Transgressing the Boundaries – Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Behavioral Economics in KRISIS: Journal for Contemporary Philosophy, 2010, n.3: 38-46.
The Sokal affair prompted by Alan Sokal’s infamous article to Social Text in 1996, ‘Transgressing the boundaries’, has occasioned a torrent of articles and books. Sokal intended a denunciation of postmodern social theory as sloppy and prejudiced, and a reassertion of physical science’s claim to truth and objectivity. The controversy has since waned, with no proclaimed settlement. Even if inconclusive the episode offered the chance for an intense cross examination (and greater understanding) between postmodern interpreters of science and scientists committed to having their work functioning as a progressive force in social and political affairs.
There has been no equivalent scandal to initiate a dialogue between economists and their interpreters. This essay simulates such dialogue by rewriting (a few extracts from) Sokal’s original article replacing ‘quantum gravity’ for the latest ‘behavioral’ approaches to economics. Sokal deliberately loaded his hoax piece with exaggeration and imprecision about scientific claims. Yet his argument was made plausible by a thoughtful overlap between relativist readings of physical science and fringe trends in physics. My purpose is to force an imaginative reading of economics in relation to the great hopes that have rested on behavioral economics, and then ask if this reading can illuminate the attention given to behavioral economics in popular media. I conclude by arguing that lay readers of economics have become fascinated by the promise of a science of the self that is emotional and flawed and that blends the natural with the artifactual.
The Solow Residual as a Black Box: Attempts at Integrating Business Cycle and Growth Theories in History of Political Economy, with Francisco Louçã, 2009, 41(Supplement): 334-355.
Robert Solow’s “Technical Change and the Aggregate Production Function” (1957) has had an enduring influence on macroeconomics. In this article, we examine the history of fluctuations in growth theory
through the story of the “Solow residual” as a “black box.” We show that after Solow’s seminal contribution, the “residual” became a reproducible object. Losing its ties with the intentions and beliefs of its originator, it was given new and unexpected uses in other branches of macroeconomics. While the residual had always remained a problematic result in growth accounting, its borrowing by real business cycle theorists sought to establish it as a definitive representation of technology. As the claims of the New Classicals came under scrutiny, so did the status and meaning of the object residual. The integration of growth and cycle has since been shaped by the opening of this “black box.” Edward Prescott has remained committed to his earlier interpretation of the “Solow residual” as stochastic technology. Others have sought to bracket multiple supply shocks as the residual, abandoning attempts to decompose it. To the New Keynesians the “residual” has been more evidence of market power and the need to integrate rigidities in the study of the cycle.
Migrations and Boundary Work: Harvard, Radical Economists, and the Committee on Political Discrimination in Science in Context, 2009, 22(1): 115-143.
In the late 1960s, in the midst of campus unrest, a group of young economists calling themselves “radicals” challenged the boundar ies of economics. In the radicals’ cultural cartography, economic science and politics were represented as overlapping. These claims were scandalous because they were voiced from Harvard University, drawing on its author ity. With radicals’ claims the subject of increasing media attention, the economics mainstream sought to re-assert the longstanding cultural map of economic science, where objectivity and advocacy were distinguishable. The resolution of the contest of credibility came with a string of cases of dismissals and denial of tenure for radicals. The Amer ican Economic Association’s investigations of these cases, imposing the conventional cultural map, concluded that personnel decisions had not been politically motivated. Radicals were forced to migrate from the elite institutions from which they had emerged to less prestigious ones. “Place” became a marker of their
marginalization within the profession.
The Role of Life Histories in Writing the History of Heterodox Economics: Identity and Difference in Radical Economics with Frederic S. Lee, in History of Political Economy, 2007, 39(supplement): 154-171.