Economists and Societies: Discipline and Profession in the United States, Britain, and France, 1890s to 1990s

Economists and Societies: Discipline and Profession in the United States, Britain, and France, 1890s to 1990s

Economists and Societies: Discipline and Profession in the United States, Britain, and France, 1890s to 1990s

Economists and Societies: Discipline and Profession in the United States, Britain, and France, 1890s to 1990s

Synopsis


Economists and Societies is the first book to systematically compare the profession of economics in the United States, Britain, and France, and to explain why economics, far from being a uniform science, differs in important ways among these three countries. Drawing on in-depth interviews with economists, institutional analysis, and a wealth of scholarly evidence, Marion Fourcade traces the history of economics in each country from the late nineteenth century to the present, demonstrating how each political, cultural, and institutional context gave rise to a distinct professional and disciplinary configuration. She argues that because the substance of political life varied from country to country, people's experience and understanding of the economy, and their political and intellectual battles over it, crystallized in different ways--through scientific and mercantile professionalism in the United States, public-minded elitism in Britain, and statist divisions in France. Fourcade moves past old debates about the relationship between culture and institutions in the production of expert knowledge to show that scientific and practical claims over the economy in these three societies arose from different elites with different intellectual orientations, institutional entanglements, and social purposes.


Much more than a history of the economics profession, Economists and Societies is a revealing exploration of American, French, and British society and culture as seen through the lens of their respective economic institutions and the distinctive character of their economic experts.

Excerpt

The Department of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley occupies the fifth and sixth floors of a tall building colored a slightly unpleasant dark green. Evans Hall was built in 1971 to serve as a primary home to the statistics and mathematics departments. Today this physical arrangement may reflect a natural disciplinary affinity between these disciplines and economics (indeed, some Berkeley economists have joint appointments in mathematics or statistics). This was not always the case, however. Back in the 1960s, the economics department had a different location and a different set of neighbors. It was housed just a few hundred yards away, in Barrows Hall, alongside other social science departments. Politics and sociology are still there today, and this is where my own office is located.

Metaphorically, of course, the migration of the Berkeley economics department from one building to the other mirrored the entire profession's intellectual evolution over the course of the twentieth century as it grew more distant from the rest of the social sciences and humanities and became increasingly reliant on mathematical formalization. By the 1970s, the transformation of economics had proceeded so far that economics Nobel Prize winner Wassily Leontief wrote a letter to the magazine Science lamenting that “page after page of professional economic journals are filled with mathematical formulas leading the reader from sets of more or less plausible but entirely arbitrary assumptions to precisely stated but irrelevant theoretical conclusions” (1982, 104). Indeed, it is precisely this formal, abstract orientation that sociologists have repeatedly taken issue with.

To understand how this transformation happened, let us go back to Berkeley. The economics department's migration from Barrows to Evans Hall took place in two steps. Space in Evans Hall was limited at first, so the move involved only about seven or eight people (most of these individuals, in fact, already had separate offices off campus, which a grant had helped secure). The Evans Hall group consisted exclusively of the most mathematically inclined faculty, with a strong component of mathematical economists and econometricians. Staying behind in Barrows Hall were specialists in area studies, economic history (Albert Fishlow), public finance, labor (Lloyd Ulman), development, and industrial organization (Joe S. Bain). Fishlow, Bain, and Ulman were certainly not antitechnical, but their use of statistics was mainly descriptive, and they eschewed the . . .

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