Economists crossing disciplinary borders: trespassers or trailblazers?
Are economists colonising other disciplines? The end of economic schizophrenia is nigh … or so we think.
Economics is ever less interested in self-dialogue, but has slowly entered into greener pastures, often times without permission, resulting in rare coalescences: behavioural economics, economic sociology, economic history, cultural economics, complexity economics, econophysics, and the list goes on. Trespassers some might say. There has been a growing interest on what this trespassing can deliver at times when narrow models of human behaviour and market efficiency seem obsolete.
Plurality within economics
We have witnessed a series of projects led by teachers and students alike aimed at reforming economics curricula, recognising the plurality of views within the discipline: Classical, Neoclassical, Austrian, Keynesian, Marxist, Feminist, etc., and expanding (or rather relocating) the domain of economics: Rethinking Economics, the CORE project, Post-Autistic Economics, Exploring Economics, amongst the most known initiatives. Many have ventured into the traditional domain of other disciplines. After all, expanding disciplinary borders seems to be the tendency of our time (reason why many keepers of mono-disciplinary research have dismissed this as yet another hype).
A new breed of scholars?
This process poses new sets of questions to those economists interested in crossing disciplinary borders: are we part of a new breed of multi- or even interdisciplinary scholars reinventing academia from ground up, or are we simply abducting concepts and stripping them from their historical, political and social context only to integrate them back into our economic models? To what extent are we learning from other disciplines by inviting a rethinking of problems, questions, and methods we normally use to understand a situation?
I think trespassing is not all that bad. We should be allowed to ‘borrow’ from other disciplines in order to unpack a problem; this is the first step towards a contextualised and grounded research agenda. The crucial action that makes a difference follows the crossing of that line, as the trespasser is invited to reflect and critically examine the conceptual foundations of existing (economic) approaches. We should not venture into new disciplines without the openness to listen to other scholars and what they have to say about our ways to producing knowledge.
There is a generation of economists that is increasingly more interested in exploring new ways of thinking about economics than in accumulating new insights under old ways of thinking, though they have met resistance from within the discipline by those who argue ‘students still need to learn the basics’. Trailblazers who acknowledge the contribution of academics of several disciplines and who converge in recognising and studying ‘real world’ problems are increasingly informing higher education and academic debates. Forgotten moments of the discipline, as per classical development economics, have re-emerged. Other ways of knowing the economy, whose strength lies in the critique and transformation of economicist narratives, have flagged the internal contradictions, conflicts and privileges ingrained in the discipline.
Multidisciplinarity in International Studies
How are the economists at International Studies embracing this move towards multidisciplinarity? We have started listening to each other, as a first exercise of recognition: (many breeds of) economists, political scientists, sociologists, anthropologists, linguists, historians are increasingly coming together to envision this multidisciplinary space and discuss its practicalities in terms of teaching. We acknowledge that multiple voices and perspectives can inform our understanding of a particular situation. Perhaps it is time to move forward and reflect on how other disciplines have shaped ours and our conceptions of the world. As we prepare the in-between terrain for multidisciplinarity to flourish, there is a growing need to discuss our experiences and concerns, as trespassers-soon-to-be-trailblazers who are part of the making of new tracks for collective rethinking of our contribution to scholarship.