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Economic experts: a discursive political


economy of economics
Jens Maesse

Philippsring 29, Mainz-Kastel, 55252, Germany


Published online: 05 Aug 2015.

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To cite this article: Jens Maesse (2015): Economic experts: a discursive political economy of
economics, Journal of Multicultural Discourses, DOI: 10.1080/17447143.2015.1050029
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17447143.2015.1050029

LEAD ARTICLE
Economic experts: a discursive political economy of economics
Jens Maesse*
Philippsring 29, Mainz-Kastel, 55252, Germany

Downloaded by [Jens Maesse] at 06:40 07 August 2015

(Received 7 March 2015; accepted 3 May 2015)


The aim of this article is to show that economic experts are not the product of one
single social field, with one identity and one role. They are rather the product of a
trans-epistemic discursive field. By a combination of discourse analytical tools from
post-structuralism and a theory of symbolic power derived from Bourdieus work, the
contribution explores how economists occupy a powerful, hegemonic position in the
global political economy. While classical approaches in Political Economy reduce
power mainly to money and violence, this paper takes the recent debates on the
cultural turn in Political Economy as a starting point to develop the idea of a
Discursive Political Economy of Economics. In the first step it is shown how
discourse and power interact. In the second step the paper explores the discursive
power logic of economic expert discourses at the interface between academia, politics,
media and the economy with illustrations from empirical research. The claim of this
paper is that the power of economic expert discourses in the media, politics and the
political economy is based on an elitism dispositif which emerged in the academic
world of economics in the USA as an excellence myth.
Keywords: economic expert discourse; post-structuralism; cultural political economy;
economic sociology; discourse studies

1. Introduction
Who is an economic expert? Economic experts play an important role in politics, the
media and academia. They participate in almost every debate in society and politics: the
topics range from European integration, development, unemployment and taxation to
education, science and health care. Economists are frequently requested to offer their
expertise as solutions for a variety of social problems. Therefore, economics is not only
an academic practice but it is also a political project, since economic experts hegemonize
their interpretations, ideas and solutions through discourses. This hegemonic claim is
made against other alternative forms of knowledge. In this respect, the discursive
construction of economic experts whether in the media, in academia or in other
professional contexts is always a power struggle in order to enforce a particular
discursive perspective. This article shows how economists are constructed in and through
discursive practices.
Whereas economic experts are usually conceived as singular, coherent and
integrated figures, this article argues that economic experts are multiple, heterogeneous
and disintegrated beings. They are not the product of one single social field, with one
identity and one social role. They are rather the product of a trans-epistemic discursive
*Email: jensmaesse@gmx.de
2015 Taylor & Francis

