Mind the Gap: Addressing the Class Dimension in Higher Education

7038952701_bb67cdb2d7_oThe debate in Higher Education (HE) in the UK is slowly starting to recognise that inequality in education is both the cause and consequence of societal elitism. As a result, there is an increasing debate about widening access to academia, and more and more newspaper articles are devoting attention to the few who made it through the Oxbridge close-circle system. 

On the 17th of May 2019 the Reteaching Economics and IIPPE Teaching Political Economy working group organised a workshop on economic pluralism, teaching and research. I was chairing the panel on “Challenges and Opportunities for the Economics Curriculum Around Decolonisation, Gender and Diversity” which included brilliant contributions from Dr Meera Sabaratnam (SOAS), Dr Lucia Pradella (King’s College), Dr Ingrid Kvangraven (University of York) and Ali Al-Jamri (Rethinking Economics, Diversity Campaign Manager). They addressed various political, historical and cultural  issues around neocolonialism, imperialism, racism, sexism and gender segregation in HE at large and in the economic discipline in particular. Considering the potential great complementarity of the topics, I thought it was relevant to bring in the class dimension in the discussion. I noticed that while the marginalization of women and people of color is rightly getting increasing attention, the class dimension is sometimes forgotten. Indeed, although class remains a crucial lens to untangle injustice and exclusion in the HE industry, it isn’t dealt with with as much urgency. Maybe also because it’s a bit less visible. Indeed, last week I was discussing this issue with another ‘academic migrant’ from Southern Europe, and he suggested: “Panels should ask “what do your parents do/did for a living?” during job interviews.

To prepare my presentation, I approached a couple of ‘data intelligence’ offices in UK universities asking for facts about the class dimension of access to higher education in the UK. I was pointed to the Office for Students, which is a new resource that enables us educators, but also students, to look at various key bits of data on the university sector as a whole, and on individual universities. A very useful resource indeed! 

So here is what I found, and the results are pretty discouraging. Read More »

Why so Hostile? Busting Myths about Heterodox Economics

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By Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven and Carolina Alves

“Economics is unique among the social sciences in having a single monolithic mainstream, which is either unaware of or actively hostile to alternative approaches.” (John King 2013: 17)

What does heterodox economics mean? Is the label helpful or harmful? Being outside of the mainstream of the Economics discipline, the way we position ourselves may be particularly important. For this reason, many around us shun the use of the term “heterodox” and advise against using it. However, we believe the reluctance to use the term stems in part from misunderstandings of (and sometimes disagreement over) what the term means and perhaps disagreements over strategies for how to change the discipline.

In other words, this is an important debate about both identification and strategy. In this blog, we wish to raise the issue in heterodox and mainstream circles, by busting a few common myths about Heterodox Economics – mostly stemming from the orthodoxy. This is a small part of a larger project on defining heterodox economics.

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Samir Amin and Beyond

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By Ushehwedu Kufakurinani, Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven and Maria Dyveke Styve

When the sad news came of Samir Amin’s passing on August 12th, 2018, a plethora of beautiful obituaries were published in his memory (see for example hereherehere or here). These have made it more than evident not only how important his scholarship and work through the World Social Forum is, but also what an extraordinary person he was. We never had the privilege of meeting Samir Amin in person, but he was very kind to grant us an interview over Skype for an e-book we put together in 2017 on the contemporary relevance of dependency theory (since published by the University of Zimbabwe Publishers). Now we wish to unpack his contributions to our understanding of political economy and uneven development, and explore how his ideas have been interpreted and adopted in different contexts, and their relevance today.

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Historicising the Aid Debate: South Korea as a Successful Aid Recipient

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‘The principal enemy is orthodoxy: to use the same recipe, administer the same therapy, to resolve the most various types of problems; never to admit complexity and try to reduce it as much as possible, while ignoring that things are always more complicated in reality.
Albert O. Hirschman (1998:110)

It’s clear from last week’s blog posts by Duncan Green that he is tired of academic critique against aid which have not been translated into concrete solutions (see here and here). However, the problem with his ‘marmite’ approach to addressing very complex problems is that it leads to reductive debates which are more symptomatic of the problem than constructive ways of finding solutions. Following Pablo Yanguas’ synthesis of research approaches I thought of taking a step back and analyzing the case of a successful aid recipient, South Korea.  I do this in hope of moving away from the ‘literature’ – which Duncan finds overbearing – as well as getting away from the linearity of the contemporary monitoring and evaluation approach used by the aid sector. Read More »

Why I refuse to rethink development – again (and again, and again…)

Image result for rethinkingThis summer I attended several academic conferences, and while I was initially extremely enthusiastic to be given the chance to put my work out for discussion, exchange with and learn from colleagues, by early autumn I am fatigued and disenchanted.

