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.

Books

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

Websites

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.

Speeches 

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

Articles

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

Reports

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

Pamphlets

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. 

REFERENCES

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
    Luxembourg2
    Singapore2
    Spain2
    Sweden2
    Switzerland2
    United Kingdom2
    Belgium1
    Finland1
    Japan1
    Mexico1

Conclusion

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.

References

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.


Galileo and neoliberal academia: A critical assessment of UK higher education

Surbhi Kesar and Ingrid Kvangraven


Despite all the material progress and technological advancements over the past centuries, we seem to be heading towards an era of darkness in terms of the space for knowledge creation. At this moment, however, the darkness does not necessarily reflect the lack of capacity for fresh and critical thinking and intellect. Rather, it extends to how our society values knowledge itself. At this particular moment of bitter industrial dispute in UK universities, we wish to take a step back and consider what is happening to the higher education sector more broadly, the role of economics in supporting the neoliberal turn in academia, and its implications for the kinds of research and teaching that universities are becoming conditioned to produce. 

In 1633, Galielo argued that the sun, and not the earth, was the centre of the world. He faced persecution from the church with the order stating that: 

“We pronounce, judge, and declare, that you, the said Galileo… have rendered yourself vehemently suspected by this Holy Office of heresy, that is, of having believed and held the doctrine (which is false and contrary to the Holy and Divine Scriptures) that the sun is the center of the world, and that it does not move from east to west, and that the earth does move, and is not the center of the world….We order that by a public edict the book of Dialogues of Galileo Galilei be prohibited, and We condemn thee to the prison of this Holy Office during Our will and pleasure; and as a salutary penance We enjoin on thee that for the space of three years thou shalt recite once a week the Seven Penitential Psalms.”

Many centuries later, a lot has changed but also a lot has not. We do not have churches handing out orders for prosecution of those involved in critical thinking, but there is certainly a structural persecution by the current system that is squeezing the space for knowledge production and education in general, and critical thinking specifically. This might sound a bit surprising given the general rise in education levels of the global population. However, it is precisely this irony – the throttling of the space for knowledge and intellect despite the strides in literacy and (albeit unequal) material progress – that is of interest for us to unpack in the context of contemporary neoliberal academia. 


The marketisation of UK academia 

Critical scholars, such as Paulo Freire and Terry Eaglton, have critically assessed the limits – and the disastrous impacts – of the way knowledge is produced in universities under capitalism, and also specifically under neoliberalism. The story of our times, however, can be criticised even by invoking Adam Smith, the alleged ‘father’ of modern mainstream economics, who advocated the need to keep education and health sectors outside the market sphere. However, academia has in recent decades been through a phase of privatisation, where students are turned into consumers who can ‘buy’ a degree, teachers and universities turned into ‘sellers’, and different universities are compelled to compete as private players to provide the most shiny commodity  Particularly in UK academia, where we are currently both embroiled in an industrial dispute, this started to have an impact with the dramatic expansion of the higher education sector in the wake of the 1992 “Further and Higher Education Act”, which created many more universities and led to a sharp increase in student numbers. As the government did not increase its funding to universities proportionately, the amount of money available to pay for teaching a student quickly fell. As Jonathan Hopkin recently put it, this set the stage for “the financialization of the student experience”. This set many things in motion: instead of education being geared towards developing students to think critically, university degrees were transformed into consumer products that could signal an individual’s worth in the labour markets; students were transformed into consumers while being offered loans to pay for the rising fees and given the option to rate their consumer experience; many faculty and staff were either being made redundant or precarious to cut costs of these ‘university enterprises’; investment funds and investors, despite being outside academia, were increasingly given power to determine what should be the direction of knowledge creation.

