Statement: In Solidarity with Palestine

By Decolonising and Diversifying Economics (D-Econ)

Decolonising and Diversifying Economics (D-Econ) expresses its unreserved solidarity with the Palestinian civilians and an unequivocal condemnation of the war crimes perpetrated by the occupying Israeli regime. We stand in support of the hundreds of thousands of allies to the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people, who have been the target of a vicious and deceitful hate campaign. We appeal to academic workers and networks committed to human rights, social justice, and anti-imperialism, to speak out against the Israeli occupation of Palestine and oppression of Palestinians.

Recent events bear emphatic testimony to not only the brutal violence of imperialism, but also the hegemony of neocolonial powers over the public sphere. The brutal crimes of Israeli occupation have been justified by a misinformation campaign validated and perpetuated by the imperialist nations. Progressive and democratic voices against this violence have been sanctioned, criminalised, and remain under threat. The objective of this has been to dehumanise a whole people and rationalise their collective punishment. In this increasingly polarised media and political landscape, we appeal for a reclaiming of space to express support for the rights of oppressed people across the world.

As academics and activists committed to decolonisation, it is essential in our engagement with the media and in the classroom to situate recent events in a broader historical and political context. This includes but is not limited to the historical colonisation of Palestine, struggles for decolonisation and their suppression, the role of US and UK imperialism in shaping the global economic order, and the Global North’s complicity in the oppression of Palestinian people. It is imperative that we critique the marginalist and biased view of social conflict that currently dominates the public sphere, whereby the violence of the oppressed stands suspended in time and space. It has no history, it is asocial, it deserves no future, and is immoral as violence intrinsically is. But a moral imperative drives the violence of the oppressor to respond to immoral violence. This hierarchy of human lives is the letter and spirit of colonialism. We categorically reject this view.

Instead, we appeal to the scholarly and activist community to critically engage with these events through anti-colonial perspectives to understand and challenge the injustice that has been unfolding in Palestine. This Eurocentric distortion embedded in the dominant view of the world and the rights of Palestinians in it, is supported by unequal power relations in the production of knowledge. To challenge these power structures, we must reclaim space to articulate and protest for the rights of oppressed and colonised people across the world, the very praxis of decolonisation.

Finally, we call on institutions across the world, including our own universities, to stand up in solidarity with the Palestinian people and to protect those who speak up against the occupation of Palestine, including academics in Palestine itself. The role of universities should not be to parrot the Islamophobic anti-Palestine line of many governments simply, but rather to create safe spaces for critical thought and resistance to oppression.  

Emancipatory National Accounting: The Nigerian Case 

by Maria Bach[1]


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

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

Pius Okigbo, the economic advisor

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

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

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

How and what was counted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morgan, M.S. (2009) Seeking Parts, Looking for Wholes, History of Observation in Economics Working Paper Series. Available at:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Role of Students in Decolonising the Economics Curriculum

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

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

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

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

What does it mean to ‘decolonise the mindset’?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



Teaching tool-kits:



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

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

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

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. 

Decolonising Knowledge in the Medium of a Monolithic Language

by Farwa Sial

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

– Ludwig Wittgenstein.

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

– McCloskey (1992:56).

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

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

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

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

d) the limitations of interpreting other languages in English. 

English as an Organised System of Thought

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Medium is the Message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interpreting Methods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mainstream and the scientific method

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

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

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

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

Heterodoxy, diversification, and decolonisation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resolving the contradictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The structural exclusions in Economics

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

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

The consequences of a narrow field

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

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

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

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

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

1. More equal representation in terms of identity,

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

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

Addressing the most common excuse

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

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

Read this blog post in Spanish or Portuguese.