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J. Maesse

field. The aim of this article is to show how economic experts as hybrid beings are
constructed and constituted at the interface between science, politics, business and the
media. In order to show how this process of the trans-epistemic construction of economic
experts operates, this article will present the idea of a Discursive Political Economy of
Economics (DPEE).
The combination of discursive practices and power strategies is important to
understand how economists are constructed. Since economic expertise becomes relevant
mainly through the particular nature of the perspective from which this expertise is
uttered, the discursive role of economic experts is of particular interest here. Thus,
economic experts are considered as actors produced by discursive positioning processes.
Above all, they are not equally positioned in relation to other perspectives. Rather,
economic experts are strengthening and enforcing their particular point of view against
others and create an exclusive perspective. This discourse is not only a communicative
process, it deals with power as well. Thus, a combination of theories of discourse and
power is necessary to understand these processes. This paper promotes an extension of
the discursive perspective by the power dimension. With a discourse theoretical and poststructuralist adaption and transformation of Bourdieus concept of capital, this
contribution calls for a theory of power and discourse. This is the reason why the
analysis of the trans-epistemic logic of economic expert discourse is paralled by
introducing the DPEE methodology.
Thus, this contribution is following two interrelated aims: first, it shows how
economic experts are constructed through discourses; second, it presents a methodology
that helps us to understand this construction processes. The particular combination of
power and discourse analytical approaches on economic experts is the centrepiece of the
DPEE approach. Compared with other research perspectives from economic sociology
and Political Economy, this methodology is focusing on the role of discourses from
economics for the formation of the economy, politics and society.1 The DPEE approach
takes a critical discourse analytical view on economic expert discourses without
universalizing this perspective. On the contrary, the DPEE approach is a particularistic
approach since it takes into account power relations in discourses which are always seen
as historically, socially and culturally specific. Thus, the DPEE is neither holistic (Shi-xu
2014) in the sense that it will encompass the entire cultural universe of discursive
practices nor is it normative (Wodak and Meyer 2001, Fairclough 2006) in the way that it
would presuppose norms and values which serve as a basis for a political critique. Yet, it
can be regarded as a positive form of critical discourse analysis because it takes into
account the materiality of power structures in discourses as it has been put forward by
Bourdieu and Foucault alike. It is, therefore, focusing on interruptions, cleavages and
divisions implanted on discourses by the powerful forces of inequality and suppression.
Because this paper aims at two goals, first, showing how economic experts are
constructed at the interface of academia, politics, media and the economy and, second,
presenting a methodology that allows us to study this construction process, the article will
be divided into three main sections. Two sections will outline the perspective of a DPEE.
As a first step, an argument for a discourse analytical extension of Political Economy and
economic sociology (Jessop 2004, Glynos et al. 2012, Stavrakakis 2013, Maesse 2013a)
is made (Section 2). This section argues for a discursive as well as an economic extension
for the study of the political economy. In the second step (Section 3), the DPEE approach
is outlined as a methodology where the interplay of power and discourse in the
construction of economic experts takes place at the interface between politics, science,
media and business. This section shows that economic expert knowledge is not an

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isolated phenomenon, restricted to the academic world. It is rather considered as a


product of the trans-epistemic field of science, business, politics and the media. Thus,
powerful positioning practices are possible only because of the constitutive relations of
exchange between the academic, the political, the economic and the media world. In the
fourth section, the paper is moving forward by applying the DPEE methodology onto
economic expert discourse. Here, the DPEE approach is not only illustrated with an
empirical analysis of practices of discourse and power of economic experts. It is also
outlined how economic experts are constructed as a hybrid being. It is shown how
economists act in split social field, crisscrossed by multiple voices. Thus, this
contribution combines two goals which simultaneously refer to each other: developing
a theory of economic experts as heterogeneous beings of a trans-epistemic world and
presenting a methodology that helps us to understand the discourse of economists as a
power strategy.
2. Perspectives in political economy
2.1. Classical approaches between free market, the state and power
Studies in Political Economy usually study the way how firms, markets and the wider
economic system are influenced by political interventions (Frey 1978, Whynes 1984).
Within economics there are a variety of positions from free-market fundamentalists to
more technocratic views, from classical liberals to neoliberals. These differences are
analysed in depth elsewhere (Mirowski and Plehwe 2009). Mainstream economics while
strongly advocating free markers does allow for exceptional interventions by state
institutions for the production of efficient market relations (Rothschild 1989). The aim of
these interventions is to influence the actions of market participants according to the
market rule of supply and demand for goods and services. Here, the concept of
efficiency serves as a general benchmark and guiding principle in order to promote
more economically effective market relations guided by institutions, social norms and
other regulatory devices.
This institutionalist perspective prevails not only for large areas of research in
economics. It also applies to rational choice approaches in economic sociology
(Swedberg 2003). Yet, the institutionalist perspective on markets is not only shared by
neoclassical advocates of free markets, but also by critics such as information economics
(Greenwald et al. 1984, Akerlof and Dickens 1982), behavioural economics (Kahneman
and Tversky 1979) and game theory (Selten 2001). Here boundaries between scepticism
of, and confidence in, markets are fluid. Although economists who are critical of overreliance on free markets such as Stiglitz or Akerlof, plea for stronger governmental
regulations and macroeconomic interventions, they still keep an institutionally truncated
attitude towards markets and institutions. Hence, this institutional shortening reduces
political influence over markets essentially on governmental regulations or interest
groups.
Next to these state interventions, institutionalist approaches from economics, political
science and economic sociology focus mainly on the impact of lobby groups and other
stakeholders (such as trade unions, trusts, customers) on markets and the economy. In
order to understand this impact, institutionalists have not yet developed a theoretically
elaborated concept of power and social structure (Bourdieu 2005, Lebaron 2001a).
Instead, a largely implicit concept of power is at work here, operating along categories
such as market efficiency vs. democratic legitimacy and assessing regulation measures
as efficient vs. harmful, suitable vs. unfair. Typically, the actors playing this game

