UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies


Economics in the Public Sphere


About the project

“Economics in the Public Sphere” (ECONPUBLIC) is a 5 year project funded by the European Research Council’s Starting Grants Scheme under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) / ERC grant agreement n° 283754.

Media reporting on the economy is never far from controversy. Academic economists and the public regularly find journalists at fault in their interpretation of events and prescription of solutions. Past scholarship has sought to locate the biases of journalists in political and institutional contexts. The ECONPUBLIC project takes a novel approach by studying “economic journalism” as a site for the production of public economic knowledge.

The newsroom as knowledge site…

The practices of journalists are examined to reveal how they parse competing claims of expertise by academic economists, other social scientists and by laymen. The second half of the twentieth century was witness to increased homogeneity in academic economics and interdependence of national economies, yet the content and style of “economic journalism” has remained distinctive across nations. We set out to understand how and why media representation of economic knowledge has remained distinctively different even as the content and style of economics converged internationally. The project aims to understand this differentiation by focusing on three international economic controversies: the reconstruction debate post 1945, the monetary and oil crisis of the 1970s, and the current economic crisis; across five nations: USA, UK, France, Argentina, and Brazil. We combine archival research, oral history, ethnographic observation, content and textual analysis of media, to identify media representations of economic expertise and reveal how they are shaped by historical context.

Cultural standards of trust, the history and economics of the media, and the history of economics and social movements explain the emergence of distinct national genres of “economic journalism.” The project offers a original perspective on how public knowledge of the economy is a iterative process engaging journalists, academics and laymen and explores the implications of this knowledge formation for the possibilities of public support for economic action and policies.