D-Econ Workshop at the Exploring Economics Online Summer Academy 2020

summer-academy-for-pluralist-economics-2020-workshopsD-Econ will be hosing a workshop at Exploring Economics’ Summer Academy August 10-16th 2020. The summer academy’s title is “Mainstream Economics Sold Out? Exploring Ways into Sustainable Futures.” This is how the purpose of the Academy is described:

On the one hand, we want to debate whether mainstream economics has indeed sold out or whether there is an increasing acknowledgement of unorthodox, non-neoclassical thinking. On the other hand, we want to explore the transformative potential of the coronavirus crisis not only with regard to the global economic system but also to the discipline of economics. What kind of economic thinking is needed to lay down pathways towards sustainability and international solidarity, instead of ecological destruction and xenophobic nationalism? We are convinced that this can only be done from a pluralist perspective. Indeed, there is not a single path towards one shared future but multiple ways to a plurality of possible futures. However, such a perspective challenges us to overcome Eurocentric thinking and to take into account the diverse voices of the so-called global south.

The registration period for the Online Summer Academy is open until the 24th of June.

Read about all the workshops here. Information about D-Econ’s workshop is below. Continue reading

Podcasts about D-Econ

D-Econ members have been asked to talk about D-Econ in different forums this year. Here are two interviews with D-Econ members in the form of podcasts. We hope you enjoy them!

Economia Decolonial (in Portuguese)

On the 10th June 2020, Por uma questão de classe podcast invited D-econ member Carolina Alves to talk about “Economia Decolonial” and introduce the D-econ initiative to the Brazilian audience. In a sequence of stimulating and pertinent questions by economists Joelson Carvalho and Jadir Eduardo Corrêa Junior, the conversation also included issues related to ‘the Cambridge School’ of economics, heterodox economics, Marxism and Brazil’s current government. 

Women in Science (in English)

On February 27th 2020, the “Women in Science” project invited D-Econ member Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven to talk about diversifying and decolonising economics. This was a part of the Great Speaker Series campaign in Portugal in partnership with the British-born co-working space Second Home Lisbon. Ingrid outlines how D-Econ came to be, how she came to be interested in heterodox economics, and why and how the missions of diversifying and decolonising economics are so essential.

Is career mentoring a panacea for gender inequality?


Ariane Agunsoye highlights the inadequacy of mentoring in overcoming gender inequality in academia especially during this pandemic.

The COVID-19 crisis has once more exposed inherent inequalities in academia. The pandemic and the female academicNow more than ever we need to talk about how lack of equality and home affects women at work and Women academics seem to be submitting fewer papers during coronavirus at work are just a few of the recent headlines. While there is an upsurge in articles outlining the disproportionate effects of lockdown on women, there has been surprisingly less critical engagement with the support mechanisms in place that are meant to reduce gender inequality. Not even hindered by the current pandemicmentoring is promoted as a panacea for the career advancement of women academics. We at D-Econ have already cautioned in the past against rather simplistic approaches in tackling systemic issues. Mechanisms such as coaching, mentoring, shadowing, and training often individualise structural problems without questioning the system in itself. The current crisis highlights more than ever the inadequacy of mentoring in overcoming gender inequality in academia.

Three deficits: representation, accessibility, time

Academia suffers from three deficits that result in creating and maintaining unequal structures. First, women are largely underrepresented in academia, as shown in the latest report on gender equality in academia from the European Commission. In spite of an increase in female doctoral graduates in the European Union, culminating in a near gender-balance (47.9 percent of doctoral graduates were women in 2016), their career trajectories remain highly unequal. Occupying 41.3 percent of all academic positions, the share of women in senior-level positions lies only at 24 percent. Perhaps most importantly to note here is that while female doctoral graduates and academics increased by 10 percentage points since 2000, the change of women academics hired at professorial level rose only by one percentage point (from 6.4 percent in 2000 to 7.4 percent in 2016). Moreover, only a third of researchers are female (with no change since 2000). The lack of representation is even more alarming in the case of minority women. With only 25 female black professors (out of 21,000 professors), white women and black men are six times more likely to become full professors in the UK.

Second, women’s access to the institutions of knowledge dissemination is highly unequal. When considering that internationally recognised publications are taken as an indicator for promotion, it is alarming that on average, men publish twice as much as women. This appears to be prevalent more in some disciplines (e.g. economics) than in others (e.g. educational studies). In the top four economics journals, the share of women authors per paper is on average 15 percent. Meanwhile, only eight percent of the papers are authored principally by women, and only four percent solely written by women. More generally within the social sciences, men cite other men more than they cite women.

