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JOAN ROBINSON (1903-1982)

Very little has been written about the life of Joan Robinson. All we can state is that she was a prominent economic writer from the post second world war until the 1970s, some of her most famous texts included: 

  • 'The Accumulation of Capital'

  • 'An Essay on Marxian Economics'

  • 'An Introduction to Modern Economics'

  • 'Economic Philosophy'

  • 'Freedom and Necessity'

We shall now briefly discuss the main areas of her work:

ROBINSON ON THE METHODOLOGY OF ECONOMICS AND SOCIAL SCIENCES - 'The methods to which natural sciences owe their success ... controlled experiment and the exact observation of continually recurring phenomena ... cannot be applied to the study of human beings. So far, no equally successful method of establishing reliable natural laws has been suggested. 

Certainly, the social sciences should not be unscientific. Their practitioners should not jump to conclusions on inadequate evidence or propound circular statements that are true by definition as though they had some factual content; when they disagree they should not resort to abuse like theologians or literary critics, but should calmly set about to investigate the nature of the difference and to propose a plan of research to resolve it ... The function of social science is quite different from that of the natural sciences ... It is to provide society with an organ of self-consciousness.

Every interconnected group of human beings has to have an ideology ... that is, a conception of what is the proper way to behave and the permissible pattern of relations in family, economic and family life.'

ROBINSON AND THE NEO-CLASSICAL SCHOOL - Much of Robinson's work suggested the need to view neo-classical theory as only being of use for comparative analysis . This was due her insistence that the neo-classical school did not accept historical and institutional factors.

ROBINSON ON MARX, MARSHALL & KEYNES - 'The purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists'

ECONOMIC RELEVANCE - Economics must be considered to the problems of the real world. It is in this concept that Robinson accepts the ideology of Marx, Keynes and Kalecki.

ECONOMIC ANALYSIS - For Robinson in economics the focus of analysis was based on historical data and possible future outcomes which was different to other social sciences, as she stated:

'For mechanical movements in space, there is a distinction between approaching equilibrium from an arbitrary initial position and a pertubation due to displacement from an equilibrium that has long been established. In economic life, in which decisions are guided by expectations about the future, these two types of movement are totally different'

MARKETS & PRICING - Robinson discusses two types of markets in existence. The first type of market has fluctuations in price occurring, whilst the other type of market has relatively stable pricing.

SOCIAL SCIENCES - Although much of Robinson's work contributed to economics, she also wrote a lot of social science based texts. 


  • Robinson was a prominent writer of her time.
  • Her analysis further extended economic analysis of the classical and neo-classical schools of thought but in a much plainer and more understandable form.

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