Tag: narrative

Robert Shiller on narrative economics

Listening to Robert Shiller’s online lectures, I’ve often half-written him an email in my head on some point. I distract myself and have to rewind. If you go to the “Drafts” folder in my brain, a third of them are to Robert Shiller.

Essentially, I wanted to tell him something about the humanities. I’m not sure what. Maybe just that the humanities exists. Professor Shiller can be quite perplexing. On the one hand, he’s a hugely influential figure in behavioral economics, and behavioral economics is the field with a great track record in confronting the more brutal absurdities of mainstream economics. On the other hand Shiller still is, frustratingly, very much an economist.  Although behavioral economics may ameliorate some of the features of scientistic finance and economics which humanities scholars tend to find so frustrating, it never goes nearly far enough.

So I’m happy to see this article from him!

Behavioral economics was economics with an input from the psychology department. Every department has its own tool kit for approaching research; we were very much influenced by psychology. Maybe a little sociology, maybe a little anthropology, but nevertheless all social-science fields.

I’m starting now, with my more recent work, to think that we have to look at the humanities as well. There is something difficult to formalize about human beings, but something that we nonetheless have to understand, and I think one way to do that is with an approach that I’m calling “narrative economics”: taking economics and adding the study of the narratives that people transmit.

If Shiller is serious about narrative economics, he may want to give poststructuralism a whirl, and see if he can shake the set of intellectual habits that make “human instinct for storytelling” seem like an appropriate way of introducing an endeavor of this kind.

But it’s another step in the right direction …

See also: Shiller’s ‘Narrative Economics’ paper (2017).



Excerpt: Allison Truitt, Hot Loans and Cold Cash in Saigon

When Mr. Thang approached me for money the first time, he did so cautiously, explaining that he needed a hundred dollars to purchase material for school uniforms and pay tuition for his two daughters in high school. At the end of his story, he punctuated his story with a “what do you think of that,” as if he did not quite believe it himself. The image of his school-age daughters caught me off-guard. I quickly convinced myself that I was learning something from him and could — perhaps should — pay him for our conversations as I had paid others for more formal language instruction. So I became complicit in the economy of intimacy in which stories could be exchanged for cash, but without ever outright acknowledging what we each thought the money represented.

Allison Truitt, “Hot Loans and Cold Cash in Saigon,” in Money: Ethnographic Encounters, ed. Stefan Senders and Allison Truit (Berg: 2007), p.60.