Neoclassical Economics As Style of Scientific Reasoning: A Sociological Study of Contemporary Economics

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 11:15
Location: Hörsaal 48 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Anders HYLMÖ, Lund University, Sweden
Since the 2008 financial crisis, a new wave of critique of mainstream economics has emerged. The critique, which may be seen as a struggle for a better world within economics, has been voiced both by students calling for pluralism and by heterodox economists challenging the mainstream. A common claim among the critics is that the discipline is dominated by a narrow neoclassical conception of economics, which critics claim leads to lack of explanatory power and real world relevance. In this paper, the enduring neoclassical dominance is approached as a problem to be explained sociologically. First, the meaning of “neoclassical” and “mainstream” economics is discussed through a brief literature review of recent debates about the meaning of the terms. I argue that neoclassicism could reasonably be understood as a relatively enduring intellectual style that seems to persist despite some recent diversification. Second, the paper presents preliminary results from an empirical study of contemporary Swedish economics. The empirical material consists of both interviews with active researchers, and expert evaluation reports on candidates for professor positions, both collected from top Swedish economics departments. Third, the material is analyzed using Ian Hacking’s concept of styles of scientific reasoning. Such styles are historically enduring conceptions of ways of doing science that carry with them both ontological and methodological presuppositions and prescriptions. We may furthermore think of such styles as embedded within thought collectives that maintain a disciplinary core through boundary work, against other disciplines as well as against heterodoxy. The analysis of the case presented seems to indicate that the apparent stability of core tenets of contemporary economics can be effectively understood as a specific style of scientific reasoning. This paper attempts to explain how orthodoxy is reproduced, which should be of interest for anyone who wants to open economics to pluralism.