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DRPS : Course Catalogue : Edinburgh Futures Institute : Edinburgh Futures Institute

Postgraduate Course: Economic Narratives (fusion online) (EFIE11216)

Course Outline
SchoolEdinburgh Futures Institute CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate)
Course typeOnline Distance Learning AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits10 ECTS Credits5
SummaryWhat is the role of narrative in economic life? How are economic processes shaped by the stories we tell about them? This course equips students to understand how economic actors use narratives to shift expectations about the future, move markets, and contend with crises, and how the power of narrative might be harnessed for positive economic outcomes.
Course description Economists conventionally conceive of humans as rational agents making objective decisions that will maximise their rewards. In recent years, though, important research in the humanities and social sciences has shown how - under real-world conditions of limited information and uncertainty - economic actors in fact rely on narratives to explain their situations and guide their actions.

The course will explore how economic data can be interpreted to construct varying narratives, and how these narratives may - in turn - shape economic reality itself as businesses, consumers, investors, journalists, or policymakers buy into them and spread their effects.

The first main strand of the course will draw on research in economic sociology and anthropology to examine case studies of the power of economic narrative in action, focusing on the operations of institutions and actors such as central banks, financial analysts, and business journalists. We'll consider how the goal of the stories these bodies and individuals tell is not so much to be 'true' as to appear coherent, plausible, credible, and persuasive - in the hope of ultimately bringing economic reality into line with their versions of events.

The second main strand will begin by considering how the narrow understanding of human psychology long-dominant in mainstream economics has recently been challenged by the rise of behavioural economics, with its emphasis on the limitations of economic actors' calculative decision-making. It will go on to explore attempts in what's called the 'Economic Humanities' to go a stage further by highlighting how reading fictional narratives offers models for understanding the full complexity of human motivation, including our tendency to make decisions actively at odds with our apparent self-interest.

Through a combination of assigned theoretical and case study reading; online lecturing and interaction; large and small group discussion during Intensive days; and analysis of historical and/or contemporary real-world examples, students will learn to identify, analyse, interpret, and critically reflect upon the narratives that shape the economic world. Case studies can include (but will not be limited to, or be required to include for every iteration of the course):

(a) The manner in which economic metrics are used to create narratives of such hard to define concepts as economic success, failure, development, modernity, bubbles, and crashes, and in turn to influence public understanding of economic issues and controversies, and the formulation of economic policy. Some very basic explanation of essential economic statistics and economic time series will be provided, from the venerable GDP per capita measure, to the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals and later the Sustainable Development Goals, but no mathematical skills will be necessary for students to follow this discussion. The aim is rather to develop a critical attitude to economic data and especially the way metrics are used to promote narratives like economic modernity and the 'reform' needed to achieve it (e.g. the 'Washington Consensus'), globalisation and its inevitability/desirability, or moral vs utilitarian dilemmas like the 'public health vs economic prosperity' narrative current during the 2020-21 pandemic.

(b) The manner in which narratives of financial bubbles and crashes can be developed from traditional storytelling devices of "greed vs fear," "hubris," "rags-to-riches-to-rags," or "the madness of crowds" and into a heuristic device by which concepts which have no consensus definition can be approached and analysed in lieu of a formal theory. Examples include "bubble," "crash," "contagion," and "bail-out".

Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI) - Online Fusion Course Delivery Information:

The Edinburgh Futures Institute will teach this course in a way that enables online and on-campus students to study together. This approach (our 'fusion' teaching model) offers students flexible and inclusive ways to study, and the ability to choose whether to be on-campus or online at the level of the individual course. It also opens up ways for diverse groups of students to study together regardless of geographical location. To enable this, the course will use technologies to record and live-stream student and staff participation during their teaching and learning activities. Students should note that their interactions may be recorded and live-streamed. There will, however, be options to control whether or not your video and audio are enabled.

As part of your course, you will need access to a personal computing device. Unless otherwise stated activities will be web browser based and as a minimum we recommend a device with a physical keyboard and screen that can access the internet.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  6
Course Start Semester 2
Course Start Date 15/01/2024
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 100 ( Supervised Practical/Workshop/Studio Hours 12, Online Activities 5, Formative Assessment Hours 1, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 2, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 80 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Formative Assessment:

Formative Assessment can be defined as learning and teaching activities that will not contribute to your the course's final mark/grade. The purpose of Formative Assessment is to provide high quality feedback to students on their current knowledge and skills so that these can be developed and demonstrated in subsequent summative assessments.

1) Group Project and Presentation

A group presentation in the form of a poster or equivalent will be produced at the end of the intensive teaching period as formative assessment (ungraded but receiving oral and/or written feedback). Students will be grouped according to the broad areas (indicative areas to be provided by the course tutors) in which they plan to write their assignments, allowing feedback on presentations to feed forward logically into the coursework component.