While the neoliberalisation of academia is a global phenomenon, let’s dig into the case of the UK for a moment: There has been a drastic increase in the use of precarious labour, a real pay cut of 18% over the past 12 years, a rise in unmanageable workloads and persistent gender and pay gaps of 16% and 17%, respectively (for discussions of other contexts, see e.g. Brazil, South Africa, United States, India). There are literally cases of lecturers being homeless because of the unstable and low pay offered in precarious jobs. On the flip side, student fees have ballooned, which has led staff and students to stand together to ask “where are these increased fees going?”. However, one does not have to look far to figure out where the money is going. Indeed,  the salaries of Vice-Chancellors (the top position in a UK university) have also ballooned recently, with 9 VCs collectively earning £4.45 million annually, and universities have embarked on construction sprees, building new glossy buildings to attract students from across the world. The inequalities and damaging labour conditions this has led to is what the #FourFights strike in the UK is about. To make the situation worse, the recent proposed reforms in student debt rules in the UK will see many graduates spend all of their working lives to pay back the student loans and the reforms are likely to be most costly to students of low-income backgrounds. 


Has the economics discipline contributed to this change?

This may be a crisis of higher education itself, but the economics discipline has provided fuel to this fodder. First, the marketization of higher education is squarely in line with what many in the mainstream of the economics field would expect and approve of, as the field has provided a strong foundation for arguments to be made about privatisation and deregulation providing the most efficient outcomes. This move has continued despite the mounting and increasingly unsustainable student debt burden across the UK and the US in particular.

Second, the recent move towards a ‘theory free’ economic fix (à la Banerjee-Kramer-Duflo) makes it difficult to provide a holistic and structural analysis of the theoretical foundations of such a turn in academia. It has not come into being in vacuum and cannot be ‘fixed’ by ‘plumbing’ leaks. On the contrary, the entire model of neoliberal academia has been politically engineered as a part of the broader neoliberal turn of capitalism (see Eaglton’s take). One of the reasons for the strikes in the UK is precisely the impact of this neoliberal turn on academic staff. 

Third, economics education has itself become increasingly narrow and instrumentalist in its approach to learning, as contemporary economics students gain limited exposure to critical questioning of fundamental philosophical and political premises of economic theories. This aids in creating a generation of economists that do not question the economic structures that have produced this unequal, precarious, and unsustainable academic system. Relatedly, mainstream economics departments, especially those at the ‘top’ of the spectrum, whose degrees are in high demand, remain relatively insulated from many impacts of fund cuts, while the critical spaces where students are more actively encouraged to question and critique  – which that exist to a larger extent at the margins of the higher education hierarchy – face a sharper brunt. 

During the Cold War the marginalisation and exclusion of critical economists in the US was aggressive – as is well documented by Fred Lee (2009)  and others. However, such exclusions did not stop with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Only last year, the University of Leicester targeted left-wing academics with redundancies based on their strategic goal of ‘wanting to shed critical management scholarship’ and move towards a more ‘mainstream’ outlook. Similarly, Goldsmiths is threatening to make staff redundant in the departments of English and History, which is threatening the future of the UK’s only taught MA in Black British History (see here for a recent US example). When students are viewed as consumers and universities simply attempt to supply the commodity in highest demand, we risk seeing further cuts to radical staff and departments across the world in favour of more market-friendly degrees such as Management, Business and mainstream Economics. In Brazil, diversity of academic perspectives in economics is being threatened by strong disciplinary, institutional and wider political pressures with both domestic and global roots. In India, there has been an active attempt to suppress critical thinking and political consciousness of students by attacking centres of critical education, along with a move to promote privatisation in Education. 


The impact of marketisation on critical thinking

The developments outlined so far – marketisation, deregulation, precarisation, and deterioration of working conditions  – are a threat to both critical thinking and to material improvements to inequalities we see both in the higher education sector and in the world more broadly. 

With the major inequalities and high levels of insecurity we now have in the sector, the risks of rocking the boat and challenging authority becomes even greater. This lays the foundation for power abuses such as the recent Comaroff case becoming even more rife. Rather than critically scrutinising and challenging the rigid hierarchies in academia, young researchers are strongly incentivized to fall in line. This situation is worse for women, people of colour, and scholars from working class backgrounds, who already do not fit the profile of what an academic is meant to look like. 

