Cléo Chassonnery-Zaïgouche

9 Dec, 4.30 – 6.30pm: Room 243, Senate House, London

Do ideas matter? Or how useful is the history of economics, and to do what?

First, I will describe my practice as an historian of economics taking my work on ‘economics imperialism’ as an illustration. This work compares the history of the use of the geopolitical metaphor to describe relations between social sciences and the history of boundary crossing in practice. My goal is to highlight the importance for the historian to deconstruct standard narratives about the development of ideas by looking at practices.

 I will then describe four features of my practice. 1) How to build observation devices to answer a question you don’t know the answer; 2) How to reconstruct and to test the ‘standard narrative’ produced by the actors 3) How to weight internal and external forces that explain the development of ideas 4) How to write about ‘silences’.

Third, I will try to provide some elements on why historical investigation is useful to the production of knowledge in economics and on the economy. The main contribution of historians of economics is twofold: 1) to explain why it is not sufficient to be right to win the battle of ideas and 2) to assess what the impact of ideas on policy and society. This second part will be based on my work on the rise of economic thinking in courts.

Finally, I will try to provide some elements on the history of interdisciplinarity and the social sciences. I will try to show that both material conditions that shape the production of knowledge in academia and symbolic hierarchies between sciences have constrained the shape of most interdisciplinary enterprises.

Cléo Chassonnery-Zaïgouche is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at CRASSH (University of Cambridge),