Economics within Social Sciences. On the “Imperialism of Economics” Debate and its Scientific Roots (STOREP Session)
Dieter Bögenhold  1, *@  
1 : Alpen-Adria University Klagenfurt
* : Auteur correspondant

We are currently in times in which an increased discussion on interdisciplinarity is on the agenda. Economics tends to go into directions of sociology, history, and psychology, taking topics of their domains. If economics changes the portrait so significantly, one may ask if this is still the form of economics, which many people have come to know through the study of textbooks. Where is economics coming from and where is it going to, what is the domain of economics and to what extent do different approaches in economics coexist? The question of what is the matter of economics has a long tradition.


With respect to the definition of what economics is and how it is organized into different subfolders, two trends overlap each other. (I) We have a long-term trend of the development of economics in which the discipline increasingly gained firm ground and recognition and in which a process of differentiation started to evolve. This trend took part within the last one and a half centuries. The field of economics also started to become a professional system with clear curricula, degrees, academic societies and university departments with an increasing number of publications and related journals. (II) Parallel to the consolidation process of economics, the subject formed borderlines to neighboring fields, which were formerly an extended part of economics. Looking over the course of the last hundred years, topics of economics have modified and multiplied.


Bringing a complex development to a very brief denominator, much of 20th century development in economics involved the establishment of neoclassic thought, which is taught as textbook knowledge to undergraduate students and which dominates wide parts of the non-university public and public policy. “Pure economics” proved to be a program of abstractness, which had problems when it was confronted with competing empirical material, since pure economics was related to an economy in a vacuum. This type of thought emerged and became a predominant paradigm of thought during the 20th century, which in its nucleus served to be a kind of academic religion (Nelson 2001).


In recent years, economics has been moving increasingly in the direction of social topics and sociological ground. The “imperialism of economics is moving ever closer towards the traditional academic fields of history, psychology, and sociology. Which domains can economic sociology, economic psychology and economic and social history claim as being their exclusive ground ? Answers to these questions have to identify a broader landscape of academic division. The paper will explore observed trends in detail in order to conclude that the division of work between different social sciences is changing, but contemporaries differ in giving comments, making judgements, and providing forecasts.


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