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