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Alternative Traditions in Public Choice.

Editors of special issue: Marianne Johnson (University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Alain Marciano (Université de Montpellier), and Manuela Mosca (Università del Salento).

Expression of interest: January 15th 2019.

Notification by the editors: January 30th 2019.

Deadline for submission of full papers: July 15th 2019.

Planned publication of the issue: 2020.

Public Choice is understood to have emerged as a sub-field at the beginning of the 1960s, with the publication of The Calculus of Consent, co-authored by James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock (1962), and the associated 1963 conference on “non-market decision making” at the University of Virginia. These were the catalysts for an intellectual movement characterized by the use of economic tools and methods to analyze political phenomena and political decision making. The movement slowly and difficultly took shape over the next twenty years. Progressively, Buchanan and Tullock came to be seen as the major actors in this field, contributing through their writings but also through their actions to structure the field with conferences, journals, and societies. This central role was attested by Buchanan’s 1986 Nobel Prize, received for having proposed “a synthesis of the theories of political and economic decision-making (public choice)”. It was thus officially recognized that Buchanan’s variant of public choice was the major, if not the only form, of economic analysis of political phenomena. This variant of public choice is known as “Virginia Public Choice” or “Virginia Political Economy”. The recent publication of Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains (2017) furthers this conflation, equating Buchanan with Public Choice.

Without denying their importance, we should recognize that Public Choice is much broader than Buchanan and Virginia. At the same time Buchanan and Tullock were writing The Calculus, other scholars—economists as well as political scientists—were pursuing related analyses. Some were associated with that first conference at the University of Virginia. One can list the names of economists such as Kenneth Arrow, Alan Peacock, Duncan Black, and Anthony Downs, or political scientists such as William Riker, Robert Dahl, Charles Lindblom, Vincent Ostrom, or Mancur Olson that helped open the field. In the later 1960s, they were joined by Thomas Schelling and Warren Samuels who became important contributors to Public Choice, even if in a different way and from a different perspective.

Thus, to put it differently, Public Choice is a field of various origins, nourished by different influences. Œconomia intends to publish a thematic issue on the various origins of Public Choice. The editors seek papers to explore these alternative traditions in an effort to construct a broader and more polysemic history of Public Choice. Our challenge to the contributors: How to write a history of Public Choice as the “science of politics”, a methodology invented to study political decisions by reframing politics (and democracy) as political decision making?

We encourage papers on notable economists and political scientists who precisely envisage Public Choice in this way – Arrow, Downs, Riker or Schelling. While it cannot be said that they have been ignored by historians of economic thought, their contributions as Public Choice scholars are certainly less well considered and their position in Public Choice lacks framing and, most particularly, have not necessarily been presented from the perspective of reframing politics as political decision making. We also encourage papers on scholars whose contributions to Public Choice are often marginalized. Strands of research that emerged but faltered provide important information as to the development of the field. Similarly, contributors are encouraged to consider papers on alternative “schools” of Public Choice or locationally-identified strains—traditions in European Public Choice, Latin American Public Choice, or Asian Public Choice. To reach the same objective, we suggest to follow the influences of Public Choice forefathers such as Antonio de Viti de Marco, Vilfredo Pareto, Knut Wicksell, or even Joseph Schumpeter. Papers that wrestle with some aspect of the delineation or demarcation between Public Choice and Political Economy are welcome, as would be papers that consider their intersection or overlap.

Procedure and timeline: Researchers who would like to be considered for participation in this special issue of Œconomia should submit, via email attachment, the paper title, an extended (1500-2000 words) abstract, and the affiliations of all authors. This information should be sent to and is due by January 15th 2019. Authors whose contributions are selected will be notified by January 30th 2019. Full papers will be due by : July 15th 2019 and will go through the normal refereeing process of Œconomia. Publication of the special issue is planned for 2020. For further information, please contact one of the special editors at


Buchanan, James, and Gordon Tullock. 1962. The Calculus of Consent. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

MacLean, Nancy. 2017. Democracy in Chains. The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America. New York: Viking.

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