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Economics and literature: beyond praise and disparagement

Editors: Estrella Trincado Aznar, Jérôme Lallement

Since the nascent of political economy in 17th century, and even before, literature has been both a place for broadcasting and challenging economic ideas through idealizing fables and pastiches. In turn, economists could borrow from literature some ways to present their own ideas or to criticize alternative doctrines. The purpose of this special issue is to reflect on the transformations of the frontiers between economics and literature: to investigate how literature can reflect economic ideas and arguments and to see how economics and economists have dealt with literary presentations of economic ideas.

Regarding the complex links between economics and literature, it is quite certain that very different national traditions can be identified. For instance, it is sometimes said that the 1848 Revolution in France established a clear-cut divorce between economics and literature. Similar breaking points may have occurred at different times in different countries. Later on, economists that were against the use of mathematical symbolism and reasoning would be labeled “économistes littéraires”. From this last phrase, one is allowed to think that, from the marginalist revolution onward, not only literature had become of no use to the development of political economy but also that it was now something incompatible with its development as a science.

Things are probably not that simple, since the boundaries of literature itself have necessarily changed in parallel with the transformations of society, and that what could be expected from literature at the end of 19th century, after the burst of modernity, was quite different from what could be expected in the end of 17th century. Literature has always evolved in relation to the development of society and human knowledge, taking as its own raw material the representations of the world expressed in all fields of science and philosophy. Therefore, literature has always redefined its own boundaries as it was progressively facing the development of political economy, moral philosophy and political thought as organized discourses. Again, it would have to cope with the rise of other social sciences in the 19th century, and more largely with the institutionalization of the production of knowledge and the rise of disciplinary boundaries.

Therefore, the interplay between economics and literature is twofold. On the one hand, political economy progressively developed as an autonomous discourse, where arguments, ways of thinking, proofs, debates, contradictions, examples, commentaries, hypotheses, conclusions, have been progressively normalized in such a way that literature would no longer appear as an adequate means for broadcasting its own discourse and representations of the world. On the other hand, as political economy was progressively organizing itself as a discipline, literature would reflect in a different way upon the development of economics, either to ridicule its logical and abstract way of thinking, or to condemn its development as a « dismal » science, or possibly to make it a source for literary inventions and novelty.

Œconomia – History / Methodology / Philosophy plans to publish papers dealing with this subtle and moving links between economics and literature. It welcomes articles dealing with a particular work, author, national tradition, or providing a broader view of the relations between economics and literature through the study of specific genres and sub-genres (farces, comedies, pamphlets, fables, novels, philosophical novels, essays, utopias, etc.) and the way it is bound to reflect upon the transformations of economics. Articles dealing with original economic ideas from well-known writers are also welcome.

Authors are invited to submit an article (in English or in French) at

For any complementary question, please contact us at

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