Money, Banks and Finance in Economic Thought

The Quantitative Turn in the History of Economic Thought: A View from Russia

Maltsev Alexander, (1) Ural State University of Economics; (2) CRIISEA, University of Picardie

The second half of the 20th century became an era of quantification of the social sciences. However, the history of economic thought (HET) remained virtually unaffected by the “quantitative turn” (QT). For decades, HET scholars preferred qualitative methods to quantitative and were engaged in exegesis of the works of the past economists. This situation began to change gradually in the 2010s. Rapid development of IT technologies, digitalization of library materials, and the expansion of bibliographic databases had aroused interest of the historians of economics in the quantitative methods (Edwards, et al, 2018). Increasingly, experts highlight possibilities of using quantitative methods for studying the dissemination of economic ideas and assessing the influence of various economic theories. Another potential advantage of using quantitative methods in the HET is that they could facilitate communication with mainstream economists who are willing to engage in professional dialogue only with those specialists who have mastered quantitative techniques. However, despite all of its benefits, QT poses numerous challenges to the HET. Probably the biggest one, as Beatrice Cherrier and Andrej Svorenčík (2018) have pointed out, is the risk of excessive enthusiasm about quantitative methodology, which could divide the HET community into two opposite camps: over-optimists with pronounced “imperialistic” attitudes and conservative “quantitative skeptics”. In this context, it would be of particular interest to test the validity of the hypothesis that QT could lead to the methodological schism among Russian historians of economics. This report will contain first results of a pioneering sociological study of the perception of the QT among Russian scholars. The author assumes that the attitude of the Russian historians of economics to QT could be interpreted in three ways: 1) as an indicator of openness towards new methodological trends; 2) as an indicator of the methodological cohesion among Russian historians of economics; 3) as an indicator of desire (or lack thereof) of bringing HET closer to the mainstream economics’ research standards. This report would help to identify the specific features of the development of the Russian community of the HET scholars, as well as to assess the potential impact of the QT on the HET studies and to clarify their place in modern social sciences.

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Keywords: Quantitative turn; history of economic thought; Russian historians of economic thought

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