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Defining Economics: The Long Road to Acceptance of the Robbins Definition

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  • ROGER E. BACKHOUSE
  • STEVE G. MEDEMA

Abstract

Robbins' "Essay" gave economics a definition that came to dominate the professional literature. This definition laid a foundation that could be seen as justifying both the narrowing of economic theory to the theory of constrained maximization or rational choice and economists' ventures into other social science fields. Though often presented as self-evidently correct, both the definition itself and the developments that it has been used to support were keenly contested. This paper traces the reception, diffusion and contesting of the Robbins definition, arguing that this process took around three decades and that even then there was still significant dissent. Copyright (c) The London School of Economics and Political Science 2009.

Suggested Citation

  • Roger E. Backhouse & Steve G. Medema, 2009. "Defining Economics: The Long Road to Acceptance of the Robbins Definition," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 76(s1), pages 805-820, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:econom:v:76:y:2009:i:s1:p:805-820
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. T. W. Hutchison, 1935. "A Note on Tautologies and the Nature of Economic Theory," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 2(2), pages 159-161.
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    3. Roger E. Backhouse & Steven G. Medema, 2009. "Retrospectives: On the Definition of Economics," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 23(1), pages 221-233, Winter.
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    7. Robbins, Lionel [Lord], 1981. "Economics and Political Economy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(2), pages 1-10, May.
    8. Susan Howson, 2004. "The Origins of Lionel Robbins's Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science," History of Political Economy, Duke University Press, vol. 36(3), pages 413-443, Fall.
    9. J. R. Hicks, 1941. "The Rehabilitation of Consumers' Surplus," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 8(2), pages 108-116.
    10. Raymond T. Bye, 1939. "The Scope and Definition of Economics," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 47, pages 623-623.
    11. George J. Schuller, 1949. "Isolationism in Economic Method," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 63(4), pages 439-475.
    12. Paul Streeten, 1950. "Economics and Value Judgments," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 64(4), pages 583-595.
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    Cited by:

    1. Pedro Garcia Duarte & Gilberto Tadeu Lima, 2011. "Privileging Micro over Macro? A History of Conflicting Positions," Working Papers, Department of Economics 2011_01, University of São Paulo (FEA-USP).
    2. Francesco GUALA, 2017. "Preferences: Neither Behavioural nor Mental," Departmental Working Papers 2017-05, Department of Economics, Management and Quantitative Methods at Università degli Studi di Milano.
    3. Kaparulina Iryna M., 2013. "Essence and criteria of identification of an economic object," The Problems of Economy, RESEARCH CENTRE FOR INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT PROBLEMS of NAS (KHARKIV, UKRAINE), issue 3, pages 247-253.
    4. Li, Cheng, 2014. "Rationality and Beyond: A Critique of the Nature and Task of Economics," MPRA Paper 56651, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    5. M. Northrup Buechner, 2014. "A comment on scarcity," The Journal of Philosophical Economics, Bucharest Academy of Economic Studies, The Journal of Philosophical Economics, vol. 8(1), November.
    6. Jo, Tae-Hee, 2016. "The Social Provisioning Process and Heterodox Economics," MPRA Paper 72384, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    7. Thiago Dumont Oliveira & Carlos Eduardo Suprinyak, 2016. "Lionel Robbins’ first-step individualism and the prehistory of microfoundations," Textos para Discussão Cedeplar-UFMG 537, Cedeplar, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais.
    8. Remig, Moritz C., 2017. "Structured pluralism in ecological economics — A reply to Peter Söderbaum's commentary," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 131(C), pages 533-537.
    9. Vahabi, Mehrdad, 2012. "A Note on Backhouse and Medema: On Walras’ Contribution to the Definition of Economics," MPRA Paper 42673, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    10. Antonio Magliulo, 2010. "The Austrian theory of relational goods," International Review of Economics, Springer;Happiness Economics and Interpersonal Relations (HEIRS), vol. 57(2), pages 143-162, June.
    11. Stewart, Alex & Miner, Anne S., 2011. "The prospects for family business in research universities," Journal of Family Business Strategy, Elsevier, vol. 2(1), pages 3-14, March.

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