In his article for the Guardian on Monday 16 April Aditya Chakrabortty paints a grim picture of taxpayer-funded intellectuals fiddling while Rome burns and missing the historic opportunity created by the financial crash to challenge the dominance of mainstream economics and fashion a new alternative. They are too busy he thinks studying holistic massage to engage with public policy and the urgent challenges of our time. Their gaze is elsewhere. What is the use of them, he muses.
Chakrabortty should get out more. The session at the Political Studies Association conference in Belfast on the UK political economy, which he mentions and to which I contributed, was packed out, and provoked strong and passionate discussion. There are many excellent multidisciplinary research centres including CRESC at Manchester, CSGR at Warwick, and the newly launched SPERI at Sheffield, all of which have been producing original and innovative research about the causes of the crisis and what should be done, organising conferences and public events, and publishing a stream of books, articles and reports. The Policy Centre at the British Academy has recently published New Paradigms in Public Policy, a series of reports examining major current policy issues, analysing the assumptions underlying them and how those assumptions should change. The topics covered include climate change (Ian Gough), new politics (Gerry Stoker), economic futures (Andrew Gamble) and the mismatch of demands and resources (Peter Taylor-Gooby).
Contrary to Chakrabortty’s lazy caricature of British academics as a bottomless pit of irrelevance, there is a ferment of ideas and writing, and some excellent thinking both about how we got here and where we might be going. He focuses on particular disciplines, but the real action takes place between disciplines, and not just in universities but in the engagement of academics with the wealth of institutions, media and thinktanks which constitute the public sphere, ranging from the British Academy to ippr, the Resolution Foundation, the Guardian, YouGov, Policy Network and Compass among many others. Chakrabortty cannot see this because he misunderstands the relationship between ideas and action. He seems to think that if all the sociologists in Britain spent their annual conference discussing the financial crisis revolution would come overnight. But producing ideas is one thing. Changing the ideas that govern policy is very different. It concerns power, and politics.
Read the rest of the post at the British Academy website
Written by Dr. Andrew Gamble