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J. Maesse

have interests, preferences and perceptions which help them to influence the decisionmaking process (Scharpf 1997). Finally, within this conceptualization of classical political
economy, classification categories arise such as market vs. state, efficiency vs.
democracy. Those oppositions appear to approaches from critical Political Economy as
problematic oppositions, since they presuppose an implicit, realist-positivist concept of
power (Wullweber and Scherrer 2010).
Next to a variety of other approaches (see, for instance, Klamer et al. 1988, ORourke
2014), Marxism plays a central role for a critical discussion in Political Economy (Boyer
and Saillard 2002, Evans et al. 1985, Arrighi 1994). Compared to conventional
perspectives, Marxist approaches focus on the power dimension of politics and the
economy. Power is here predominantly understood from a class theory viewpoint. The
relationship between political action and economic relations is no longer reduced on
the relationship between the state vs. the economy, governance vs. markets. Rather,
the influences and interests of the capitalist class are studied in all areas of social life of
capitalism that reaches beyond those oppositions. This applies to the impact on the state
(Poulantzas 1978, Jessop 1993), as well as to the firm and industry (Holst and Drre
2013), the media (Horkheimer and Adorno 2001), the civil society (Gramsci 1971), social
discourse (Althusser 1971), the education system (Bowles and Gintis 1977) and other
branches of social and cultural life. Here, the dialectical opposition between the economic
base and the social superstructure defines the relationship between society, power and the
economy. Yet, it is the social class and the manifest and latent structures of class
domination, not the state is the main agency of power. Thus, the most important power
resource is not the governments sovereignty. It is the access to economic resources and
the opportunities derived from this access to influence the law, security, media and
education.
However, with this realist theory of power, the Marxist approaches in Political
Economy soon came across internal borders. They have successfully overcome the
opposition between market vs. state by reformulating the concept of power according to
categories of social class. But the way how knowledge, culture and power interact with
each other remained restricted to the idea of ideology as a false consciousness.
Accordingly, power is basically understood as an access to resources in order to preserve
or change power relations and to mobilize or demobilize discourses of critique and
resistance. Thus, power and ideologies are studied from a social conflict point of view. By
contrast, research on the history of ideas have analysed the role and impact of ideologies
and political ideas (Hall 1989) as well as their institutionalization (Crouch and Streeck
1995). Nevertheless, a systematic consideration of the role of knowledge and culture
remained a desideratum of studies in Political Economy. The following subsections will
explain the cultural turn in Political Economy (Section 2.2) and argue for a discursive
understanding of culture (Section 2.3).
2.2. The cultural turn in political economy
This cultural gap has recently been discussed in the Political Economy from different
interdisciplinary approaches. The contributions in Best and Patersons (2009a) study, for
instance, argue for a comprehensive account of cultural dynamics for the study of the
relationship between the economy and political interventions. Values, beliefs and
knowledge play a major role for the constitution of markets, companies and the wider
political economy. Political economy, as conventionally understood, whether in
neoclassical, public choice, institutionalist, statist, or Marxist terms, thus fails to fully