Maybe the reason for this is that several of these events where claiming to be “rethinking development”, yet by the end I fail to recognize what was essentially new in the arguments exchanged and the discussions led and what will move us forward.[1]

The root of my discontent is that while everyone continuously debated “development” and attempted to “rethink” it, not once it was clarified what the (minimum) common denominator of the “development” to be rethought would be. Were we talking about intervention, projects, stakeholders, cooperation? Were we rethinking technical modes of intervention? Ways of studying or researching? Or were we questioning the roots of persistent inequalities, the sources of poverty and the causes of injustices (e.g. the legacy of colonialism, global capitalism and our imperial mode of living)?

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An Alternative Economics Summer Reading List

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by Carolina Alves, Besiana Balla, Devika Dutt and Ingrid H. Kvangraven

This is a response list to Martin Wolf’s FT column recommending Economics books of 2018 for summer reading. While there are many good books listed, we were struck by the consistent monism in his choices, as the books are all by scholars based in either the UK or the US, 12/13 of the authors are men and most of them come from the same theoretical tradition. Such lists perpetuate the strong white male – and mainstream – biases in our field (the recent list by The Economist suffers from the same biases).

To counter these biases, and with the purpose of broadening our field to become more inclusive of diverse approaches and perspectives, we have put together an alternative list. We deliberately chose books by scholars approaching Economics with alternative theoretical frameworks and by scholars from groups that tend to be excluded from the field, namely women, people of color, and scholars from the Global South. We recognize that no one is exempt from biases, which is why we are providing an explanation for the motivation behind our selection. Due to institutional and language barriers we were unable to include as many scholars from the Global South as we would have liked. For example, we would love to read the new book Valsa Brasileira by Laura Carvalho, but we are still waiting for the English translation. We hope you enjoy it and welcome more suggestions in the comments section.

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Marx’s Birthday and the Dismal Science: A Few Observations

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by Carolina Alves and Ingrid H. Kvangraven

With 2017 marking the 150th anniversary of Capital and 2018 marking the bicentennial of the birth of Karl Marx, it is not a surprise that the number of events and exhibitions celebrating Marx’s work and exploring the significance of Marxism in the world today have gone through the roof. A little sample can be found here, here, here, here and here (see also The Guardian’s sum up of exhibitions, books – and pub crawls)! And it would be unfair to not mention the British Library’s PhD placement on Karl Marx offered last summer, which aimed to develop ideas for events and activities that would engage the public and research communities with Marx’s life and his wider legacy (with a brilliant emphasis on Marx’s daughter Eleanor – a writer and political activist in her own right). Some of the results can be seen here, here, here and here.

Of course, Friedrich Engels’ far-reaching contributions have not been ignored (here and here); and neither should Jenny Marx’s contributions, who, like Mary Burns, have never been a mere accessory[1] and, before falling in love with the Jewish romantic rebel, was a woman interested in French socialism and German romanticism, engaged in an early feminist views on women’s equality, and committed to the struggle for the working-class (influenced by her father). Hence, Jenny’s possible allusion that Marx was “Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister and Schiller’s Karl von Moor, and he would be Shelley’s Prometheus, chained to a precipice because he dared to challenge a tyrannical god” (Gabriel, 2011, p. 20).

Putting aside this rich line-up of events, what has caught our attention is the equal proliferation of pieces celebrating Marx’s birthday, for the better or for the worse. From misleading and derogatory articles such as the Rulers of the world: read Karl Marx! published by The Economist to educational short pieces such as Cooper’s It’s time to normalize Karl Marx, it is difficult to not wonder about the reasons behind such opposing views. Similarly, it is difficult to resist the temptation to add a little contribution to the debate. So here we are.

We will not dwell on Marx’s contributions and current relevance, which has been done effectively by so many academics, political activists and journalists. Neither will we unpack and discuss the issues with value-laden opinions on Marx’s economic theory, and simple-minded association of Marx’s political ideas with historical events of the 20th century. We will, however, for the sake of being one more blog post on Marx’s 200th birthday, reiterate and explore Marx’s work’s undeniable and vital influence in contemporary thought, politics and political practice. Further, and perhaps the main inspiration that led us to write this blog post, we wish to add some more thoughts on Marx’s influence (or lack thereof)  in modern times, namely the effects of the marginalization of his ideas in the field of Economics.Read More »