History of Economics as Culture (Histoire des savoirs économiques)

I must say that I feel slightly uneasy about giving an account of the workshop since I organized the meeting.  I will try however to be as honest as possible.

gmdh02_00954There were six papers presented (the full program can be viewed here: http://economix.u-paris10.fr/fr/activites/ws/?id=81&page=programme) – 2 in the morning, the others in the two afternoon sessions.  The Q&A was reasonably interesting and I think most of the presenters would benefit from it. The first paper was from Regis Boulat, a young French historian, on Jean Fourastié – author of several popularization essays on economic topics from the 1940s to the 1970s. The second paper was on Haavelmo and presented by Eric Chancellier.

In the afternoon, Evelyn Forget from Manitoba University (re)opened fire with a paper which discusses XVIIIth and XIXth century practices of translating scientific and economic texts in interaction with the problem of authorship and gender. She was followed by a very nice presentation by Peter Knight (American Literature – Manchester University) with a lot of interesting visuals on the place of the stock ticker in late nineteenth-century financial market culture.

gmdh02_009004After a short break, we listened to Roei Davidson (Communication department-Haifa University) who spoke about the role of the business press as an agent of economic culture. And, last but not least, we had the pleasure to attend to Tiago’s Mata very lively and thought-provoking presentation on the media history of the on-going financial crisis. I was then suppose to open a general discussion, but it was late and we were all tired so I call it a day and everybody packed and went home.

I will not comment on individual performances, although there was as usual great diversity in this regard, but rather try to summarize the different impressions I got from organizing and attending this workshop.

First, I was pleased by the general atmosphere that emanated from the workshop. In particular, the fact that non-economists did not feel the need to differenciate themselves rhetorically from the economists (or the reverse). I have seen too many economists’ conferences/workshops with one or a few other social scientists that displayed every signs of being very aware to be strangers in a strange land (or the reverse) to not appreciate that this was not the case here. Everybody simply presented his/her piece of research without any need to situate it into a specific disciplinary context. Hence the conversations were lively and tended to focus  on content rather than audience. I believe that the notion of culture had been crucial in this respect, because many social scientists can relate to economic culture or the culture of economists but feel estranged to economics per se.

This leads to my second point, which is the sentiment I have from this workshop, as well as from contacts I had prior to it with individuals that could not come,  is that history of economics as culture seems to be a worthwhile field of investigation for those historian of economics interested in interdisciplinary research – I am eager to know the feeling of readers of this blog on this issue.

My third point is a reflection on what I had in mind with the double title “History of economics as culture – Histoire des savoirs économiques”, for the English title is open to some interpretation and the French title meant something apparently quite different from the English – at least several participants questioned me on these issues. What I was interested in (and still is) was having a set of papers that cover two grounds:

1. To consider the possibility of a cultural history of economics, that is to study the interactions between the medium that conveys economic knowledge and its content, either intrinsic or perceived content.  To this category belongs I think Boulat, Davidson and Forget’s paper.

2.  To account for the interactions between economic knowledge in whatever form (text, media documents, objects) and specific cultures, be it professional, artistic or more general.  To this category belongs I believe Chancelier, Knight and Mata’s papers (though the latter can also claim to partly belongs to the former category). In this regard one of the things that I would have liked to be more prominent (only Knight’s paper deals somewhat with this aspect) was the representation of economic relationships and knowledge in the arts – literature and visuals arts being my most obvious candidates.

To conclude, I intend to repeat the experiment next year.

gmdh02_008885All the little men and women are appearing by courtesy of the Gerd Arntz web archives (http://www.gerdarntz.org/home)

One thought on “History of Economics as Culture (Histoire des savoirs économiques)

  1. Loïc,
    just a short comment on your second point: I agree that history of economics as culture is a worthwhile field to those interested in interdisciplinary research. It is a natural way of looking on how economic ideas are used more widely (i.e., not only in academia).
    But it is not only a promising research field, but also a teaching opportunity. Craufurd Goodwin, at Duke, offers a course to undergraduate students called “The Uses of Economics”, in which he put his students to see how economics is used in the press, in think-tanks, by politicians, and so on. And it seems that he is very successful in getting the students interested on the history of economic thought more generally.
    So, please maintain your interest and efforts in this direction.

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