Third, women face an imbalance in terms of workload. Women still conduct the majority of care work often without an appropriate support system. Strikingly, the UK fares the worst among developed countries with regards to sharing of responsibilities within households: UK women conduct on average 60 percent more unpaid work than men. This double work burden has a negative impact on promotion due to reduced publications (two children result in a loss of 2.5 years’ research output), but also due to expectations of being constantly available, joining evening seminars, and conducting numerous research collaborations. If universities are serious about tackling gender inequality, these three deficits in academia need to be addressed.

Can mentoring help overcome these deficits?

To promote gender equality, numerous studies have outlined the benefits of establishing a productive mentoring relationship. By sharing their knowledge more experienced scholars, it is argued, can help early career researchers to build self-confidence, increase competence, and avoid isolation (which is a risk deemed particularly prevalent in academia). While having a support system is important, I doubt that mentoring programmes can overcome the three deficits: the representation deficit based on the number of women in senior positions, the accessibility deficit based on a lack of diversity in terms of knowledge production, and the time deficit based on unequal workloads.

Sure, a mentor could be helpful in reducing the representation deficit by taking up the role of a sponsor and collaborator. Not only has it been proven that being mentored  increases confidence, but also that a mentor can introduce early career researchers to their own networks and co-develop research projects. This, in turn, would enhance the profile of the junior academic and increase visibility, both of which are conducive for promotions. Yet, these initiatives do not tackle any systemic issues in the form of gendered perceptions within promotion panels. When having achieved similar or even more qualifications than men, the evidence shows that women are not promoted equally (which is intensified by a minority ethnic background). Mentoring does not address these systemic issues, but instead places the responsibility on the individual to develop career strategies within a dysfunctional system, thereby indirectly reinforcing it.

It is also questionable whether mentoring can reduce the accessibility deficit. Yes, formal mentoring has been found to be conducive to an enhanced publication record but this process in itself is problematic. Academic promotions are to a large degree dependent on publications where journals work as gatekeepers of knowledge. The mentor can teach the mentee the “particular kind of knowledge” requested by academic journals. However, the theories, methodologies, and geographical locations considered acceptable by journals not only downplay power imbalances based on gender and ethnicity, but also deepen them. At the same time, a mentor cannot influence gender bias in the publishing process, even when teaching the right kind of knowledge or collaborating with mentee. To name a few: women face higher publishing standards, are less likely to be given credit for their work and face a lengthier peer review process which in turn is detrimental for promotion.

Against this backdrop and the existing time deficit, it should not be surprising that there “have been negligible number of submissions by women” since the lockdown. Those with fewer care and domestic duties are able to use the lockdown to produce more articles and improve their publishing profile, while those with care duties – mostly women – are left behind. Carers now have to find time before or after the children are awake to record online lectures and manage student activities and then use a few hours during the day to work on research. Since the lockdown, journal editors have noticed that women have submitted fewer papers than usual at this time of the year in contrast to men who have submitted 50 percent more papers in some disciplines. While a mentor could give advice on how to manage time, they cannot make up for the fact that academia suffers from a substantial support deficit, often assuming uninterrupted working lives when evaluating career trajectories for promotion.

Given that these sexist practices continue to exist in the workplace and at home, a focus on mentoring as the solution props up this current system without challenging the underlying structures. Instead, the solution relies on helping “women build their skills and capacity” to succeed in a male dominated environment, placing the responsibility onto women. We at D-Econ have recently argued that career mentoring cannot be a panacea to overcome systemic limitations, but that a holistic approach is needed. Rather than mentoring programmes, we need clear-cut promotion categories which do not give too much leeway for interpretation. We need more emphasis on publication practices, highlighting inequalities and tackling these, for instance through measures as suggested by womenalsoknowstuff. These include, amongst others, journal editors checking the gender composition of references and encouraging authors to achieve a balanced citation practice. Finally, we need to reduce home inequality while acknowledging different life trajectories when evaluating promotions.

Ariane Agunsoye is a Lecturer in Economics at Goldsmiths, University of London. She is also on the steering committee of D-Econ, a network of economists who aim to promote inclusiveness in economics.

This post was originally published on the LSE Blog on Higher Education.