifying curricula, digressing from the canon – as the canon itself is politically shaped -, decentring knowledge and knowledge production from the imperialist core, exposing and challenging existing hierarchies, disinvesting from citational power structures and diminishing some voices while magnifying others. Some of the questions we suggest below may allow us to act on these, in order to work towards the longer term goal of decolonising economics.

Moreover, we want to caution against what decolonisation is not. In some instances, “Decolonising” in economics has become a buzzword, despite its radical roots in other social sciences. And as with all buzzwords, there is a risk of widespread misunderstandings and confusion about what it actually entails (amounting to what Shringarpure aptly called ‘fake decolonization’). While the examples listed below, can be valuable, they are not sufficient to take on the challenge of decolonising economics curricula:

  • Retaining core economic curricula, but introducing economic history
  • Retaining core economic curricula, but introducing scholars based elsewhere or that are not white men, in order to diversify the curriculum
  • Retaining core economic curricula, but introducing more empirical case studies
  • Adding more diverse scholars and examples without challenging colonial ways of thinking

Economics has much to learn from the social sciences. You may easily find guides and ideas about how to decolonise curricula in disciplines such as politics (e.g. Shilliam, Choat, Sabaratnam) and sociology (Meghji, Gukurume & Maringira), where the decolonisation movement has come much further than economics. In terms of addressing postcolonial critiques of social theory, Kayatekin argues that “economics proved to be the discipline most resistant to change.”

What are some problems with economics curricula?

The economics discipline is among the most monolithic fields in the social sciences, with many scholars “either unaware or actively hostile towards alternative approaches”. Given that there is one dominant theoretical framework in the mainstream of the field – neoclassical economics – the curriculum often presents economics as a set of (neoclassical) principles, rather than neoclassical economics as one theoretical entry point among many. This has the effect of making it seem like economics is apolitical, neutral and objective – rather than a discipline filled with competing views of how the economy functions. In many textbooks, students are taught to “think like an economist”, which involves thinking like a neoclassical economist, which thereby involves students having to fit economic questions into pre-existing frames, such as marginal utility, comparative advantage, utility maximisation, etc (for critiques by heterodox economists, see for example Stillwell or Mearman, Berger & Guizzo). A consequence of the heavy reliance on neoclassical tools is that it becomes difficult for students to grasp structural problems such as colonial legacies, imperialism, as well as class struggle. Within such an educational framework it also becomes difficult for students to see that inquiry in the social sciences is also embedded in wider political, methodological and ideological debates.

How can we address some of these problems?

Decolonised curricula will not come in neatly packaged textbooks with convenient supplementary materials all laid out. This means decolonising curricula may be a real challenge, especially for lecturers that may not have taught any of what they endeavour to add to their teaching portfolio. As with any transformative change, decolonising curricula will take time, effort, trial and error, and commitment. In this instance, we cannot emphasise enough the importance of reaching out to networks of other scholars. Greater collaboration and being aware of what others are also working on, can help to lighten the load and build a sense of community when you as the lecturer feel uncertain about how to take the next step.

To begin to address some of the problems with the discipline laid out above, we put forward some questions lecturers can ask themselves and some initial ideas from us, originating from our own experience or from discussions surrounding the topic of diversifying and decolonising the curriculum. With this, we hope to invite more students, academics, activists, policy makers and members of the public to this important process.

Whose scholarship are we teaching? Pluralism of theories, perspectives, and identities

Given that this post is specifically about economics curricula, the content of our reading lists or the textbooks we use are crucial to interrogate whilst still keeping in mind that this, in and of itself, does not fully encompass what it might mean to decolonise economics teaching. Some questions we might ask ourselves are: Are the theories available to students based on a diverse authorship? Are they representing the real-world with a diverse population? Who might benefit from the theoretical viewpoints presented? Do we provide the context of the economic theories we discuss? What are the implicit messages we send to economics students from all around the world when our curricula teach predominantly white men based in the Global North?

