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CORE – Departmental Approaches to Decolonising Economics

We provide an introduction to CORE; introductory economics resources and texts that can form the first part of decolonising across a department.
0.5
I’m going to go into the text here. And I’m going to just go to the first chapter here to just illustrate one or two features of the course. I want to talk about, I think, three things really. One is its attention to global and historical context, and also the way that students are given control to focus in themselves on parts of the globe, for example, that they might be interested in or have meaning for them. And then the second thing I want to talk about is a bit about the people, the people that inhabit this text, and inhabit its models.
36.7
And then finally I’m going to say a little bit about the kind of approach that this text takes to relevance, to make sure that the material is applicable and relevant to the kinds of diverse contexts that you might want to use the text in. So then let’s look at this first sentence here. This is how the course begins. And it talks about a Moroccan scholar in the 14th century. Here’s an example of the kind of historical and global context.
65.4
But the important point, one of the important points here is he describes India as a country of great extent, and one in which rice is extremely abundant, but also is one where he says, I have seen no region of the Earth in which provisions are so plentiful. So this paints a picture of India as a globally wealthy country in a sense, at least in terms of the availability of provisions. And this will contrast quite markedly, probably with the impression that many students will have of India given its current position.
97.2
And so it begs the question then, immediately in that first sentence of the book, what happens in the intervening period, which is characterised by colonialism, to lead India from a position where it could be characterised in this way, as Ibn Battuta does, to the situation as it persists now. And as you go down here, I said I would say something student control. There’s a graph– there’s a very strong empirical focus throughout this text, there’s lots of data and charts, and there have links underneath where you can as a student go in and investigate a little bit further. So in this case, you know, I can add whichever countries I’m interested in as a student.
140.7
I’m just going to do one thing, which is take off China and Italy and Japan just to focus in on India, because that’s where the course starts. And because you can see here, I mean some of this data is estimated for the UK all the way back to 1000, so there’s that kind of line that’s fitted there, but if you look at around 1600, it looks as though India and the UK are relatively in similar positions regarding GDP per capita. And so this gives some kind of validity to Ibn Battuta’s statement, which goes back a bit further than that.
178.1
But the interesting thing about this graph is really what happens during the colonial period, where there is a sharp rise, especially after the 19th century kicks in the UK, in growth of GDP per capita and the fall, the divergence, in other words, between the UK and India. So there’s just an example of how certain issues about colonialism can be addressed straightforwardly from this text. The second thing I said I’ll talk about was people, and the people that inhabit this text. The names of the characters are taken globally from around the world.
214.4
And that’s a very simple thing for a text to do, and more and more texts are starting to do this, but it’s embedded as a principle in this text that the characters are real names which are taken from across the world, and there’s a good degree of gender balance in there as well. But I guess the more substantial thing about the people here is that the kinds of people that are represented here are more heterogeneous and more diverse than you would typically find in some of the more canonical or traditional approaches. So if we just look down at chapter four here, you’ll see a section on altruism.
253.4
So broadening out the kind of traditional focus on individually kind of selfish individuals in many models that economists at least teach, even if they’re not tending to use all models with those kind of characteristics anymore in research, and then further down here there is a section on insights which are garnered from cognate areas such as psychology and behavioural economics. So there are behavioural experiments from different parts of the world illustrating different behavioural responses in terms of a more public facing or socially oriented behaviour, as opposed to a more individually oriented behaviour, so that people can start to see different contexts and different cultures represented through the kind of modelling frameworks that are used in this book.
305.6
Final thing I wanted to talk about was relevance. So if I just go up to the top here, you’ll see at the top of this section of this chapter some colour coding around different themes. And these are overarching themes. These aren’t all of them, by the way, there’s another one on instability in history, but these are the ones that are relevant to this particular section, and there are things like inequality and environment, and the entire text is filtered through, or the economics is kind of filtered through these themes. And these of course are concerns and issues that are relevant across the globe.
338.9
And then very finally I’m going to pass over to Arjun Jayadev from Azim Premji University in Bangalore, and the other is Kenneth Creamer from Vitz University in South Africa, both of whom are either working on or thinking about working on local editions of this text. So I have been trying to create a South Asian version of the core textbook, and I should say right at the outset it’s hard, because there’s many, many concepts. We always have a tendency to add rather than subtract, and you can’t possibly teach all of those things together.
376.2
I think that what we’ve been able to do, and hopefully when the book comes out we’ll see if that works, is to try to, as I said, foreground some of the key concerns of the Indian economy. Structural transition, informality, female labour force participation, environmental degradation, inequality of a particular sort, all of these are life concerns. I mean, students are concerned about, for example, the smog over Delhi, smog over the North Indian plains. And they do understand that it’s because of stubble burning. So many of the kind of concepts that we teach can be taught like that, as opposed to a kind of hokey example that you might actually otherwise see. So that has been a very interesting project.
425.7
And we are also are doing some interviews with economists, including certain things which I think are not there in the original core, for example, fieldwork. How do you understand about the economy? One very powerful thing is you go and ask people. And for many reasons we don’t tend to do that in the standard economic spheres, but in India that’s a very common way of trying to understand how the economy functions. So that’s the broad set of things that have been doing around trying to get economics as practised in India into the core textbook.
460.6
For example, we teach in the core text when we look at the periodization of the 20th century, there’s talk of the golden age of capitalism in the 1950s and 60s, and the stylized effects just fall into place, and it’s a wonderful story to tell, and stagflation follows, and it’s really enjoyable to teach. But then you put your hand up and say, oh goodness, but this was also the high point of apartheid.
482
So it’s hard to stand up in a classroom and say this is the golden age of capitalism without talking to your students about the fact that there was super exploitation of Black labour, there was dispossession of Black communities from their land, there was forced removals of people in this very period called the golden age of capitalism. So you need to square that circle, and you need to explain that to the students so that it doesn’t become dissonant, where they hear one thing in the classroom and they think another thing outside the classroom.
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But my current feeling is that to ensure that that contextual richness can come out, we have been talking about developing an African edition, or in fact, we keep saying southern African edition, because Africa just seems too big for us.

Building on our exploration of practical examples of decolonising economics teaching, we look at a unique approach to introductory economics called CORE (www.core-econ.org).

CORE is a free online set of texts and resources that incorporates a number of the practical ideas sketched in previous steps.

In particular, the economics in CORE is heavily oriented towards empirical applications to various economies across the globe and it situates economics within insights from history and other social sciences. It also has a strong focus on inequality, the environment and the implications of power for economic outcomes.

Many universities across the world have used this set of texts and and resources to begin a departmental-wide reconfiguration of their degree programmes in economics. Because CORE is intended to completely replace foundational courses in economics, it may be seen as a practical first step to begin building decolonial approaches throughout the curriculum. For a full implementation, the methods and approaches of CORE would need to be replicated in the more advanced years of an undergraduate programme.

Watch the video above to identify key features CORE that could facilitate decolonising practices in economics teaching.

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