What’s more, the developments are a serious threat to those calling for a decolonisation of universities. As Priyamvada Gopal put it in a recent teach-out on the Cambridge picket line: “decolonisation cannot take a place in an institution that capitulates to marketising ideologies and its attendant consequences.” For example, the Rhodes Must Fall movement in South Africa, which spurred the contemporary movements for decolonising the university in the UK, was accompanied by the Fees Must Fall campaign. One cannot fundamentally challenge imperialism, Eurocentrism, structural racism or sexism in an institution driven by market logic. So, while the  #FourFights industrial action is about labour rights and equality, it has much broader implications, as it pushes for a university where it is possible for academics – regardless of identity – to challenge the structures that we find ourselves within. Given the dire situation and lack of willingness within the sector to address it, various academic activist initiatives have appeared in recent years to address precisely this, such as Diversifying and Decolonising Economics (D-Econ). 

If we are to address the urgent crises that stand before us such as the climate crisis, the covid pandemic, and rising poverty and inequality, we need to have safe, stable and secure spaces where academics and students can learn and think critically about what kind of society we want and how to achieve it. If this is not facilitated, the persecutions of many Gallelios will continue and we will soon be a lost generation who are unable to produce critical and creative knowledge despite making strides on material production. The university, students, and staff are on the picket lines shouting “eppur Si muov” (Galleio’s last words, as inscribed on his gravestone: But the Earth does move!). While the employers are attempting to turn a deaf ear to these shouts, the labour union is escalating industrial action. We go into a new round of strikes now because the employers are undermining workers’ rights and conditions, but also because we believe a better, more radical, and socially relevant university is both necessary and possible. In doing so, we highlight that this turn in academia is not a natural and necessary evolution, but rather a consequence of a series of choices by employers and the State; an ‘ideological fixation’, if you will.    


Surbhi Kesar is a Lecturer in the Department of Economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, and Ingrid Kvangraven is a Lecturer in the Department of International Development at King’s College, London (KCL). Both of them are members of the Steering Group of Diversifying and Decolonising Economics (D-Econ). 

D-ECON’S 2021 ALTERNATIVE READING LIST, PT. 2

We’re back once again with some recommended reading going into 2022. Due to the identity of the author or their location or the subject of their book, you may have missed these great books in 2021. We include 9 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 two new and important books on social theory in the African context and the colonial origins of social theory and how modern social social theory can be reconstructed. In addition, with the resurgence of scholarship on dependency theories, it is only fitting that we include an examination of the possibilities of development and its limits in Latin America. The policy response of the COVID-19 pandemic has been extremely uneven across the world, partly because of the constrained policy space available to governments in developing countries. Therefore, we have included a new volume that examines the potential for economic and monetary sovereignty in African countries. The recovery from the pandemic induced recession in some advanced industrialized nations has shifted the balance of class power to a certain extent towards the working class. Therefore, revisiting debates of automation and labor power is timely, which you can do with our reading list. 

The pandemic also revealed that public health crises do not affect us all in the same way: some groups are more vulnerable than others within nations and globally. Therefore, we include books on de facto internal borders that often divide groups of people, such as segregation in New York City and resistance to it. We also include a book on national or external borders as functions of imperial domination and culmination of crises of capitalism, assuming greater relevance given the arbitrary restrictions placed on a bid to stop the global movement of people due to the pandemic. 

We hope you find some time to read these brilliant books. If you’d like to read more, you can find the books we selected for the first half of 2021 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!

