During the last weeks I encountered a recurring topic in heterodox economics, namely the infamous issue of self-labelling and self-framing and the related question of disciplinary embedding. For instance, when sending out requests for additions to the section "100 words on heterodox economics" in the Heterodox Economics Directory, I received some responses stating that the respondents do not (publicly) self-identify as "heterodox economists" as the term is supposed to carry a parochial flavor. Some weeks later, I read Frank Stilwell's piece on Heterodox Economics vs. Political Economy in the World Economics Association's Newsletter as well as the comment by Susan K. Schroeder and Lynne Chester, who advance a different view. And, finally, I am sometimes approached with respect to the economics journal rankings published on our website, which provide a ranking of economics journals taking the contestedness of the discipline into account. As these rankings emphasize the comparison of mainstream and heterodox economic journals, I am sometimes asked whether an alternative frame for comparison, e.g. an interdisciplinary collection of journals covering the whole breadth of current branches Political Economy, would provide a more adequate approach to situate heterodox economics within academic discourse.
The underlying question, how to frame one's intellectual heritage and interest, is, of course, open to several perspectives: epistemological, ontological, pedagogical or political arguments can be made in favor of one labelling or the other. And indeed, these different perspectives lead to very different conclusions: while heterodox economics obviously deals with the same subject as mainstream economics, the latter routinely ignores the former. At the same time, heterodox economic research is readily imported by an interdisciplinary community of geographers, political scientists and sociologists (see, e.g., here or here). Hence, from a traditional disciplinary perspective - where different disciplines are confined by distinct core areas of study - heterodox economics is really 'economics', while from a discursive perspective heterodox economics may seem like some kind of generalist social science, ready to diffuse its ideas in a series of discplines and traditions.
However, as labels also contribute to disciplinary identity, I wanted to remind all my dear readers, that the alleged 'parochial flavor' of heterodox economics as a label is not necessarily the fault of heterodox economists, but rather a mere by-product of a far greater academic parochialism - namely that inherent in standard economic thought. James K. Galbraith has - in his recent addition to the "100 words on heterodox economics" - explicitly adressed this problem in the following way:
"'Heterodox' in economics is the Mark of Cain. I am happy to bear it. Yet in gross terms the label is a stigma, imposed on those excluded from and by the self-declared mainstream. Todays followers of Keynes, Kaldor, Robinson, Minsky, Schumpeter, Leontief, Hirschman, Veblen, Commons, Prebisch, Georgescu-Roegen, Eisner, Pasinetti and my father (among others) are not outsiders. Instead they represent what is most worth preserving, advancing and developing in the discipline of economics. The others – for all their power over journals and appointments, and especially to the extent that they wield that power – are narrow and pretentious impostors."
Most probably, Jamie is right on this one. While 'heterodox' indeed is a mark - which is not always easy to bear, as it serves as a source of institutionalized ignorance -, it is, at the end of the day, something to be proud of. Keeping that in mind, it is maybe easier to see, why heterodoxy is so many things - not only an alternative approach to doing good economics, but also a generalist social science interested in the broader picture. So, keep up the good work - and do not care too much about how to label it ;-)
All the best,
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