The Provocative Joan Robinson

The Making of a Cambridge Economist

The Provocative Joan Robinson

Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: 6 photos, 1 table Published: May 2009

Economics, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Science and Technology Studies

One of the most original and prolific economists of the twentieth century, Joan Robinson (1903–83) is widely regarded as the most important woman in the history of economic thought. Robinson studied economics at Cambridge University, where she made a career that lasted some fifty years. She was an unlikely candidate for success at Cambridge. A young woman in 1930 in a university dominated by men, she succeeded despite not having a remarkable academic record, a college fellowship, significant publications, or a powerful patron. In The Provocative Joan Robinson, Nahid Aslanbeigui and Guy Oakes trace the strategies and tactics Robinson used to create her professional identity as a Cambridge economist in the 1930s, examining how she recruited mentors and advocates, carefully defined her objectives, and deftly pursued and exploited opportunities.

Aslanbeigui and Oakes demonstrate that Robinson’s professional identity was thoroughly embedded in a local scientific culture in which the Cambridge economists A. C. Pigou, John Maynard Keynes, Dennis Robertson, Piero Sraffa, Richard Kahn (Robinson’s closest friend on the Cambridge faculty), and her husband Austin Robinson were important figures. Although the economists Joan Robinson most admired—Pigou, Keynes, and their mentor Alfred Marshall—had discovered ideas of singular greatness, she was convinced that each had failed to grasp the essential theoretical significance of his own work. She made it her mission to recast their work both to illuminate their major contributions and to redefine a Cambridge tradition of economic thought. Based on the extensive correspondence of Robinson and her colleagues, The Provocative Joan Robinson is the story of a remarkable woman, the intellectual and social world of a legendary group of economists, and the interplay between ideas, ambitions, and disciplinary communities.


“[T]he historical reconstruction is intertwined with a fascinating anthropology of the Cambridge economics faculty in the 1930s. Aslanbeigui and Oakes convincingly argue that there was an epistemic community, albeit one whose members battled fiercely for acknowledgement, where bit-players such as Robinson had an important role in contributing to the formation of big ideas.” — Natalie Gold, Times Higher Education

“Nahid Aslanbeigui and Guy Oakes have written a most interesting and insightful book on the early career of Joan Robinson at Cambridge University. . . . In assessing The Provocative Joan Robinson, it is clear that the authors have done a substantial amount of research on Robinson’s early career at Cambridge. Not only is their research exhaustive, but the manner in which they present their case is very clear. Their writing is lucid and very much to the point that they are trying to make. . . . [I]t is a significant contribution to our understanding of twentieth century Cambridge life and the inner workings of some of the most important economic thinkers of our time.” — Michael V. Namorato, EH.NET

“This is a remarkable book. It is the first attempt of which I am aware to deal with the complexity of Joan Robinson’s contributions to Cambridge economics in the 1930s. Robinson is an iconic figure, and a series of legends—mostly created by Robinson herself in a complex process of personality and career formation—makes such a historical reconstruction necessary. ‘Necessary’ is the right word, since the entire history of what is now called macroeconomics, and a number of elements of the history of neoclassical economics in the pre–Second World War period, have been told from the perspective of Cambridge, England, by individuals engaged in defending the Cambridge tradition.” — E. Roy Weintraub, author of How Economics Became a Mathematical Science

The Provocative Joan Robinson is an engaging, insightful, and highly original treatment of a significant figure and community in the history of economics.” — Steven G. Medema, author of The Hesitant Hand: Taming Self-Interest in the History of Economic Ideas


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Nahid Aslanbeigui is Professor of Economics and the Chair of Economics, Finance, and Real Estate at Monmouth University. She is co-editor of Rethinking Economic Principles: Critical Essays on Introductory Textbooks and Women in the Age of Economic Transformation: Gender Impact of Reforms in Post-Socialist and Developing Countries.

Guy Oakes is Professor of Philosophy and Jack T. Kvernland Professor in the School of Business, also at Monmouth University. He is the author of The Imaginary War: Civil Defense and American Cold War Culture and Weber and Rickert: Concept Formation in the Cultural Sciences.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Collage with Woman in Foreground 1

1. The Improbable Theoretician 17

Excursus: Robinson and Kahn 51

2. The Making of The Economics of Imperfect Competition 89

3. Becoming a Keynesian 161

"Who Is Joan Robinson?" 235

Notes 247

Bibliography 279

Index 295
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner, 2010 Joseph J. Spengler Award, presented by the History of Economics Society

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4538-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4521-3
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