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explain its object because it abstracts political economy from its cultural constitution
(Best and Paterson 2009b, 2).
Culture as cultural capital is not only the passive expression of economic capital.
Instead, it is a means of power, as Bourdieu (1989) has already pointed out. This cultural
dimension of the political economy has been outlined in more detail with respect to its
communicational and discursive aspects. As Mosco (1996) has shown, media and
information technology have an impact in politics and the economy. While the research of
the history of political ideas highlighted the competition over political ideas and their
institutional implementation, Mosco addressed the manifold character of meaning and
communication through commodification processes and mass media. Following Adorno
and Horkheimers Critical Theory, Jameson (1989) has pointed out the deep cultural
penetration of capitalism, although a political-economic reflection of the cultural
dimension has not yet been done.
Yet, Jessop (2004) calls for a systematic conceptualization of culture, the state, the
economy and class under the concept of Cultural Political Economy. With this idea,
Jessop and Sum (2006) are carrying out a cultural critique on the regulation theory.
Through a systematic consideration of processes of semiosis in all areas of political and
economic life, the emerging neoliberal knowledge society can be analysed (Jessop et al.
2008, Fairclough 2006). Here, semiotics works as a device for stabilizing regimes of
accumulation, alongside institutions, power relations and economic conditions. In order
to maintain a certain power structure, the political economy produces dominant fields of
the thinkable and speakable. They enforce certain interpretations over alternative forms of
legitimate ideas. Good ideas are not conceived as good due to their capability to offer
appropriate solutions for real problems. They are, rather, powerful ideas serving the
interests of powerful social groups. Thus, public ideas have an impact on political
institutions and the economy because they are part of a social power structure. With the
combination of semiotics and social structure, Jessop and Sum take a critical realist
perspective.
Economic sociology as well as financialization studies have extended their research
perspective on the cultural dimension of politics and the economy too. In particular,
performation studies developed new perspectives on the economy. They have shown that
the economy is formatted by knowledge from economics. Thus, as Callon (1998) and
MacKenzie (2006) have demonstrated, economics does not simply observe the economy.
While in classical Political Economy economics is understood as a science that studies
the economy, and for critical Political Economy economics as neoclassical, economics is
regarded as an ideology apparatus to veil hidden class interests. Callon, MacKenzie and
Co. have shown that knowledge from economics can be analysed as a tool for the
construction of economic and market relations (MacKenzie et al. 2007). Thus, knowledge
about markets and the economy performs and transforms the object of observation like a
self-fulfilling prophecy. Economics provides knowledge that is used for classifying and
transforming reality. The positivistic ideal upheld and paraded by economics is a myth
concealing this internal political dimension of economics.
However, from this constructivist perspective, performative relations are not only
operative between economics and markets but also between other fields and objects of the
political economy. For example, as Breslau (2003) shows, the economy itself was first
created as a political-economic relationship between economic aggregates and public
interventions through the application of macroeconomic theory by state institutions on
society. However, the economy is not the object but, above all, the product of
economics. According to Desrosires (1998), even the state, and not only the economy, is

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the result of the combination of statistics, econometrics and macroeconomics (Morgan


1990). Finally, as Fourcade (2006) has shown, the contemporary state is the effect of
economic knowledge. Economics, hence, is the cognitive basis for the transformation of
governmental institutions following the principles of neoliberal globalization.
By following studies in accounting and critical finance (Miller 2001, Erturk et al.
2008), financialization studies deals with the relationship between culture, politics and the
economy as well. Here, concepts such as neoliberalism and globalization refer primarily
to economic policies and global transformations of capitalist power relations (Epstein
2005). In contrast, the concept of financialization deals with the way in which cognitive
logics and forms of categorization and classification shape the social relations in
contemporary capitalism (Leyshon and Thrift 2007). While, initially, a widespread
penetration of ideas, categories and concepts from the financial world has been observed
(Martin 2002), later, the discursive dimension of financialization was discussed. This
discursive dimension will be discussed now in order to specify why this contribution is
using a DPEE methodology in contrast to a mere cultural or performative
understanding of the Political Economy.

