Development and Underdevelopment in the History of Economic Thought

Activism, prosopography and history of economic thought

asta massimo, University of Cambridge

The paper will present my current research, even while discuss more deeply a case study, exploring the interweaving between engagement, profession and economic ideas. It adopts a transnational-comparative prosopographical, both qualitative and quantitative, approach, taking as its focus the professional, intellectual and activist trajectories of the economists engaged in the left-wing (communist, socialist and labour ones) in France, United Kingdom and Italy, from the 1930s to the 1960s. I assume that the analysis of engagement is important to understand the role of economists in society and history of economics. By engagement, I mean a partisan activism linked to the participation in public debate that contributes to the legitimization, dissemination as well as the elaboration of economic ideas. The prosopographical approach allows to study the engagement of economists and their professional trajectories as a collective and interactive practices, to define models of intervention in public debate by ideological perspective and to introduce the biographical element, set against various contexts, in order to understand both the “external” social, economic, political and institutional macrological factors explaining engagement, and the “internal” factors, explaining how economists justify their economic approach and motivate their choices, political passions and moral commitment, so making possible their actions in the partisan sphere. Three specific subjects are studied. The factors explaining engagement; the practices of engagement as member of partisan expertise structures, government adviser when left is in office, columnist and pamphleteer; how, and how much engagement deals with the economic output of the heterodox economists.

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Keywords: engagement, heterodox economists, prosopography