CFP: The role of workshops, seminars and conferences in the history of economic thought


 The role of workshops, seminars and conferences in the history of economic thought

Beatrice Cherrier (CNRS & Université de Cergy)
and Aurélien Saïdi (Université Paris Nanterre)


Screen Shot 2019-04-18 at 15.10.30There are very few history of contemporary economics articles which make no mention, as a background, of an important conference, workshop or seminar. Yet, there are very few articles taking them as the central protagonist. Turning this pervasive background into an object of study is the purpose of a forthcoming special issue of the Revue d’Economie Politique, one of the major French economic journals, for which we solicit contributions.

It seems that economic ideas, models and practices are largely developed, challenged and disseminated through weekly seminars, seasonal workshops and annual or landmark conferences. The annual ASSA/AEA conference has been a focal point for US-based economists for more than a century, and their summers are now often spent attending NBER field summer schools. The methodology of economics, concepts of equilibrium, growth, interest rates and dynamics were debated in famous private gathering including the Vienna circle, Menger’s seminar or Keynes’s Cambridge circus. International and national economic policies are decided in famous venues such as the Bretton Woods conference, as well as political philosophies. Neoliberalism famously emerged from the Walter Lippman colloquium and consolidated through annual Mont Pelerin conferences. Expected utility theory was both stabilized and destabilized as the major postwar rational decision theory framework during a famous Conférence sur le Risque organized in Paris in 1952 by Maurice Allais. Decision theory, game-theoretic models, as well as all sorts of mathematical applications to micro and macroeconomics were dissected throughout a multi-week long Stanford summer workshop organized by the Institute for Mathematical Studies in Social Science (now Stanford Institute for Theoretical Economics) under the leadership of Mordecai Kurz since the 1970s. It took three Santa Fe seminars on The Economy as an Evolving Complex Systemin 1987, 1996 and 2001 to shape a new field, complexity economics. Macroeconomic models have been debated during the regular meetings of the Brookings panel and the Carnegie-Rochester and NBER workshops. Outside the United States, the Roy-Malinvaud seminar has long remained the reference for French economists, attracting many colleagues from all over the world. These are just a few examples.

In spite of such ubiquity, conferences, seminars and workshops have hardly be used as telescopes to study “science in action,” the state of a debate or a field at a given moment of time, even less as threads to track the dissemination of an idea, a model or a practice or the transformation of a field: notable exceptions include Till Düppe and Roy Weintraub (2014), who locate the birth of a new scientific culture in economics as well as a new set of tools in the 1949 Activity Analysis conference organized by the Cowles Commission, one that wasn’t, at that time, perceived as a watershed. Aurélien Goutsmedt (2017) uses the 1978 macroeconomics conference organized by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston to contextualize Robert Lucas and Thomas Sargent’s attack on Keynesian macroeconomics. Neither has the direct role played by gathering with various organizations, lengths, recurrence, etc., in the development of economics been investigated. Two exceptions is Ross Emmett’s (2011) examination of the role played by the set of workshops established by 1950s and 1960s Chicago economists in the sharpening of their tools and approaches, and the quantitative analysis thatElliott Ash, Daniel Chen & Sureh Naidu (2018) run to analyze the effect of Henry Manne’s law & economics training program for US federal judges on criminal sentences.


This leaves a sizeable range of questions unanswered. Contributions can be of qualitative and/or quantitative nature, focus on what these objects reveal or what they create,  and deal with questions including but not limited to:

1)  What are the purposes of workshops, conferences and seminars in economics?  Are they primarily intellectual or institutional? Is it about communicating research and to whom? How much are workshops and conferences oriented toward academics, journalists, policy-makers? Is it about debating, structuring a community, recruiting, targeted at minorities, helping doctoral students master tools? Are they focused on laying out disagreement or reaching agreements, brainstorming new ideas or stabilizing paradigms? Do they play a special role in interdisciplinary ventures?

2)  Is there any difference in format, purposes, uses and cultures across sciences (say economics as compared with physics, psychology, philosophy, etc.), across fields (does macroeconomics rely on workshops more than, say, development economics or public finance?), across places and types of institutions?

3)  To what extent do organizational features of conferences, workshop and seminars matter: recurrence, closed or opened, size, formal or informal, turnover, share of juniors and seniors, share of academic vs non-academic, type of funding, location, set up, discussants, keynotes, etc.

4)  How to evaluate the legacy of a conference, a workshop or seminar: which output is a relevant proxy? A volume, consistent set of papers, an agenda, a series of grants, some textbooks or curricula? Is it possible at all to track a workshop’s influence, and how so?


We would like to receive paper proposals (one to two pages) by May 31, 2019 (to beatrice.cherrier[at] and aurelien.saidi[at]

Notifications of approval will be sent by July 1st.

A full first draft is due on December 1 and will be sent to referees.

Referee reports and editorial decisions will be known by February 5, 2020, and final draft are due by May 31, 2020.

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Ash, E. Chen, D. Naidu, S. 2018: “Ideas have consequences: the impact of law & economics on American Justice”

Düppe, T. and Weintraub, E. R. 2014. Siting the New Economic Science : The Cowles Commission’s Activity Analysis Conference of June 1949. Science in Context, 27(3) :453–483

Emmett, R. 2011. “Sharpening Tools in the Workshop: The Workshop System and the Chicago School’s Success” in Van Horn, Mirowski & Stapleford (eds.), Building Chicago Economics. Cambridge University Press.

Goutsmedt, A. 2017. Stagflation and the crossroad in macroeconomics : the struggle between structural and New Classical macroeconometrics. Documents de travail du Centre d’Economie de la Sorbonne


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