Magdalena Maleckan: Economics and neighbouring social sciences. A complicated relationship.

Tervetuloa Filosofian tutkijaseminaariin!

Magdalena Maleckan: Economics and neighbouring social sciences. A complicated relationship.


I would like to present part of my ongoing project in which I ask whether the metaphor of imperialism can help us to analyse economics and its relationship with other social sciences. It is often pointed out that this relationship is asymmetrical. Economics is sometimes called an imperialistic science: science that hubristically ‘invades’ other scientific disciplines (or scientific fields, or territories – as it is often said). For some the term ‘economics imperialism’ is only an invective used by the disappointed with economics’ and economists’ influence on society and research in the social sciences. Others see it as referring to a real, and worrying, phenomenon – of economics replacing many theories and methods of social science under the banner of growing unification, rigor and scientific progress. The notion of ‘imperialism’ has been used in social science and political theory in plenty of contexts (e.g. to study international relationships between states, global economic developments, capitalist economy). This term is brought to discuss economics without any commitment to a particular concept or a theory of imperialism. Therefore, the discussion about economics imperialism often seems to be confusing. How to navigate through this debate then? Is it worth stepping into a discussion where there is even no consensus on what ‘imperialism’ means? I think it is worth a try.


I propose a conceptual framework that makes it possible to shed new light on past discussions about economics imperialism and revaluate them. I show that the advocates of expanding the economic analysis stress mainly the epistemic justification for such an expansion (Becker 1971; Hirshleifer 1985; Stigler 1984; Lazear 2000; Radnitzky & Bernholz 1987; Tullock 1972), whereas the critics are mostly worried about the abuse of the institutional power of economics (Fine & Milonakis 2009; Davis 2015; Hodgson 1994; Nik-Khak & Van Horn 2012). It is impossible, however, to make sense of the charge of economics imperialism if we fail to take into account both the epistemic and the non-epistemic factors. We need a careful and subtle analysis that will disentangle the interplay of the epistemic and power dimension in the case of economics imperialism. The insights from philosophy of science and social epistemology (Longino 1995, Rolin 2018), to which I will refer in the talk, help us to make sense of this interplay. I use them to analyse examples of exchanges between economics and anthropology, sociology, political science. I also intend to discuss philosophically interesting implications of my analysis.

Further information

Jani Hakkarainen (jani.hakkarainen@tuni.fi)