We’re pleased to be able to inform readers of Progress in Political Economy of progress with a political economy project that we’ve been working on for the last three years. Following an invitation from the UK-based international publisher, Edward Elgar, we’ve been compiling a book that provides a comprehensive stocktaking of the various contributory currents in political economy. The book has just been published and, of course, we’re hoping it will be widely read and used.
The Handbook of Alternative Theories of Political Economy provides an overview of traditional and cutting-edge currents of thought within our discipline. 32 chapters by leading and emerging scholars from many countries around the world showcase the diverse approaches and productive debates occuring within the broad field.
The chapters are grouped into 5 sections: political economy as an area of knowledge; its foundational theoretical traditions; analysing the dynamics and socio-ecological foundations of economic systems; political economy’s interdisciplinary connections; and ‘making a difference’. The chapters cover the full spectrum of contemporary political economy, including classical, Marxist, post-Keynesian, institutional, evolutionary, and feminist approaches, recent studies of capital as power, modern money theory, spatial political economy, social structures of accumulation, race, gender and class – and much else besides. The volume concludes by reflecting on how these different currents within political economy can contribute to making a better world, probing the implications for pluralism, assessing progress, developing political economic teaching and linking with activism.
Not surprisingly, compiling a large, diverse volume such as this poses its own challenges. One issue needing to be confronted from the outset was the book’s scope: what’s in and what’s out? We opted for breadth of coverage, defining the prospective territory of political economy to include, along with the theoretical currents already mentioned, fields such as Georgist political economy, Polanyian political economy, Austrian economics, behavioural economics and neuroeconomics, post-structuralism and post-colonialism. This reflects our view of political economy as an expansive terrain that should not be prematurely exclusionary: both internal and external criticisms can then be considered. Indeed, that orientation follows from the embrace of a pluralist approach, the case for which is set out in the book and infuses its character throughout.
The level at which the chapters should be pitched was another important question needing to be considered from the outset. We took the view that the book’s target audience would be primarily senior undergraduates, postgraduates and academics, in whose hands the future of the discipline rests. The amount of assumed knowledge is kept modest, however, so that all potential readers, including non-academics, should be able to see why the issues being examined are significant for understanding actual economic experiences.
Of course, what each of us sees in the real world depends on the lens through which we look, so comparison of alternative theoretical perspectives is essential. That said, the ultimate challenge is to understand the world ‘out there’ as a step towards changing it for the better. As co-editors, we hope that placing the various contributory currents of political economy side-by-side will allow readers to determine the usefulness of each to understanding and addressing the problems of the modern global economy.
We are delighted that the authors of the 32 chapters all shared these concerns and produced excellent mini-surveys and assessments of their own particular fields of interest and expertise. The result is rather like a smorgasbord lunch, where the many tasty dishes on offer can be sampled – and not necessarily in any set order. Indeed, the book offers a big feast, comprising nearly 500 pages, and is probably best savoured over many, many sittings, as befits any large reference book.
Pluralist and interdisciplinary in its approach, it is our hope that this Handbook will be a key resource for students and teachers of political economy and heterodox economics, as well as for other social scientists wanting to understand political economic processes.
The Table of Contents, Introductory Chapter and some extracts of various other chapters can be accessed by clicking on the ‘Look Inside’ button on this page. This same page also contains ordering information, and a straight forward means to recommend the book to your university library.