History and methodology of economic thought

The Institute of Management Studies has a world-leading team of historians of economic thought. Our research brings a reflexive and critical look on economic theory and how it shapes the economy.

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History helps us to make sense of who we are and where we come from. It can reveal tensions between our overlapping social roles as worker, consumer, citizen, and migrant, which form the modern individual identity. A deep familiarity with different schools of economic thought can also bring innovative ways of representing the economy. For instance, classical political economy provides a window into the structure of industrial economies. It addresses questions on how technology and resources combine to produce commodities, how income is distributed, and wealth is accumulated. We are also researching the rise of discourses on consumption in the 19th century and how it eventually led to the neoliberal paradigm shift in the 20th

Over the years, the IMS had developed an expertise in the history of various schools of thought such as classical political economy and the modern developments it has inspired, the institutionalist movement, evolutionary economics, Keynesian and post-Keynesian economics, behavioural economics, and neoclassical economics. We have studied how the latter spread in various branches of economic discourse and how its character was transformed in key universities such as Lausanne, Cambridge, the LSE, and various locations of the United States. We have published extensively on the thought of prominent economists like Alfred Marshall, Thorstein Veblen, John Maynard Keynes, Pierro Sraffa, Herbert Simon, and Richard Musgrave.

In collaboration with the Independent Social Research Foundation, we have produced three series of interviews with distinguished economists from a wide range of backgrounds which focuses on the evolution of economic thought in the 20th century and the importance of history in teaching economics

Our research interrogates all aspects of the economic discipline. We are particularly interested in the philosophical foundations of economic and social theory. What is the best way to conceptualise agency? How are individual interactions mediated by institutions? Our work tackles important ontological and epistemological questions. IMS academic staff hold editorial positions in various journals in the field and have received prizes in recognition of the quality of their scientific achievements.

To reconstruct the context of past economic works, we rely on a wide range of sources, from published economic texts to archival materials and marginalia. We study economists as actors embedded in overlapping fields of academic research and policy advice. We emphasize the values and the ethical presuppositions they held and how they shaped their theory work and policy recommendations. Understanding the strength and the blind spots of economic policymaking requires a reconstruction of the cognitive infrastructure of economists, in particular, the models and the concepts they use, and how these have evolved over time. Researchers in the IMS study how ideas from microeconomics, macroeconomics, public finance, and public economics travel between different national traditions and how they shape ideas about development in Europe, in the United States, and in Latin America.

Naturally, the cutting-edge research we conduct in the history and methodology of economic thought informs the teaching of many economics modules in the IMS. We are also contributing to a national discussion on how teaching history of economic thought can promote pluralism in higher education.