Dependent Capitalisms in Contemporary Latin America and Europe

By Aldo Madariaga and Stefano Palestini

This edited volume explores how dependency theories can be adapted and applied to understand limits and possibilities for development in Latin America and Europe. It explores core-periphery relations across different sets of countries, specific mechanisms of dependency, as well as the role of race and gender in dependency analysis. Beyond its theoretical explorations and elaborations, it also empirically unpacks a range of “new” situations of dependency in Latin America, Europe and beyond, and how they relate to contemporary concerns such as commodity booms, populism, neo-extractivism, growth, and financialization. This is a timely contribution at a moment when the use of dependency theories in analyses of economic development is being revived across the world. 

Colonialism and Modern Social Theory

By Gurminder Bhambra and John Holmwood

This is an immensely important book for any student of social theory interested in understanding the colonial roots of a lot of contemporary thinking. From a post-colonial perspective, Gurminder Bhambra and John Holmwood unpack how the emergence of modern society in the context of European colonialism and empire impacted the development of modern social theory. They find that colonialism and empire are to a large extent absent from the conceptual understandings of modern society in classics such as Tocqueville, Marx, Weber, Durkheim, and Du Bois, and that their ideas instead tend to be organized around ideas of the nation state and capitalist economy. Ultimately, the book argues for a reconstruction of social theory by taking the limitations addressed into account. Listen to the authors discuss the book on the Connected Sociologies Podcast here.

Economic and Monetary Sovereignty in 21st Century Africa

By Maha Ben Gadha, Fadhel Kaboub, Kai Koddenbrock, Ines Mahmoud and Ndongo Samba Sylla

This is an important contribution both to advancing theoretical and empirical understandings of African monetary sovereignty and to putting problems and possibilities relating to African monetary sovereignty on the political agenda. This is of utmost importance, given that these issues have largely not received much attention in contemporary discussions of economic development. Economic and Monetary Sovereignty in 21st Century Africa traces the recent history of African monetary and financial dependencies, looking at the ways African countries are resisting colonial legacies. The collection of chapters is diverse and highly interesting, offering comparative and historical analyses of how African countries have attempted to increase their policy space and move beyond various forms of monetary dependence. The collection is based on a conference in Tunisia in 2019 (watch the videos from the conference here).

The Harlem Uprising Segregation and Inequality in Postwar New York City

By Christopher Hayes

In this interesting take, the author, Christopher Hayes, explores the reasons for uprisings in the African American neighborhoods in New York City post the second world war in the 1960s. He ascribes these uprising to racial inequalities in various economic opportunities, including housing, schools, jobs, and policing. In this gripping and detailed account, the book explores how those in power have refused to address structural racism, while also examining the limits of liberalism.

Rethinking Development: Marxist Perspectives

By Ronaldo Munck

The book critically engages with various Marxian perspectives on the dynamics on development and social progress.  It specifically engages with some key words in Marxian theory, including Marx’s early work on capitalist development and his later works on underdeveloped Russia, Lenin’s thesis on imperialism as a hurdle for development, and Luxemburg’s contribution to analyzing imperialism as being functional to the needs of capitalism. The author then examines the Latin American dependency school of thought, post-development school and the indgenous development models advanced by Andean Marxism that have enriched the Marxian perspectives on development (and underdevelopment). The book ends with a discussion on the Marxian understandings of the pattern of uneven and combined development and the contradictions that riddle the process of economic development in the current phase of globalized capitalism.

Smart Machines and Service Work: Automation in an Age of Stagnation

By Jason E. Smith

In this new book, Smith returns to Solow’s classic “productivity paradox”, which essentially states that we can see automation everywhere, like the spheres of leisure, sociality, and politics, but not in the productivity statistics. He examines why labor saving automation in the service age in the Global North has not been accompanied by increased productivity, as was predicted. The book convincingly argues that the reasons for this are threefold: that many of the jobs now being automated require an intuitive, embodied, and socially mediated form of knowledge that even the most advanced machine learning algorithms cannot learn; that in the advanced capitalist world, cheap labor is surfeit which has all but removed the incentive for firms to invest their capital in soon-to-be-obsolete machinery to replace them; and that there is a crisis of profitability rooted in the decades-long expansion of “unproductive” labor, that is, labor engaged in supervisory or circulatory activities. It is a great book that critically analyzes potential automation of service work in the world of COVID-19 where frontline workers are sought to be replaced by machines for the safety of the workforce, or where increasing labor militancy is often threatened with automation. 

