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Promoting Economic Pluralism

A guest blog by Teresa Linzner from Promoting Economic Pluralism

Post the Crash, we seemed set for economic revolution. 10 years later and here we are – still waiting, entangled in an economic system that is just as unequal and GDP-growth addicted as it was 10 years ago! So how best to bring about the long overdue change? What ways are there to contribute to reimagining and restructuring the ways in which our economies function, to make them more gender equal and caring?

At Promoting Economic Pluralism, we think that part of the answer is changing economics education. The language of economics is the language of power and many students are required to learn it both in economics departments and as part of interdisciplinary masters. At the moment economics is generally taught as if there was only one way of thinking about it and that certainly doesn’t leave much space for care and bringing about greater gender equality!

Furthermore, recent research suggests that the current mainstream economics curriculum and the way in which economics is therefore practiced and perceived, seems to attract relatively less women than men. In turn, this means other women are further put off economics as they see few role models to attract them.

At the bottom of this seems to be that economics is perceived as being mainly concerned with money, i.e. personal gain. This is just not enough as a motivator for young women at the point of choosing a career. Other factors influencing women’s course and career choices most importantly also include “creativity, making a contribution to society or the environment, and the opportunity to care for others”. Consequently,

  • only about 13% of US academic economists in permanent posts are women;
  • in the UK the proportion is 15.5%;
  • only one woman has ever won the Nobel Prize in economics – Elinor Ostrom in 2009; and
  • lists predicting the last prizewinner included no women.

Without more women and overall diversity in economics, though, the paradigms and solutions created through economic policy making risk only be reflective of half of the world’s population (at best).

The good news is that not all courses favour a one-dimensional approach to economics that makes people think economics is mainly concerned with money, markets, supply and demand; some lecturers are more pluralist in how they teach economics. This means recognising that there is more than one way of thinking about the economy and encouraging critical reflection. These lecturers draw from a wide range of economic traditions and literature including ecological, institutional and most importantly, also feminist economics, which are largely ignored by the mainstream. Treating such literature in economics courses allows students to put a stronger focus on aspects of care, creativity, contributing to society and the environment, gender and overall equality and other aspects throughout their formation; as well as later, when they start practicing economics.

Going through a pluralist course thus gives students tools to question the policy and perspectives based on economic orthodoxy that they are likely to encounter later in work. Pluralist courses would therefore not only attract more women into the domain of economics, but also ensure that all future economists receive a broader, more critical education and become more sensitive to gender and care related economic issues.

We are therefore planning to raise the profile and legitimacy of these types of courses so students are encouraged to join them and other universities are encouraged to put them on. We have chosen to start with masters courses as university departments have much more flexibility over what they can teach at this level. Students from these courses will also be entering the ‘real world’ very soon to use their learning.

There are many departments and centres teaching these courses as can be seen here. It is happening in the same high ranking universities where the economic departments themselves defend the status quo. However, the courses have a whole range of labels. For the uninitiated, it is not obvious they take a pluralist approach to economics.

Hence we want to co-create an accreditation system so they can have a common identity and ‘brand’. The point of this is not to determine what economics is ‘right’ or which courses are ‘best’. It is to build a shared sense between those inside and outside of academia of what economic teaching looks like that fosters creativity and critical thinking to address real world issues and genuinely transform the economic system. Then potential students can easily and confidently find these courses.

To turn this idea into reality, we want to invite you to participate in actually co-creating the scheme. This doesn’t mean that you necessarily have to get involved in the detail or devote huge amounts of time to it. We will ensure people can give their views on the principles and broad approach as easily as possible. Please sign-up here to be involved and if you first want to find out more, sign up for a webinar here. And please make sure to also register your public support for this initiative here! It is crucial that we demonstrate a diverse and wide-ranging support for this initiative. Your voice matters.

For more info about why we think this is the road to much needed change in economics check out the Promoting Economic Pluralism website and have a look at our latest blog here.

Teresa Linzner is Research and Communications Officer at Promoting Economic Pluralism, an organisation seeking to develop strategic activities and projects that influence economic analysis, teaching and thinking.

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