The Oxford English Dictionary defines “dissemination” as:

“The action of scattering or spreading abroad seed, or anything likened to it; the fact or condition of being thus diffused; dispersion, diffusion, promulgation.”

A conference jointly run by the European and Japanese societies for the History of Economic Thought, borrows the term for the “Dissemination of Economic Ideas”:

The conference aims at
– investigating how economic ideas developed and spread across national borders (within Europe, Asia, and the US);
– studying the implications of the novel ideas with respect to the ways in which certain economic and social problems were perceived;
– investigating the policies that were derived from the new perspectives assumed and tools adopted;
– studying the impact of the new ideas on the formation of institutions;
– elaborating these aspects in particular with regard to the age of enlightenment, historicism and the interwar period.

The farming metaphor suggests even some: “cross-breeding taking place right now” between Japanese and Western economics.

I don’t want to claim that a call for papers should be a model of precision. Still, I will take these statements to uncharitably interrogate this model of communication of ideas.

Who does what in a dissemination? If there is a planting of the idea-seed, who is the farmer and what is his gain in the harvest? If there is no farmer, then there must be a wind carrying the idea-seed over Persia, the mountains, the deserts, the plains of Asia, and across the sea to Japan. The aerial seed-idea makes root nowhere else but Japan. So what about soil characteristics?

“Dissemination” raises many questions but I am not sure they are the right ones. Surely, the questions should be taking us to consider the agency of these processes, the interests of the involved, their interactions, political, and cultural conflicts. Instead, we are directed toward the seed-idea, as if of itself it could tell us something.

2 thoughts on “Disseminate

  1. I agree with you Tiago. I am not impressed by the way, historian of economics, tend to assume that ideas disseminate “as if” an invisible hand existed to provide for this dissemination. One issue I am interested as a researcher is that of the agents of dissemination, or put it more generally the process through which ideas effectively disseminate. My point is that ideas do not disseminate, there are transmitted through different medias (words, figures, books, conversation, artifacts, TV, radio, etc) that shape or reshape them.

  2. I like the promise of studying the “material” (media) of communication and its “economy” as the Max Plack people would say. It is really an economy, since you can and will sell economics like you sell soap.

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