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Contrastive explanation and unrealistic models: The case of the new economic geography


  • Caterina Marchionni


The contrastive approach to explanation is employed to shed light on the issue of the unrealisticness of models and their assumptions in economics. If we take explanations to be answers to contrastive questions of the form, then unrealistic elements such as omissions and idealizations are (at least partly) dependent on the selected contrast. These contrast-dependent assumptions are shown to serve the function of fixing the shared causal background between the fact and the foil. It is argued that looking at the explanations offered by economic models in contrastive terms helps to be precise about their explanatory potential, and hence, to assess the adequacy of their unrealistic assumptions. I apply the insights of the contrastive approach to the 'new economic geography' models, and to a selection of criticisms directed at them. This case illustrates how a contrastive analysis can help the solution of disputes concerning the unrealisticness of particular models.

Suggested Citation

  • Caterina Marchionni, 2006. "Contrastive explanation and unrealistic models: The case of the new economic geography," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 13(4), pages 425-446.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:jecmet:v:13:y:2006:i:4:p:425-446 DOI: 10.1080/13501780601048758

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Gianmarco Ottaviano, 2003. "Regional Policy in the Global Economy: Insights from New Economic Geography," Regional Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 37(6-7), pages 665-673.
    2. Gianmarco I. P. Ottaviano & Diego Puga, 1998. "Agglomeration in the Global Economy: A Survey of the 'New Economic Geography'," The World Economy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 21(6), pages 707-731, August.
    3. Gianmarco I P Ottaviano & Jacques-François Thisse, 2005. "New economic geography: what about the N?," Environment and Planning A, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 37(10), pages 1707-1725, October.
    4. Scotchmer, Suzanne & Thisse, Jacques-Francois, 1992. "Space and Competition: A Puzzle," The Annals of Regional Science, Springer;Western Regional Science Association, vol. 26(3), pages 269-286, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Ricardo F. Crespo, 2012. "Models as signs" as "good economic models," Estudios Economicos, Universidad Nacional del Sur, Departamento de Economia, vol. 29(58), pages 1-12, january-j.
    2. Yankuic Galvan-Miyoshi & Robert Walker & Barney Warf, 2015. "Land Change Regimes and the Evolution of the Maize-Cattle Complex in Neoliberal Mexico," Land, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 4(3), pages 1-24, August.


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