Journal of Business Economics

, Volume 84, Issue 9, pp 1237–1259 | Cite as

The power of “mapping the territory”. Why economists should become more aware of the performativity of their models

Original Paper

Abstract

Economics is not simply about representing reality; it is also about shaping it, an approach encapsulated in Donald MacKenzie’s aphorism that economics is best conceived as an “engine, not as a camera” (MacKenzie and Millo (Am J Sociol 109(1):107–145, 2003). The making and application of economic theories and models contribute actively and intentionally towards the making of our social world, by encouraging, guiding and legitimizing actions and decisions, or discouraging others, and by steering them in certain directions. It follows that economists do not simply draw maps of the economic territory within their compass: they are not straightforwardly the cartographers of the economy, and cannot be seen as the disinterested observers that they commonly represent themselves to be, and indeed are often thought of as. Their theoretical work has or aims at practical consequences for the economy, and indeed for society at large, and their interests and influence are thus by no means confined to academia alone. This article calls for a discussion of the ethical responsibilities of economists, and of economics, and challenges the discipline properly to assume those responsibilities; and it concludes by considering the key questions—what makes a ‘good’ economic model; and what criteria should be used to distinguish the good models, and the ‘good ways’ of handling models and their results, from the bad ones. As far as epistemology, the methodology of research programmes and the relation of theory and (social) practice are concerned, the insights of mainly von Hayek (Br J Philos Sci 6(23):209–225, 1955, The pretence of knowledge. Lecture to the memory of Alfred Nobel, 1974; Individualism and economic order, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 33–56, 1980a; Individualism and economic order, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 57–76, 1980b; The theory of complex phenomena. Readings in the philosophy of social science, MIT Press, Cambridge, 1994) and Popper (e.g. The myth of the framework: in defence of science and rationality, Routledge, New York 1994a; Models, instruments, and truth. The status of the rationality principle in the social sciences, pp 154–184, 1994b) provide the background of my discussion of the mentioned issues.

Keywords

Models Modelling Performativity of economics Theory–practice-nexus 

JEL Classification

A11 A14 B41 

Notes

Acknowledgments

I wish to thank the three anonymous referees for their thorough and thoughtful reports, the editors of this Special Issue for the excellent cooperation and constant encouragement, and James Forder, Henry Hardy and Mark Pottle for their advice and critical comments.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Brandenburgische Technische Universität Cottbus - SenftenbergCottbusGermany
  2. 2.Wolfson CollegeOxfordUK

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