My PhD thesis: Why does mainstream economics ignore ecology?

PhD thesis: Why does mainstream economics ignore ecology?

This PhD thesis is an inquiry about:
(a) Why does the mainstream (neoclassical) theory of economics ignore ecology?
(b) What is the place of ecology in the undergraduate level education in economics? Case in three European countries

Official PhD topic: The place of ecology in undergraduate economics education; the case in three European countries (La place de l’écologie dans l’enseignement de premier cycle en Science Economique: le cas de trois pays européens) – Ecole Doctorale, Università di Corsica

In my own words:
(a) Why does the mainstream (neoclassical) theory of economics ignore ecology?
(b) What is the place of ecology in the undergraduate level education in economics, in three European countries? (UK, Germany and Switzerland)

The latest draft-version of my PhD thesis can be downloaded here as PDF booklet.

(a) is the more philosophical part of my PhD that requires qualitative and historical analysis. (b) is the more empirical part which is based at least partially on some surveys and fact tables. I haven’t done any surveys myself; I did only unstructured and structured interviews at the beginning of my PhD work. This thesis includes information about existing survey reports, plus, content and keyword analysis of some popular economics textbooks. However, part (a) represents the primary inquiry of this thesis: Why does neoclassical economics ignore ecology? What are the historical, ideological, political and economic reasons of this ignorance? What are the most important barriers to overcome this ignorance?

Author of this thesis: Tunç Ali Kütükçüoğlu
PhD directors: Paul-Marie Romani (director), Dominique Prunetti (co-director)

My recommendation to the readers of my thesis: Read first parts A (introduction) and D (conclusions) before diving into the details of part B and C. You can send me your critiques, comments and suggestions by email. You can find my email address on the first page of the thesis.

PhD status (as of 20. February 2021): I submitted the fist draft of my PhD thesis to the Doctorate School of the University of Corsica on the 6. of January, 2021. Now, I am waiting for instructions about the next steps. I hope, I can have a well-balanced and interdisciplinary jury for my PhD defense; a jury which is not dominated by mainstream (neoclassical, neoliberal) economists, because my thesis is quite critical about mainstream economics. In this thesis, I have (among other things) following claims:

  1. Political economy (or philosophy of economy) which has started as a respectable branch of philosophy in the 18. century, has become a sort of neoliberal business ideology toward the end of the 20. century.
  2. Along with short-term exploitative business interests and industrial education (typically poor in philosophy, fine arts and ecology), mainstream economics has become one of the biggest institutional barriers to the necessary economic transition for sustainability: From GDP growth economy to sustainable well-being economy
  3. The economic system as well as economics education do not only concern economists; they are serious concerns for every society. We need a different (i.e. broad-view, interdisciplinary, pluralist, open) economics education for sustainable human life and well-being.
  4. My suggestions for a better economics education

Why I chose University of Corsica for my PhD
I fell in immediately in love with Corsica when I visited it first in 2016; lush green mountains, forests with chestnut trees, mild mediterannean climate, beautiful beaches that are free from ugly concrete piles and hotel chains, and a rebellious spirit that protected the cultural and natural riches of this country against mass tourism and neoliberal plunder economy (big money, big boss, big business). When I met academicians like Romani and Prunetti in Corte, I began to think, if I could do my PhD with the already intended subject (why does mainstream economics ignore ecology?) here, at the University of Corsica. I thought, with his philosophical background, Romani was sincerely interested in my multi-disciplinary and very critical PhD topic, that would span broad fields like history of economic thought, political economy, epistemology and ecology. After lengthy negotiations and reviews about the PhD offer with Prunetti, that took more than a year, I could finally begin with my PhD at the University of Corsica in December 2018.

I think, Corsica can be a model of sustainable lifestyle, tourism, education, economy and farming for the world. It is already a model, but could be much better. For example, University of Corsica could be a center of holistic education, including socio-ecological economics that aims sustainable well-being for all.

What I plan to do after completing my PhD

  1. Publishing my PhD thesis as a book (after a review) in different languages; writing further books and articles for a better economic education and ecological literacy for all. I am especially interested in evolutionary anthropology, evolution of societies, lifestyles and economies.
  2. Helping local communities and governments that want to make the transition from industrial/imperial to ecological/sustainable lifestyle and economy
  3. Working for a better (holistic, pluralist, ecological) economics education that aims to help societies reach higher goals like social justice, ecological stability and sustainable well-being
  4. Working for an academy that offer holistic education (as an antithesis of industrial education with rigid disciplinary boundaries; theory and practice, learning by doing, philosophy, science, ecology, fine arts and music, sports etc. with ecological farming, architecture and tourism in its center
  5. Ecological gardening, ecological garden ponds and aquariums
  6. Working for improved ecological literacy in schools and universities; practical experience with ecological gardens, ponds and aquariums
  7. Open Science; public communication of philosophy, science and economy, production with open & transparent organizations and technologies

Pictures of some selected sections from my PhD thesis:

About tuncali

I began keeping aquariums as early as I was nine years old. Since then, I kept many aquariums and lots of fish, plant and invertebrate species. My favorite fish family is of course cichlids with their fascinating behaviors. My relatively new area of interest is low-tech natural aquariums as almost self-sufficient ecosystems that are I think ideal models for sustainable life.
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One Response to My PhD thesis: Why does mainstream economics ignore ecology?

  1. tuncali says:

    Brief information about the content of my PhD thesis:

    Part A (introduction) is about basics: What is economics, and what are the differences between political economy and economics? How did broad-view political economy of the 19. century become narrow-view neoclassical economy in the 20. century? What is ecological literacy, and what are the basic principles of ecology? Do economics departments really ignore ecology?

    Part B (fundamentals) is about an in-depth analysis of the ideological foundations
    and core assumptions & beliefs of mainstream (neoclassical/neoliberal) economics that still dominate the university education as well as mainstream media and politics today.

    In this part (B), I investigate ideological foundations like Industrial Paradigm (i.e. human-centered, mechanistic & reductionist worldview), Western ideology of continuous and limitless Progress, short-term Business Interests and reducing the whole economy to Business Realm. I also investigate core beliefs (misconceptions, ideological barriers) like monetary reductionism, GDP growth obsession (growthism), technological optimism and inverse fitting (i.e. trying to fit realities of life into abstract mathematical theories), that stem from the aforementioned ideological foundations.

    In part D (conclusions) I demonstrate, how most of these core beliefs (misconceptions) conflict with the principles of ecology that are listed in section A.6 (introduction).

    How would a belief system react to such serious conflicts with a natural science like ecology? Normally, it has two options: (1) Either it makes the necessary corrections and updates in its theory, or (2) it ignores ecology to maintain the status quo. Mainstream economics seems to go for the second option with an incredible resistance to change.

    In part D (conclusions) I try to explain, why the gatekeepers of mainstream economics behave like this, and I bring forth some suggestions for a better economics education.

    A brief content analysis of some popular economics university textbooks is included in this PhD thesis. You may see the section D.5 for a summary.

    Part C is a summary of some critical reports about the undergraduate economics education in some European countries, including UK, Germany and France. I found especially “The Econocracy” quite useful to understand the current status of economics education.

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