Social Policy in the African Context 

By Jimi Adesina

African Books Collective: Social Policy in the African Context

This edited volume, put together by Jimi Adesina, based on the proceedings of the Social Policy in African Conference in 2017 provides an overview of social policy in varied country contexts and fields especially in light of decades of the reduction in size and hollowing out of the content of social policy due to the neoliberal retreat of the State. It covers a wide range of topics from agrarian reform and cash transfers to gender dynamics of social policy and mutual support institutions and relates them to structures of production and economic policy as well. The book identifies the importance of deliberative social policy for the continued process of decolonization of African institutions and building state capacity and is a tour de force in critical social policy scholarship. 

Border and Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism, and the Rise of Racist Nationalism

By Harsha Walia

Framing borders as an instrument of capital accumulation, imperial domination, and labor control, Walia argues that what is often described as a “migrant crisis” in Western nations is the outcome for the actual crisis of capitalism, conquest, and climate change.  This book shows the displacement of workers in the global south due to, in many cases, the implementation of structural adjustment policies. Walia argues that borders are managed through exclusion, diffusion, commodified inclusion, and discursive control, which also hinders labor solidarity, by creating additional precarity among and differentiation from migrant workers. The book builds up to argue for a bold no border policy as well as the dismantling of the “political ideology of liberalism, the economic dogma of neoliberalism, and right-wing nationalism” that are built into and facilitated by borders.  

Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans, and the Making of the Modern World, 1471 to the Second World War

By Howard W. French

Amazon.com: Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans, and the Making of the Modern  World, 1471 to the Second World War eBook : French, Howard W.: Kindle Store

In this ambitious and impressive new book, journalist Howard French seeks to excavate the long elided central importance of the African continent as the “linchpin of the machine of modernity.” In the story of modernity, he writes, the role of Africa is diminished, trivialized, and erased, and by filling in some gaps in this story, he retells the story of modernity. He argues that the role of European nations in bringing about enlightenment and modernity is misplaced and this did not happen because of innate European superiority. Instead, he shows, the political economy of the European plunder of African and Caribbean nations set the stage for propelling the continent of Europe past great civilizational centers at the time. was not bea, and that much of its success in doing so is deeply connected with the extraction of gold and slaves from Western Africa. French also argues that this long economic and political assault on Africa has also been one of a war on Black people that has continued at least until the 1960s in the United States. This book does not pretend to have rewritten history, but seeks to start the process of correcting the most egregious form of erasure of the importance of Africa in this story, which he argues is in the minds of people in the rich world. 

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

The Continuing Mode of Colonial Repression

By Sunanda Sen

This blog post is an excerpt from Professor Sunanda Sen’s talk delivered at the Plenary Session of the 23rd Annual Conference of the Association for Heterodox Economics (AHE). It is an overview of the broad themes from the considerable body of their work on the continuing mode of colonial repression and its workings in the contemporary phase of capitalism. Professor Sen’s work is located in the rich tradition of critical investigation of colonialism by scholars from the Global South.

In the following blog, I elaborate on the colonial mode of subordination, its past pattern as well as the continuing pattern of repression which prevails at present.

Colonialism came into being in the 16th century with the emergence of a few powerful states based on the ruling ideology of racial superiority. Following its implementation, the whole world came to be divided along racial lines, primarily resulting in two types of colonies – the white-settled North and the tropical Southern colonies. Power over the colonial possessions was exercised using three aspects: a) physical-territorial control and command over the State, b) political control by asserting administrative controls; and c) control over the economy and resources. In this blog, I will provide examples of the earlier pattern of expropriation by the ruling country in two such colonies  – one my own, India, and the other, Indonesia, both subjected to colonial rule by major empires of the West.

