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Robinson Crusoe: The quintessential economic man?


  • Ulla Grapard


The tale of Robinson Crusoe strikes a responsive chord in the imagination of many economists. This paper argues that the story of Robinson Crusoe, and the joy economists take in his example, are indicative of the way the discipline deals with issues of race and gender. Crusoe is used to represent homo economics par excellence, yet his self-sufficiency conceals the labor of others. A close reading of the novel reveals the issues of power, sexuality and race that are hidden underneath the storyline of Crusoe's relationship with Friday. The economists' portrait of equal exchange ignores the elements of domination and exploitation between Crusoe and Friday. The absence of female agency in Defoe's and the economists' story masks a narrative structure that, in fact, relies in fundamental ways on gendered representations. This process of exclusion mirrors the lack of recognition in our culture of the economic contribution of women. If Crusoe is taken to be the quintessential economic man, the economists' story imposes boundaries separating those who belong in economic discourse from those who do not. It also makes it easier for our discipline to avoid the ethical burden of addressing the disturbing issues of race and gender in our narratives.

Suggested Citation

  • Ulla Grapard, 1995. "Robinson Crusoe: The quintessential economic man?," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 1(1), pages 33-52.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:femeco:v:1:y:1995:i:1:p:33-52
    DOI: 10.1080/714042213

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    Cited by:

    1. Cecil E. Bohanon & Michelle Albert Vachris, 2011. "Economics and Literature: The Gains from Trade," Chapters,in: International Handbook on Teaching and Learning Economics, chapter 21 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    2. Zohreh Emami, 2013. "Teaching and learning for economic life," Chapters,in: Handbook of Research on Gender and Economic Life, chapter 6, pages 77-90 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    3. Zdravka, Todorova, 2009. "Employer of Last Resort Policy and Feminist Economics: Social Provisioning and Socialization of Investment," MPRA Paper 16240, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. Todorova, Zdravka, 2014. "From Monetary Theory of Production to Culture-Nature Life Process:Feminist-Institutional Elaborations of Social Provisioning," MPRA Paper 54681, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    5. Gillian Hewitson, 2001. "A Survey of Feminist Economics," Working Papers 2001.01, School of Economics, La Trobe University.
    6. Tony Lawson, 1999. "Feminism, Realism, and Universalism," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 5(2), pages 25-59.


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