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Promoting social norms via microeconomics teaching

Buchter, Kamilla Haworth (2020) Promoting social norms via microeconomics teaching. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004213


In this thesis I argue that one way scientific descriptions can become self-fulfilling is by promoting social norms among the people they are disseminated to. Identifying this mechanism will enable us to change unwanted social implications caused by it. To make the argument, I rely on the definition of social norms given by Bicchieri [2006] in The Grammar of Society and use the case of microeconomics as it is presented in university textbooks. Thus, the aim of the thesis is to argue that one way microeconomics can be self-fulfilling is by promoting a social norm of self-interest - and often narrow self-interest - via its textbooks and university teaching practices. To do this, I first use the current empirical findings to argue that the dissemination of the rationality assumption as it is presented in microeconomics textbooks can make microeconomics self-fulfilling. Second, I conduct a historical analysis to show that the claims that greed and self-interest are beneficial have been a part of modern economics from its beginning and still is today. I then discuss why the rationality assumption is a part of contemporary microeconomics and analyse how it is presented in standard textbook models today. Here, we see that even though some of the models can account for other-regarding preferences, the textbooks do not mention this fact. Instead, they present the rationality assumption as focusing on self-interested preferences only, and justify it as being both descriptively plausible and normatively desirable. Finally, I use the above analyses to argue that microeconomics textbooks and teaching practices can change people’s behaviour by making them follow a social norm of self-interest in economic situations. I end the thesis by presenting the results of an empirical study designed to test this argument.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2020 Kamilla Haworth Buchter
Library of Congress subject classification: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
H Social Sciences > HB Economic Theory
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Sets: Departments > Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method
Supervisor: Alexander, J Mckenzie

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