The Ecology of Economic Thought: Online workshop, January 2021, Harvard and Uppsala

The Ecology of Economic Thought: Online workshop, January 2021, Harvard and Uppsala

One would think that environmental history and economic history would be peas in a pod. After all, central questions in the history of economic thought concern environmental issues such as the early-modern enclosures and the importance of water-power and coal to the industrial revolution. The meanings of ‘the environmental’ and ‘the economic’ have shifted over the centuries, especially as issues were traded between natural philosophy, political economy, and ecology. Part of the discipline of environmental history branched off from the Annales school, which was always a branch of economic history too. One would think that environmental and economic historians would have closely traced the exchanges between their cousin fields, yet remarkably little work has been done in this regard. There are exceptions: for example Fabian Locher traces the long shadow of Garett Hardin’s ‘tragedy of the commons’ in both the environmental movement and economics; the immense impact of The Limits to Growth has been studied by Élodie Vieille Blanchard; Melinda Cooper and Jeremy Walker have studied how ‘resilience’ has been embraced by financial elites.

While much has been written on policy of various kinds, what we are after are works that lie at the convergence of environmental, economic, and intellectual history. What  for example are the origins and contexts of ‘Spaceship Earth’, ‘cat bonds’, geo-engineering, externalities, cap-and-trade, and ‘sustainability’? To write such conceptual and interdisciplinary histories, care should be taken to represent the diversity within economics, its competing schools, epistemologies, sets of postulates on society, nature, and human motivation. Economists’ politics, vocabularies, methods have changed with the shifting trends in their discipline and its relationship to ecologists, historians, other disciplines, and governments. While neo-classicism—especially its branch of welfare economics—matters to the history we want to see written, we are also keen to explore the ideas of heterodox scholars who belong to schools of varying influence: neo-liberalism, Keynesianism, Veblenian institutional economics, ecological economics, Polanyian socialism, and Marxism. That being said, we are especially keen to receive submissions on the history of ecological economics and neo-liberal environmental thought. We encourage placing these concepts in a social context beyond internalistic histories of the disciplines themselves. We welcome perspectives from fields such as imperial history, history of international organizations, conceptual history, history of emotions, and gender history. 

As we hope to eventually publish these essays in a special issue for a journal on contemporary European history, submissions should be connected to European, British, and imperial concepts, actors, institutions, and events. The timeframe is restricted to 1918 to the present. Please send a 300-word abstract with a short (two pages max) CV to and by 30 September 2020. We encourage scholars of all backgrounds and career stages to apply. The workshop  will focus on improving drafts into journal-ready publications, so we will pre-circulate papers and assign two discussants per paper. The workshop will be held online once a week during January 2021. Papers should be finalized for submission by 1 April 2021. 

We are looking for papers on the following topics, though we are very open to other suggestions:

  • Environmental movements: theories of population growth, Malthusianism, the Club of Rome, European industrialists, computer modelling, conservation and anti-communism, movement histories, ecofeminism
  • Energy: the Energiewende, deregulation of energy markets, privatization
  • Endangered species: triage economics, bio-diversity offsets, bioeconomics, mega-fauna extinction debate
  • Neo-liberalism: Mont Pelerin Society, Ronald Coase, geo-engineering, think tanks, Ordoliberalism, agrarian nostalgia, evolutionary economics, the market as ‘organism’ and early-twentieth century Biopolitik, spontaneous order
  • Far Right: climate denial, European alt-right, eco-fascism, hostility to and critique of the environmental movement
  • Neo-classical economics: Arthur Pigou, welfare economics, externalities, developmental economics, keynesianism: the Galton Society, Kenneth Galbraith abroad, environmental Kuznets curve
  • GMO, CRISPR, biotech
  • Socialist intellectuals: Otto Neurath, André Gorz, Alfred Schmidt, William Kapp, Karl Polanyi, Leonid Kantorovich, Vladimir Vernadsky 
  • Marxism: Brenner debate, critiques of metabolic rift theory, primitive accumulation, Soviet energy accounting, linear programming
  • Ecological concepts : resilience, ecosystem, carrying capacity, spaceship earth, population dynamics, cybernetics, systems thinking, sustainability, ecosystem services
  • Water pollution: the Rhine’s Genossenschaft, Allen Kneese, Resources for the Future
  • Fossil fuels: scenario planning, oil corporations, the IPCC, the OECD, ‘Dutch Disease’, petro-states
  • Natural resource economics: scarcity, alternatives to Hotelling, fisheries economics
  • Institutional economics: Erich Zimmermann, the German chemical industry, Veblen 
  • Ecological economics: Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, critiques of GDP, economic growth, degrowth, modernization, EF Schumacher and the National Coal Board, feminist ecological economics
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