The inaugural Rethinking Economics for Africa Festival aims to bring together academics, students, activists, policymakers, researchers and members of the public into a conversation about the present and future of economic thinking, teaching and public debate in Africa, and South Africa in particular. It does this in search of an economics discourse, education, and practice that can address the multiple challenges faced, and contribute towards the building of a more just and equal society.
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Over the last decade, economics has faced serious challenges. The “economic mainstream” – neoclassical economics – has been unable, on its own, to adequately account for unfolding economic events and to suggest effective and equitable remedies. At the same time unorthodox policies and previously ‘fringe’ ideas, have entered the mainstream. Policy prescripts, such as austerity, advanced on the basis of economic orthodoxy, are increasingly being rejected. The public has become dissatisfied with the economic status quo, for example high levels of inequality, and asserted a desire to better understand the economy and chart a new direction.
In this context, the ‘rethinking economics’ movement was born and has flourished. Together with a diverse range of existing scholars, the movement supports a pluralist approach to economics education and the centring of ‘real life issues’ within how we talk, teach, speak and write about the economy. The movement, of which this
programme is broadly a part, articulates a range of concerns, including:
• The dominance that neoclassical economics has within economics education and its portrayal as value-free ‘truth’, while other schools of thought are depicted as ‘ideologically polluted’, or simply passé, and other social science disciplines are ignored;
• The lack of appreciation of economics as an intellectual discipline, and its historical evolution, intertwined with political and social realities;
• The crowding out of non-econometrics and non-mathematical methodologies;
• The Anglo-US centric and androcentric nature of the discipline;
• The inaccessibility of economic discourses to the ‘woman on the street’; and
• The role of neoclassical economics in promoting neoliberal policies.
Economics departments at African universities exist within this global context but are heterogeneous. While some students and staff members have raised similar concerns, we do not take this as given and begin by posing questions as to whether these limitations are present, and to what extent. We presume a willingness by the “mainstream” to engage on these issues.
In our context, we also take cognisance of the following realities:
• The paucity of the teaching of African political economy and the history of African economic thought;
• The dominance of white males in the field, in both their numbers and voice, and in particular the underrepresentation of black women; and
• The recent challenges posed by the decolonisation movement.
While focusing on the discipline of economics, this is a festival for both economists and non-economists that seeks to demystify and make accessible economic debates. It creates a space to discuss the current state of the discipline and what sort of economics discourse can provide the basis for an appropriate understanding of contemporary economic phenomena in pursuit of coherent and socially-relevant economic paradigms able to tackle South African, African and global issues. The programme favours multi- and inter-disciplinary approaches and we encourage participation from those currently within the “economic mainstream” and outside of it.
In creating this space we aim to:
• Put people’s everyday concerns at the centre of economic discussions, prioritising issues faced by poor and working-class people, and women in particular;
• Learn about the state of the discipline in Africa, and South Africa in particular;
• Question whether the neoclassical bias of the discipline offers sufficient understanding of economic reality, and the role that this bias may have played in shaping the status quo;
• Bring to the fore the wealth of economic ideas and schools of thought that exist – such as Classical, Marxist, Neoclassical, Keynesian, Feminist, Institutionalist and Ecological economics – and the contributions of great African social scientists and philosophers;
• Advance methodological pluralism;
• Advance the need to reflect this wealth of ideas and methods in the composition of faculty and ‘economic experts’ in government and media;
• Discuss challenges faced by African economies, and in South Africa in particular, through diverse analytical lenses;
• Bring economics and economists in conversation with the struggle for social justice; and
• Bring people together to become aware of this diversity, share resources and ideas, create links, empower and serve as a practical platform to movement-build.
Streams and Speakers
1. An economics curriculum for contemporary African realities – focusing on current approaches to economics education and opening a conversation over what sort of curriculum would best serve contemporary African realities, including the question of ‘decolonising’ economics.
Speakers in Stream:
2. Realising a Feminist Economy that transforms the daily lives of womxn and gender non-binary people – interrogating the androcentric structure of the economy and what it means to teach, learn and analyse the economy in a feminist manner.
Speakers in Stream
3. Living in today’s economy: economics and social struggles – exploring, through a dialogue between people, academics and activists, how the economy is experienced and understood by the public and how this intersects with social struggles to change the economy.
Speakers in Stream:
4. Pluralism and political economy – a platform to engage with different schools of economic and social thought both in its content and methodology, including from the African continent.
Speakers in Stream:
5. Contemporary African debates (with a focus on South Africa) – providing room to raise critical contemporary debates present in Africa, and particularly South Africa.
Speakers in Stream:
The festival will also feature 3 Plenaries on “The Current State of Economics”, “An Economics Discourse for Africa” and “Organising for a Rethought Economics Curricula”.
Speakers in Plenaries
The festival is hosted by the newly-established Institute for Economic Justice (IEJ) in collaboration with the Wits and UJ chapters of Rethinking Economics for Africa (REFA), the Institute for African Alternatives (IFAA), Oxfam South Africa, DST/NRF South African Research Chair in Industrial Development (SARChI) and the African Programme on Rethinking Development Economics (APORDE) with support from the INET’s Young Scholars Initiative.
Form more information contact Rekang Jankie at email@example.com