“Young scholars” as a myth

The history of the “young scholar” identity began in 2000, with the first session with that title at the meetings of the History of Economics Society. Conceived by Sandra Peart and nurtured by her, it couples with the Summer Institute for the Preservation of the History of Economics which began in the same year. (If someone knows when the ESHET young scholars began, let me know…) The HES program has been expanded with the generous help of Warren and Sylvia Samuels.

I came into the program at year 3. And this blog owes its genetic moment to Young scholars program year 8. I can’t recall the exact motivations of our original idea, made worse by our reluctance to write a manifesto or introduction for the blog. Regardless of the good work done with the sessions and summer schools, the term “young scholars” has gained a life of its own. I think that part of what moved us to create the blog was a desire to take ownership of the “young scholar” talk that has contaminated our community.

With very few exceptions “young scholars” are there to be talked at, not talked to. Unfortunately in the few exceptions “young scholars” have been given the pulpit, they have lacked imagination and repeated old themes and solutions. I quickly forgive them, since they were never meant to think for themselves, but were cast to the role of a myth. Here is what i hear: The “young scholars” are nameless. The “young scholars” are not yet ready to be peers and need to be coached and nurtured, condescended upon, “poor things they make so many mistakes.” The “young scholars” are unemployed and they should fear the economics mainstream. The “young scholars” are advised to publish in the economics journals, where the elders are unable or uninterested to place their writings. The “young scholars” should cite the elder’s literature.

In the Barthesian sense of myth, “young scholars” are not breathing, walking and talking persons but a signifier in a semiotic play. They stand for the future of the profession, and importantly they have become a preferred way to present imperialist programs for the history of economics with a soft voice and warm heart.

If this blog was ever intended, even implicitly, to claim this identity, it has failed. I don’t think the label can be rescued from its current abuse. Hence, I need to rename myself, but what should that be?