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Historical Sociology Approaches in History of Economics

Paper Session

Friday, Jan. 3, 2020 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM (PST)

Marriott Marquis, Malibu City
Hosted By: History of Economics Society
  • Chair: Andrej Svorenčík, University of Mannheim

Who Was an Economist? The Historical Sociology of Early Economists and Economics (1750-1780)

Loïc Charles
,
University of Paris 8
Christine Théré
,
French Institute for Demographic Studies (INED)

Abstract

The existence and the nature of economics as a professional discipline has been the subject of growing interest either by sociologists or economists. These studies have emphasized the fact that the existence of and the issues analyzed by a scientific discipline and its professional members of a given time and place must be viewed against the background of the structure of the society in which they exist. However, they have focused almost exclusively on the post-1945 economics and have said very little about the situation that prevailed in the period that preceded the professionalization of economics.
In this paper, we would like to reflect on the issue of what kind of people were doing economics/political economy (and what kind of social reward they were chasing by such a move) in a time where there was no such thing as an economics profession.
We propose to analyze the historical case of the social milieu in which early French political economy, and in particular the physiocratic school, developed. It has long been held that political economy (or economics) as a discipline emerged sometime between the 1750s and the end of the 1770s and that French authors, especially the physiocrats, played an instrumental role in it. It is therefore a good starting point to reflect on the interaction between society, the nature of economic knowledge and the practices of economic authors in a context characterized by the absence of the institutions (universities and other higher learning institutions with economics programs, professional journals, professional associations, etc.) and professional positions that characterize modern scientific disciplines.

Who Runs the AEA? Leadership Hierarchy in American Postwar Economics

Andrej Svorenčík
,
University of Mannheim
Kevin Hoover
,
Duke University

Abstract

The American Economic Association (AEA) comprises approximately 16,000 professional economists, belonging mostly to hundreds of universities, government and international agencies, and businesses. It is a key institution of the economics discipline, serving as the public face of the profession and operating the central labor market for economists in the United States, which is also important internationally. The governance of the AEA is formally democratic, although it is widely perceived to be run by a consistently narrow group of prominent economists. To investigate the nature of the leadership of the AEA and to try to understand how that leadership has changed over time as the economics profession has developed in the post-World War II era, we have constructed an extensive biographical database. The database is essentially a complete record of the leadership from 1950-2019, covering the offices of President/President-elect, Vice-president, members of the Executive Board, including both winning and losing candidates, as well as the Nominating Committee, Editorial Advisory Board, editors of the American Economic Review, and members of its board. For each person we have identified education and employment histories and academic and other honors. We use the database to document patterns in the leadership, including identifying a small core set of universities to which the majority of the leadership are affiliated through education and/or employment. We show how the composition of the core has shifted and narrowed with the expansion of graduate education in the postwar period. And we address the question, is the narrow core a response to merit or institutionalization of a self-perpetuating elite?

Doctoral Origins of Economics Faculty and Job Market Candidates 1993-2019

Paul J. Pieper
,
University of Illinois-Chicago
Andrej Svorenčík
,
University of Mannheim

Abstract

There have been almost fifty thousand Ph.D. degrees in economics awarded in the United States since 1950. Recently the annual production of economics Ph.Ds. has risen to almost twelve hundred graduates originating from approximately 140 U.S. departments. These departments with a doctoral program in economics employ just over three thousand faculty members. This implies that only a small portion of all economics Ph.D. holders is active in training a new generation of economist with a doctorate. In their 1999 article, Paul J. Pieper and Rachel A. Willis examined the doctoral origins of U.S. economics faculty, who worked at economics departments with a PhD program in the academic year 1991/92, and of Ph.D. students, who were on the economics job market in the academic year 1992/93. They found that doctoral origins are highly concentrated, with the top 10 schools producing 47 percent of the economics faculty at Ph.D.-granting schools, 54 percent of the doctoral-production weighted faculty, and 67 percent of the thesis supervisors at 47 top schools. In this paper we replicate their study from the perspective of the academic years 2017/18 (doctoral origins of faculty) and 2018/2019 (Ph.D. students on the market) and compare how the concentration of the place of origin has changed over the last twenty-five years. We observe a decrease in concentration of the top 10 departments and an increase in diversity of the doctoral origins of U.S. economics faculty. Nevertheless, the hierarchical structure of the American economics academe has perpetuated itself. We also trace the career of the 1992/93 job market candidates, especially those who are still active in academia.

Factoring 'Impact' in the History of Economics

José Edwards
,
Adolfo Ibáñez University
Stephen Meardon
,
Texas A&M International University and Bowdoin College

Abstract

Historians of economics have come to share the professional preoccupation of academic economists (among other scholars) with the calculated impact of their scholarship. We make the preoccupation and the statistic at its center, the "impact factor," a subject of historical inquiry. What does a journal impact factor mean and what purpose does it serve? What measures are imaginable for the purposes it should serve? We explain the development of the most common measure of journal impact and the opportuneness of its common abuse. We argue that a journal impact factor should be used as a measure of the average resonance within a scholarly community of the articles published in a given journal. But only insofar as the statistic’s construction (particularly the temporal width of its citation window) puts it in alignment with the citation practices of the scholarly community; and as authors cite, and journal editors encourage citation, for a few particular reasons. They are to attribute properly the claims of an article, to improve an argument by accommodating or refuting the arguments of others, and to make the scholarly conversation more relevant to a larger audience.
JEL Classifications
  • B0 - General
  • A1 - General Economics