Building interdisciplinary partnerships
from Frank Stilwell
Even if the economics profession continues to deflect the challenges posed by heterodox economists, substantial progress can be made in relation to cognate social sciences. This is a necessary element in a strategy for progress because mainstream economists working in universities usually resist attempts to reconstitute their discipline on genuinely pluralist principles. Marxist political economy, for example, can usually only get a hearing as an historically discredited view; while “old” institutionalism, if mentioned at all, is merely a precursor to “new institutional economics”, which is more compatible with a neoclassical approach. Heterodox economists may get jobs in economics departments: some do, especially if their “deviance” develops after secure employment has been achieved, but they are often not replaced by people of similar inclination when they retire or move on.
Establishing more secure territory for teaching and research in political economy can be easier in other areas within the social sciences where there is concern to deal with the economic dimensions of social problems and public policy. In my experience, political economists are usually welcomed into the latter territories (if they eschew the imperialist ambitions that have been evident when neoclassical economists seek to invade other territories in the social sciences). Thus, it is the mutual-learning relationship of political economy with subjects like sociology, geography, politics or history that is crucial. Interestingly, it is the commitment to interdisciplinary studies, rather than the commitment to pluralism in economics, that is more important in building these partnerships.
In other words, establishing a foothold for political economy, whether as a university department separate from economics (as in the University of Sydney’s Department of Political Economy where I taught for over four decades) or in conjunction with other social science disciplines, is a precondition for heterodox economics having a sustainable place in university education and research. Having established any such foothold, good teaching can show that political economy has the potential to provide a richer learning experience than straight mainstream economics (O’Donnell 2014). Similarly, research and policy advocacy can usually get a good hearing where political economists contribute to interdisciplinary studies on matters of public significance and concern.
Frank Stilwell, “Heterodox economics or political economy?”, real-world economics review, issue no. 74, 07 April 2016, pp. 42-48, http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue74/Stilwell74.pdf