Compiling the Handbook of Alternative Theories of Political Economy

Frank Stilwell, David Primrose and Tim Thornton give an insight to their latest publication

We’re delighted that our last three years’ stocktaking of the contributory
currents in political economy has come to fruition as a handsome
Edward Elgar publication.

The Handbook of Theories of Political Economy provides an overview of
traditional and cutting-edge currents of thought. Its 32 chapters have been
written by leading political economic scholars from many countries.
The book has 5 sections: political economy as an area of knowledge; its
foundational theoretical traditions; analysing the dynamics and socio-
ecological foundations of economic systems; political economy’s
interdisciplinary connections; and ‘making a difference’.

The individual chapters cover the full spectrum of contemporary political
economic views, including classical, Marxist, post-Keynesian, institutional,
evolutionary, and feminist approaches, recent studies of capital as power,
modern money theory, spatial political economy, social structures of
accumulation, race, gender and class – and much else besides.

For a book like this, the question of ‘what’s in and what’s out?’ has required
careful consideration. We opted for breadth of coverage, including fields such
as Georgist political economy, Polanyian political economy, Austrian
economics, behavioural economics and neuroeconomics, post-structuralism
and post-colonialism. This view of political economy as expansive terrain stems
from taking a pluralist approach, the case for which is set out in the book and
infuses its character throughout.

The level at which the chapters should be pitched has been a further
consideration. We’re aiming to engage senior undergraduates, postgrads and
academics, in whose hands the future of the discipline rests. Assumed
knowledge is kept modest so that all potential readers, including non-
academics, should be able to see why the theoretical traditions being
examined are significant for understanding actual economic experiences.

The world today is fraught with so many political economic problems, ranging
from climate change to growing economic inequalities, increasing financial instabilities and deep tensions between capitalism and democracy. Theories in
political economy must engage with these matters to prove their usefulness.
Elegance without relevance – a recurrent tendency in much mainstream
economic theory – would get us nowhere.

The ultimate challenge is to understand the world ‘out there’ as a step towards
changing it for the better. As co-editors, we hope that placing the various
viewpoints in political economy side-by-side will allow readers to determine
the usefulness of each to understanding the complex problems of the modern

The final section of the Handbook explores how political economy can
contribute to making a better world. It probes the implications of taking a
pluralist approach, different ways of assessing ‘progress’, developing political
economic teaching and linking with activism. The future of political economic
thought – both challenging mainstream economics and articulating alternative,
socially constructive theories and policies – depends on these engagements.

Overall, the Handbook of Theories in Political Economy offers a big menu. As
co-editors, we see it rather like a smorgasbord lunch, where many tasty dishes
can be sampled – and not necessarily in any set order. It is a big feast best
savoured over many, many sittings, as befits a large reference book like this.

Handbook of Alternative Theories of Political Economy

Edited by Frank Stilwell, David Primrose, University of Sydney, Australia and Tim B. Thornton, Boston University, US

Read Chapter 1 here.

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