Besides teaching various schools of thought and disciplines, we need to make sure that students leave the university knowing that scholars can come from all corners of the globe and from many different walks of life. Students benefit from seeing themselves reflected in their curricula in order to not get the impression that only certain types of identities can be legitimate voices in economics. Here, we believe it is essential to not only include women scholars, scholars of marginalised ethnicities, and scholars from the Global South, but provide the context of theorists. Providing contexts allows students to see that the scholars they are studying are not speaking from a place of neutrality, and the very fact that certain scholars have become a part of ‘the canon’ is not accidental.

Moreover, teaching various schools of thought or disciplines relating to a specific topic or country context can often be challenging and lecturers may worry that a plurality of perspectives may be confusing for students. On top of this, a host of specific institutional factors, including political opposition to decolonising the curriculum within your own department, is often also a challenge for economists. So you may decide to adopt a step-by-step approach within a course or within the programme searching for allies as you go. For instance, when approaching economic growth theory within a course, you can introduce students to the mainstream literature on this and then juxtapose it with feminist or anti-colonial approaches to growth. On a programme level, different schools of thought could be introduced in the beginning and used throughout the degree when discussing different topics in economics. The key here is to be explicit in showing your students that there are competing and alternative ways of knowing and how the vantage point from which one theorises impacts how one sees the economy.

This kind of pluralism extends to methods as well. Many economics students will encounter econometrics as a course throughout their degree. This places a heavy focus on quantitative methods. While it may be important for students to have strong quantitative skills, methodological diversity will allow students the freedom to be able to ask broader research questions. It might also be useful for us to explicitly expose our students to the idea of trying to dediscipline, in order to break down some ideas around the superiority of some knowledges over others.

What topics are we teaching? Centering key issues and topics that have been marginalised

Another consequence of our monolithic discipline is that the Global North-centric mainstream presented in textbooks is often presented as the ideal, and processes that do not fit with this ideal, including realities in both the Global North and South, are seen as deviations. If we are serious about decolonising curricula, therefore, it is important to challenge the idea that cases in the Global South are ‘special cases’ to be complemented with the dominant conceptual categories of the Global North.

Depending on context, there are a host of concepts and examples that are entirely excluded from economics teaching. One might, for example, ask: what can scholarship on the informal economy in the Global South teach us about ongoing transformations in the Global North? When teaching about finance, could we use examples such as stokvels (often invitation-only, community based saving schemes in South Africa), as well as formal banks?

Furthermore, it is important to teach about urgent societal issues that are often neglected (or reduced to ‘add-ons’) in economics curricula, such as racial and gender inequalities, and ecological breakdown, but also to acknowledge that the way we understand these issues is not neutral. As with any other issue in economics, we believe it is important to introduce students to the rich debates about racial capitalism, structural violence and unpaid work. Moreover, the teaching of economic history, specifically that of slavery and colonialism is indispensable to the understanding of present day inequalities and structural violence. 

Finally, decolonising the curriculum should be thought of in parallel with decolonising pedagogy. See here for our thoughts on how this might be approached.

Positionality statement

Who we are and how we are brought up and trained matters for how we see the world. To be open about our own backgrounds, biases, and potential blind spots, we include a joint, yet differentiated, positionality statement. We invite all blog post contributors to consider doing the same, although we recognize that this may be too sensitive or not feel appropriate for some people. Ariane Agunsoye, Michelle Groenewald and Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven – the three of us – are all white heterosexual cis-women, which has certainly informed the ways in which we see the world and the kinds of injustices we most easily can spot. While Ingrid is from a middle class background, Ariane and Michelle’s working class backgrounds add a different layer to their experience of the world and the classroom. As a German, Ariane grew up in East Berlin which was up until she was 7 years old part of the GDR, as a South African, Michelle grew up in South Africa, and as a Norwegian and daughter of a teacher and development worker, Ingrid grew up in Mozambique, Botswana, and Cambodia, as well as Norway. Growing up white in South Africa, Michelle is personally well aware of the extraordinary privilege her skin colour has afforded her. Similarly, growing up in both the Global North and South, Ingrid’s sense of immense privilege originating in her skin colour and passport have been felt at a personal level early on. We are aware that our positionalities both allow us to see certain injustices more easily than others, but also that our positionalities create certain blind posts that we must interrogate in all social settings, including the classroom. What’s more, Michelle, Ariane, and Ingrid are all fundamentally shaped by their training in heterodox economics.  

[1] Refer to the positionality statement at the end of the post.