Colonialisation started in Indonesia by the 16th century with the emergence of the spice trade in the islands of the archipelago. With spice treated as a highly precious commodity in terms of its high value in the market, the growing spice trade with Indonesia came to be directly controlled by the Dutch East India Company (the VOC). The virtual take-over was very much under the patronage of the Dutch Crown, located far from the spot of trading.

It is worth highlighting that the pattern of gaining access to the economy by using trading channels was similar in India, starting with the British East India Company (EIC) having a charter of trade from the British crown. The company eventually was in a position to rule a considerable territory of India, largely by using military power, which effectively began in 1757 with the Battle of Plassey. As with Indonesia, activities of the EIC in India were not just limited to trade but in effect were involved in the direct annexation of large territories. Finally, it was in 1858, during Queen Victoria’s regime in England, that the company (i.e. the EIC) rule gave way to direct British rule of the Crown.

Colonialism came up with the combination of a very powerful state and its power, by people who were in possession of that power. Being dominant they could also draw a distinction between their own race and the other, which could include a specified community identified by the dominant race. Thus began the division of the whole world according to race, which often was marked by the colour of the skin. The process started with the distinction between the white-settled and the tropical colonies by the 16th century. Controls by the dominant race were exercised by using the following two modes of control. First, territorial control by occupying the space and exercising command over the occupied state. Second, political as well as economic controls by taking over the administration of the economy.

These colonial controls started off quite early in the 16th century, both in India and in Indonesia. In Indonesia, colonialism started in the 16th century with trading in the spice islands of the archipelago. Using international voyages that came in search of spices, trading turned out a valuable deal at that point of time. It can be imagined that such voyages, close to plunders rather than exchanges via free markets, were not at all peaceful. While there was violence the traders in meantime formed the Dutch East India Company or the VOC in 1602, which along with the voyages were controlled by the Dutch crown.

Similar turn of events were there in India where the initial trading by the British traders were taken over by a company which was formed in 1600 and given a charter of trade by the British crown. In the meantime, they had already started occupying territories within the country, often with territorial wars. Finally, as mentioned above, the company gave way to British rule of India by 1858, during the regime of Queen Victoria.

Colonialism in action, in effect, was geared to benefit the ruling nation. To achieve this, several steps were initiated. First and foremost, it was agriculture which went through major changes. In Indonesia, the change known as “cultivation system” introduced commercial crops in Java, the cultivation of which was subject to taxes, both on farmers and on export earnings. Between those, such revenue provided 33% of the income earned by the Dutch crown.

Structural changes in Indonesia was met with coercion of the local people, especially as a huge bridge was constructed by the VOC for transporting the materials in sugar processing. Similarly, in India, the East India Company forced the cultivators to cultivate indigo, which was much needed to bleach the cotton.

Widespread commercialisation that followed changes with cultivation patterns switching to export crops did not mean much for the poor whose consumption included maize and other inferior grains. More so as the net value of exports were earned from overseas but the money in most cases never came to the cultivators, or even to the exporting country, as with the much disputed “Drain of Wealth” from India.

To talk a bit more of what was called a “Drain of Wealth” by Indian nationalists at end of 1900, taxes,  raised within India, were earmarked in the domestic budget to meet what was labelled by the ruling government as  “Home Charges”, to meet overseas expenditure of the Secretary of State for India (or the India Office) in London. The “home” was, of course, home for the British. Thus the overseas expenses were accounted for as expenses which India must meet in order to run the administration of British ruled India’s offices in England. As the nationalists claimed, this was completely illegitimate and fabricated. This blog does not provide the details of the transfer of tax revenue of India to meet those rather illegitimate expenses in England. The reader can refer to my book, apart from other writings available on the literature [1].

