Disciplined reasoning: Styles of reasoning and the mainstream-heterodoxy divide in Swedish economics

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)

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Economics is one of the most influential social science disciplines, with a high level of internal consent around a common theoretical and methodological approach to economic analysis. However, marginalised schools of thought have increasingly unified under the term “heterodox” economics, with their critical stance towards the “neoclassical mainstream” as common denominator. This has spawned debates among scholars about how to understand the nature of the mainstream-heterodoxy divide in economics.
This thesis sets out to explain how such a common approach to science is generalised and stabilised in modern economics, and how this process is related to heterodoxy. Grounded in the sociology of science, it aims first to provide an empirical account of the mainstream-heterodoxy dynamics in Swedish economics, and second, to contribute to theory development. Drawing on the literature on distinct styles of reasoning in the history of science, I develop a theoretical framework of relational disciplinary styles of reasoning, which is used to analyse two bodies of empirical material from Swedish economics. The first is an in-depth interview study with researchers in economics, and the second is a document study of expert evaluation reports from the hiring of professors of economics at four of the top Swedish universities during 25 years. Through the two empirical studies, the fine-grained qualitative material provides an insight into the ways economists understand their discipline and the character of proper knowledge production.
I argue that the mainstream-heterodoxy divide is fruitfully understood in terms of the institutionalised stabilisation of a disciplinary style of reasoning, and show how economists understand their scientific approach and its merits. The maintenance of the style of reasoning is the achievement of the thought collective of economists, where boundaries are constructed in relation to contesting heterodox economics and to other scientific disciplines. I show how the disciplinary style with its conception of good science and the notion of a core of the discipline is linked to the reproduction of disciplinary boundaries. I trace how this plays out through shifting quality evaluation practices, and show how top journal rankings have become a powerful judgement device which links the hierarchical ranking of top journals to the notion of a disciplinary core, and effectively functions as a mechanism of disciplinary stabilisation.
In conclusion, I argue that these processes form a self-stabilising system in which the disciplinary style of reasoning and its boundaries is reproduced, with potential implications for how we understand intellectual dynamics and pluralism.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Sociology
  • Heidegren, Carl-Göran, Supervisor
  • Benner, Mats, Supervisor
Award date2018 Sep 28
ISBN (Print)978-91-7753-788-5
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Sep

Bibliographical note

Defence details
Date: 2018-09-28
Time: 10:15
Place: Eden auditorium, Paradisgatan 5H, Lund
External reviewer(s)
Name: Popp Berman, Elizabeth
Title: Associate professor
Affiliation: University at Albany, USA

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)


  • sociology of economics
  • heterodox economics
  • styles of reasoning
  • disciplinarity
  • quality evaluation


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