Summative Assessment:

The course will be assessed by means of the following assessment components:

1) 1500 Word Individual Written Response (100%)

Students will identify and analyse a cluster of artefacts or cultural objects (e.g. news items, historical documents, textbooks, institutional reports, art works or literary texts) that highlight the role of narratives in constructing and debating an economic controversy. The written work may take multiple forms - theoretical exploration, case study examining historical/contemporary example(s), and/or creative investigation. Word count: 1,500 words.
Feedback Formative Assessment:

Group presentation (ungraded; formative): feedback will be provided to the groups orally and/or by a brief written comment. The purpose will be for group members to understand how best to build on the ideas and approaches they have developed in the group project as they pursue their individual coursework assignments.

Summative Assessment:

Individual written assessment (summative): written feedback will be provided.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Understand the role of narrative in economic theory and practice.
  2. Identify examples of economic narratives and analyse their framings, functions, and effects.
  3. Communicate knowledge, understanding, and analysis of economic narratives, utilising appropriate ICT applications at levels required for effective transmission.
  4. Formulate and pursue a specific area of investigation of economic narratives.
  5. Understand and apply the insights of literary/narrative analysis and the wider humanities in the study of economic action and behaviour, especially as they relate to the production, processing, and presentation of data.
Reading List
Indicative Reading List:

A small set of Essential Reading will be provided at the beginning of the course, consisting of extracts drawn from selected texts the Recommended Reading list, below. The list as a whole provides a range of sources relevant to the course themes, which students will make use of selectively, according to the particular direction of their group and individual projects (there is no expectation that students will read all - or even most - of the material indicated below).

Arjun Appadurai, Banking on Words: The Failure of Language in the Age of Derivative Finance (U of Chicago P, 2015).

Jens Beckert, Imagined Futures: Fictional Expectations and Capitalist Dynamics (Harvard UP, 2016).

Jens Beckert and Richard Bronk, eds., Uncertain Futures: Imaginaries, Narratives, and Calculation in the Economy (Oxford UP, 2018).

Paul Crosthwaite, The Market Logics of Contemporary Fiction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019).

Paul Crosthwaite, Peter Knight, Nicky Marsh, Helen Paul, and James Taylor, Invested: How Three Centuries of Stock Market Advice Reshaped Our Money, Markets, and Minds (U of Chicago P, 2022).

Paul Crosthwaite, Peter Knight, and Nicky Marsh, eds., The Cambridge Companion to Literature and Economics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2022).

William Davies, ed., Economic Science Fictions (Goldsmiths Press, 2018).

Mihir Desai, The Wisdom Of Finance: Discovering Humanity in the World of Risk and Return (Profile, 2018).

Douglas R. Holmes, Economy of Words: Communicative Imperatives in Central Banks (U of Chicago P, 2014).

Robert Z. Aliber, and Charles P. Kindleberger. Manias, Panics and Crashes: a History of Financial Crises (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)

David Le Bris, 'What is a Market Crash?' Economic History Review, 71, 2 (2018), pp. 480-505

Stefan Leins, Stories of Capitalism: Inside the Role of Financial Analysts (U of Chicago P, 2018).

Donald MacKenzie, Fabian Muniesa, Lucia Siu, eds., Do Economists Make Markets? On the Performativity of Economics (Princeton UP, 2008).

Deirdre N. McCloskey, The Rhetoric of Economics, 2nd ed. (U of Wisconsin P, 1998).

Mary S. Morgan and Maria Bach, 'Measuring Development -from the UN's Perspective,' History of Political Economy 50 (annual suppl.), 2018.

Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro, Cents and Sensibility: What Economics Can Learn from the Humanities (Princeton UP, 2017).

Mary Poovey, Genres of the Credit Economy: Mediating Value in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Britain (U of Chicago P, 2008).

Philipp Schönthaler, Portrait of the Manager as a Young Author: On Storytelling, Business, and Literature (MIT Press, 2018).

Robert J. Shiller, Narrative Economics: How Stories Go Viral and Drive Major Economic Events (Princeton UP, 2019).

John Williamson, 'Democracy and the "Washington Consensus,"' World Development 21, 8 (1990), pp. 1329-1336.

Caitlin Zaloom, Out of the Pits: Traders and Technology from Chicago to London (U of Chicago P, 2006).
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills - Enquiry and lifelong learning
- Aspiration and personal development
- Outlook and engagement
- Research and enquiry
- Personal and intellectual autonomy
- Personal effectiveness
- Communication
Course organiserDr Paul Crosthwaite
Tel: (0131 6)50 3614
Course secretaryMiss Abby Gleave
Tel: (0131 6)51 1337
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