There also remained other channels of transferring resources from India, especially of gold which was much needed by Britain to manage the international gold standard [2]. It may be mentioned here that Britain by this time was in command of the international gold standard. Accordingly, gold was much needed to support the continuing system. While the entire sum of India’s export earnings in sterling was deposited with the India Office in London, gold was transferred from both the Paper Currency Reserve as well as the Gold Exchange Reserve in India to London. Use was made of gold which was transferred by Britain to invest in securities with handsome returns, all for Britain. Finally, silver trade was used as one more channel of making profits by the British while the dearth of procurements of silver led to a serious shortage of credit as well as currency in India.

Colonialism continued to fetch benefits by using other means, such as the use of labor. In Indonesia slavery started, as in Brazil and in many other countries, with the use of forced labor within the country. The process fetched a lot of profit to those in power to use such labour. The Dutch also imported enslaved Africans. In this the process, places like Surinam came up as appendages to the Dutch empire.

As for use of labour in India, it was an indirect form of slavery which relied on the shipping of indentured labor from India to plantation islands of the British Isles. It proved useful to the rentier plantation-owners of Britain by providing such labour when slavery formally was abolished in the British Isles in 1830s. Such labour, nearly enslaved, were engaged to run the plantations in West Indies and Mauritius. The practice of indenturing was a clever device on part of the British to get labour from India, ship them, often in in-human conditions, and engage them in plantation islands under strict conditions in order that the plantations can continue. As mentioned already, the plantations were owned by the Britishers, which included the big financiers in London – all providing the benefits Britain was enjoying. I provide a figure below which indicates the multiple benefits enjoyed by Britain in the process, which included the advantages of exploiting the cheap (or free) labour from India and the use of products cultivated by them in the sugarcane plantations for processing white sugar in Britain and exporting to rest of world, which also included India. I have worked elsewhere on the details of the triangular pattern of exports, of labour, of raw sugar or sugarcane, and finally, exporting processed sugar with benefits to Britain in multiple ways [3].

Figure: Triangular Trade between Britain, India, and the Plantation Islands

Continuing on mode of suppression. I notice a parallel process which relates to the same period between the late 19th to early 20th century. One recalls the 22 million white men and women who   migrated from Britain to the white settled colonies of Canada, Australia, New Zealand between 1815 to 1914. This was indeed a huge immigration from Britain to these newly settled white colonies. The settlers displaced the locals in every aspect of their existence by taking over administration and other controls over the settled economy. The people who were displaced were identified as aboriginals. When I visited Australia, I was told that the present generation is very aware of the injustice done by their ancestors in the past. Remedial steps as follow including the re-naming of their streets, in terms of the Aboriginal names etc. Similarly when I visited Brazil, I was told about the amazon belt as a touristic place which includes the aborigines! As it had been, people who displaced live in that region, like in a ghetto. That’s how the system continues while these 22 million who immigrated were supported under the surveillance of the nation from where they came from.

We now move to the notion of the current/continuing colonial mode in today’s time. While one talks about globalisation which apparently has integrated the world economy, the reality is far from that picture. Globalisation in practice has intensified the global divide between the North and the South.

This is how one should look at globalisation. Let us ask as to what has happened to the developing or underdeveloped countries under globalisation? One here needs to point at how globalisation operates in reality. A major force here has been the market, the market being the agency of the advanced countries. The latter believe in the free market which parallels the controls of the colonial masters. The colonial masters ruled directly by controlling, the market, today accepted like a faith in advanced countries, is ruling indirectly. The market in turn follows the dictates and prescriptions of mainstream economics, which is subscribed no-less by policy makers in major advanced countries, and more so because it provides benefits to the advanced countries.

To repeat, the global integration has divided the world between the Global South and Global North, making use of the free market, which is a parallel to the tools of expropriation on part of colonial masters. Markets conform to mainstream economics, very different from heterodox economics which we are dealing with, and it has been to the advantage of the advanced countries. In the process, institutions are changed, and  banks are also changing their form – no longer providing cheaper loans to the poor, while privatisation has been the norm. That brings an end to what newly industrialised countries like India tried after independence to achieve something which can be called a developmental state. What is happening today is a new form of subordination, by the elite state in developing countries and also in advanced countries, of the rather helpless poor in the Global South.  It is reflecting the colonial mode in terms of the repressions, while the form is different.  

