Background Materials: Introduction

The Background Materials:

This section of the book provides more substantive and detailed discussions of the materials that could be taught using our ten building blocks. In particular, it adds detailed materials and background information for teaching building blocks 4: History of Economic Thought & Methods, 5: Economic Organisations and Mechanisms, 7: Research Methods & Philosophy of Science and 8: Economy Theories. For all ten building blocks, it provides a more extensive overview of valuable teaching materials. 

The first chapter, Economic Approaches, sets out key assumptions and aspects of different economic perspectives, followed by a brief history of the approach and some suggested low-threshold teaching materials to introduce students to the approach. It is important that students become familiar with the basic assumptions of approaches, before delving into their specific insights on various topics. What assumptions are made about what the economy is made up of, how it changes and how human beings act? What methodological preferences and normative ideas are typical? Without such basic knowledge, it is likely that students will perceive theory classes as one big blur with endless random insights. Armed with a basic understanding of what differentiates perspectives, students are able to situate and contextualise the insights that the perspectives have on specific topics. In other words, it allows them to see the bigger picture and connect the dots.

The second chapter of this section, Interdisciplinary economics, supports building blocks 4 and 8, History of Economic Thought and Economic Theories. It sets out five subdisciplines of related social sciences, each of which mainly focus on the economy. That is, although these fields are currently at home in other disciplines, we see them as a natural part of ‘Economy Studies’. The subdisciplines in question are economic history, economic sociology, economic geography, economic anthropology, and political economy. For each of these fields, the chapter provides brief notes on their key contributions to economic analysis, their development over time and their current academic homes.

In Rethinking the History of Economic Thought & Methods, we take a fresh look at the history of thought about the economy. Rather than sticking to the current boundaries of the discipline, we ask: what historical strands of thought have contributed to our understanding of economic systems? Largely, of course, this does overlap with what has historically been called ‘economics’. But it is broader. Several times, strands have been pushed out of the discipline, and lived on as parts of other disciplines. This makes more sense if we realise what a contested and politically crucial field economics is: status within the discipline often comes with worldly power. This chapter contains an overview of these strands of thought and suggestions on how to teach them in a coherent and manageable way. 

The economy is more than the market and the state. But what exactly? Allocation and Coordination Mechanisms provides a structured overview of several sets of answers to this question, such as the commons, reciprocity, gift economies, associations, networks, and householding. For each of these frameworks, we set out the core ideas and provide theoretical materials and examples of real-world cases.

The following chapter supplements building block 7, Research Methods & Philosophy of Science. It provides an overview of many qualitative and quantitative data collection techniques and analytical methods, describing each briefly, and suggests teaching materials for each. In addition, the chapter discusses some issues in philosophy of science that are of particular importance to economics and provides suggested teaching materials for them.

In Materials, the final chapter of this Resources section, we provide a more extensive list of resources for each building block. While the building blocks themselves only contain a few highlighted suggestions, here there is space for the more specialised and specific materials.