This was the title of one of the plenary session held in the 2008 HES conference. At the bar were: Esther-Mariam Sent who explains that lots historians of economics hate SSK and that it was neither nice nor very clever. Tim Leonard who said something but I can not remember what exactly. Ivan Moscati who talks about his disbelief in SSK and that it was being clever to do history of economic analysis and heterodox economics. Ross Emmet who made a case for the linguistic turn. Steve Medema who said that as an editor as well as a human being he believed in diversity in opinions. Although I am simplifying a lot (which is not nice for the participants), one could grasp that I was not impressed by the general tone of the interventions – as well as by most of the remarks made by the public. And because this post was inspired by a lunch discussion I had just after the session with Pedro and Floris, I would use Q&A to explain my point of view.
Why? Simply because I think that the real issue was not really put on the table.
What is the real issue, then? Historicity.
What do you mean by that? The bare fact that as an historian of economics, I am convinced that what is really important when speaking of my working method is history, not economics or social science.
What do you mean by that (again)? I mean that as an historian of economics, I am constructing historical narratives and that to construct (what I believe) meaningful narratives I sometime refer to the social constraints that exist on the actors of science/economics (social class, culture, etc.) and other times I believe that it is necessary to refer the theoretical discussions the scientists actually had and take for granted that it is what matters. In other words, as an historian of economics I do not love nor hate social studies of science or economic analysis, there are tools that I find sometimes useful and at other times irrelevant. When they are useful I certainly like them, but when I believe them not pertinent in my narrative, I dislike them.
So I suppose that you believed that this session was not pertinent? Exactly. I would go even further, I believe it was to some extent counter-productive. When listening to the interventions, I felt that most of us were simply recreating an old and uninstering debate about what is more important in the development of economics: the internal (history of economic analysis) of the external (SSK) factors? Let me ask you something: when you are writing a paper on the history of economic analysis, do you sincerely believe that your hand is guided only by your social/cultural background?
No I don’t. OK, now, on the other hand, don’t you believe that this social/cultural background of you has no bearing on the topics you have chosen or the perspective in which you consider them?
Yes I do. You have said all that there is to it, young blood.
You are right, let’s go do some papers of HISTORY of economics now, because this is what I need to get me a (good) position.