Payne’s Manifesto for Political Economy
Over at the website for the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute, Tony Payne make a great case for political economy. Payne is subtle and intelligent commentator on the global politics of unequal development – he wrote the textbook on the subject in fact – from within the pluralistic neo-Gramscian tradition advanced by Robert Cox, presenting pluralistic and multicausal explanations of political phenomena which acknowledge the role of both impersonal structures and the latitude available to agents.
Anyway, here’s the comment I left on the page.
A great manifesto for the study of political economy! Particularly clear and persuasive is the argument that political economy has to be at the heart of the study of all aspects of politics. Within my own sub-discipline, international relations, we have witnessed the same decentering of academic debate due to the rise of both hard rational choice methods – which rather curiously tend to avoid tricky questions of distribution – and of constructivist approaches focusing on norms and ideas. Returning to Laswell’s dictum that politics is about ‘who gets what, when and how’ holds the greatest promise for enabling the study of politics to produce relevant, critical insights into the world in which we live.
My comment might be criticised by some for a rather traditionalist and familiar set of arguments. But I think a strong case can be made that the reward-structures of academia promote novelty for its own sake much of the time, giving rise to much worthless methods-driven research and theoretical ‘churn’. It might be better, therefore, to refine the tools we have at our disposal and produce, not more, but better accounts of politics. Doing so might help us produce more empirically grounded, more theoretically rigorous and more compelling explanations of crucially important political phenomena. Returning to the core remit of political economy seems like a promising strategy to achieve this goal.