Why a School of Political Economy?

The university economics curriculum has been regularly criticised for its lack of plurality and interdisciplinarity by students, business and society at large. Indeed, in no other academic discipline do students so regularly, and so widely, express deep dissatisfaction with the content of what they are taught. There is ongoing work trying to remedy the situation inside the university system. However, for a range of reasons, the pace of reform is too slow. In response to this unsatisfactory situation, we have established the School of Political Economy to offer the type of courses that universities should be offering but usually do not.  

Political Economy versus economics

Political economy is our preferred term for most of the work we do. We generally prefer the term ‘political economy’ for several reasons, including the fact that it better captures the reality that the political and the economic are often very tightly connected.’ Political economy’ is also an attractive term because it is the original name for economics, and given that much of that early pioneering work was interdisciplinary and pluralist, it is appropriate for our purposes.  

Modern political economy studies the social provisioning process: how society does (and does not) get the goods and services it needs to flourish. Political economy is ‘economics in context’ in that it regularly incorporates the social, political and environmental context in which economic activity occurs. Much work in political economy is progressive in nature, seeking to better understand the world in order to improve it. 

Political economy has common ground with economics in that it studies the production and distribution of goods and services. However, the various schools of political economy adopt a broader and deeper mode of analysis than occurs in much economic analysis. Whilst our primary focus is on the teaching of political economy, we always include some teaching of standard economics in our courses. This is appropriate for a number for several reasons, including that fact that it increases your capacity to assess rival claims about the causes of, and solutions to, various economic and social challenges.  


DR Tim Thornton

Tim is the Director of the School of Political Economy and is a Senior Research Fellow at the Economics in Context Initiative at Boston University and the Global Development Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University. Tim was previously the Director of the Politics, Philosophy and Economics Degree at La Trobe (2016-18) and also Director of the Master of International Development at La Trobe (2014-16). He lectured in economics, political economy and economic history at both La Trobe University (2007 to 2013) and Monash University (2002-2007) where he was awarded two teaching prizes. Much of Tim’s recent research has been on pluralism and interdisciplinarity, including his book From Economics to Political Economy: the promise, problems and solutions of pluralist economics. His most recent work is the co-written textbook Essentials of Economics in Context (Routledge 2020) and the co-edited Handbook of Alternative Theories of Political Economy (Edward Elgar 2022). Tim is based in Melbourne. He holds a Ph.D in Economics (La Trobe), a Master of International Development (Monash) and a Graduate Diploma in International Development  (Monash).You can view his full C.V. here