Repression happens via finance with liberalised finance – which contrasts the formal colonial period, when controlled finance was the goal. Today it is liberalised finance with subordinate financialisation in the developing countries. In this corporate profits are easy, with financial supremacy and speculative bubbles fetching business and profits [4]. De-regulated finance in the Global South has been responsible for their continuing subordination by finance controlled by advanced nations. The related lack of monetary autonomy, the weak currency status of all their currencies in terms of the lack of convertibility to dollar in the market, makes the case for the subordinate financialisation. We recall here that under British rule India was denied gold currency even with considerable export earnings in gold. 

The other form or tool of repression in the current period happens to be the use of labour. Given that most of the previous protective measures on labor have been suppressed and labour rights have been scrapped the pattern now compares to the colonial mode of repressing labour.

Another form of repression is with the extraction of resources and related displacements of people who used to live in as aborigines in Australia, in Brazil’s Amazon belt, and as the tribals and locals in India’s districts prominent with mines and other extractive resources. As in India where displacements of tribals is common, Brazil is found to be handing over a large part of the Amazon belt to domestic and foreign capital.

Colonial or the modern form of subordination works by using the racial and colonial dynamics which is essentially based on power. Often based on proximity to ruling authorities, exercise of power has been responsible for the continued use of race as a tool of subordination. That is how the Dalits (low caste) in India, or black people in other places have been treated as inferiors. Those who are more powerful are usually proximate to the ruling authorities which enable them to exercise such power based on racial discrimination and oppression. Simultaneously, the process goes with state action, privileged with state sanctions by the White supremacy in advanced countries. Think of George Floyd, who was choked to death by a white policeman, a part of establishment.

The protests which have come up, and are very welcome, have been happening, thus re-stating the fact that the black lives do matter. This may initiate a re-look at history, a very positive thinking by the current generation, which include both blacks as well as whites. You also notice the overthrow of the statues like Edward Golson in Bristol, the protests, sometime back in Oxford and London, which all are continuing. Protests are also coming as new writings and even with a petition that countries which looted the former colonies and repressed their people should pay it back as reparations. This has found scholarly resonance in works such as Boris Bitker’s A Case for Reparations and William Darity Jr.’s Reparations for Black Americans. Similar discrimination and repression is continuing in present times in other countries, including in my country India,  in the targeting of tribals and Dalits on grounds of racial prejudice and class oriented privileges. So I conclude that there  prevails a continuing pattern of subordination under contemporary capitalism as it happened with formal colonialism and the only way to redress it is to continue the on-going forms of protests.


[1] Sunanda Sen, Colonies and Empire: India 1870-1914, Orient Longman, Calcutta 1992.

[2] The reader can wait to see my paper titled “ Could Britain continue with the gold standard in absence of India as a colony?” in Review of Political Economy (forthcoming in 2022).

[3] See for detailed analysis, Sunanda Sen, “Indentured Labour from India in the Age of  Empire” Social Scientist Jan-Feb 2015. See also, The Surplus Approach of Engels and Marx  and its relevance in the context of the conditions of working class in contemporary capitalism” Social Scientist Nov-Dec 2020.

[4] Sunanda Sen, Financialisation, Speculation and Instability “ in Philip Mader et al (ed) International Handbook of Financialisation [Routledge 2020]; Investment Decisions under Uncertainty”,  Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, Vol 43, No 2, 2020, pp  267-280; “Financialisation and Corporate Investments: The Indian Case” (with Zico Dasgupta), Review of Keynesian Economics, Vol 6 issue 1, January 2018. 

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

By Lynne Chester

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Image credit: Brooke Anderson