2.3. The discursivity of the political economy


With the introduction of the discursive dimension of the political economy, the role of
contextuality, interpretation and the transformative appropriation of knowledge and
symbols between markets, the state, media and academia becomes substantial. Thus, poststructuralist approaches point to the contingent and constructivist character of power and
domination in the political economy (Glynos and Howarth 2007, Wullweber and Scherrer
2010, for security studies see Herschinger 2011). Thereby, the post-structuralists do not
only criticize the essentialist character of positivistic-realistic approaches in political
economy, but they simultaneously highlight the independent and contingent character of
discourse and hegemony (Laclau and Mouffe 2001). The economic and financial world is
not just studied by economics and controlled by governmental interventions and
regulations. Rather, the economic (and political) world(s) construct their own semiotic
relations (Kessler and Wilhelm 2013). The economy including finance, business and
other institutions and aspects of the economy is a discourse that differs from the
discourse of politics and the discourse of economics. Although feedback exist (Walter
2013), the financial market, for instance, has singular discursive rules which make price
formation possible (Langenohl 2010). This also goes for economics itself, which
generates no manifest concepts with context-free meaning. Economics as a science
constructs metaphors (McCloskey 1998, Pahl and Sparsam 2015) in order to interpret and
reinterpret their own ideas and concepts (Hesse 2010).
Hence, discourse studies on the relationship between economics, the economy and
politics insists on the interpretative and contextual character of the political economy as a
culturalized political economy (Dannreuther 2007). Knowledge that may have an
influence on politics, the economy and economics as a cultural factor is becoming
relevant only in those social worlds in which it is actually used. Thus, a proper discursive
understanding rejects any abstract meaning of culture. Discourse is therefore not to be
equated with knowledge, semantics and meaning. Rather, the term discourse refers to the
rules of the social construction of knowledge in a competitive terrain of power and
domination. While semiotic approaches look for powerful meanings and performative
approaches seem to presuppose an identity of economic semiotics and market structures

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Journal of Multicultural Discourses

(see Aspers 2007), discourse analytical approaches insist in the split character of the
discourse in the political-economic field (Maesse 2015c).
On the one hand, discourse studies argue for a relationship between economics,
business and politics. But, on the other hand, this relationship is not characterized by a
semantic identity. The social structures of the economy and markets are not identical with
cognitive structures from economics knowledge. Furthermore, ideas and concepts from
the world of economics must be translated into the world of politics and the economy.
(T)hey circulate from one field to another by interpretive appropriation and usage.
Thereby, they change their meaning, their status and their role according to the social
rules in the respective social worlds (Maesse 2015b).
Therefore, the Cultural Political Economy methodology must be specified as a DPEE
approach in two directions. First, it has a discursive character because the Cultural always
assumes a competitive, interpretive, contextual dimension. In this sense, the Cultural
Political Economy is, in fact, a Discursive Political Economy and not just a semantic or
a symbolic Political Economy. Second, economic knowledge from economics has a
special status as a cultural resource for discursive interventions into the political and the
economic world. It can serve as a special form of ruling knowledge in markets, political
institutions and in public debate. For this reason, this paper argues for a DPEE.
Whereas this section has sketched out the cultural turn in Political Economy and the
discursive specificity of it, the next section will explain the DPEE approach as a
methodology for the study of economic experts between power and discourse.
3. Discourse and capital: positioning as a power strategy
3.1. Semantic identity vs. discursive diversity of economic expert knowledge
In the field of Cultural Political Economy, discourse analytical and discourse theoretical
approaches can be distinguished from semiotic perspectives as current discussions on the
role of culture in the political economy demonstrate. Discourse analytical approaches
emphasize the cultural character of the political economy. But unlike semiotic
approaches, they remain sceptical about a semantic universalization of the entire
political-economic field. Rather, the term discourse emphasizes the interpretive nature
and contextuality of economic, political and academic knowledge. For example, concepts
from the neoclassical paradigm can be used in markets as well as in political discourses.
But in both cases they would lose their academic meaning and will be translated into
industry, firm and policy discourses (Diaz-Bone and Krell 2009).
A particularly illustrative example is the case of the efficient market hypothesis
(EMH). The EMH is a pure academic idea that has never worked in the markets as it was
expected by their academic protagonists (MacKenzie 2006). Nevertheless, it has had an
important impact on the design and the making of the financial market institutions as well
as on the political and economic reform of neoliberalism. How is this non-compliant,
counterfactual and anti-intentional discursivity possible and thinkable without throwing
the baby out with the bath water and rejecting the idea of a cultural reshaping of
political-economic relations with categories from economics at all?
In contrast to a pure semantic reshaping of the political economy, other forms of
cultural penetration of political-economic relations can be identified. For example, studies
from the banking sector (Leins 2013, Wansleben 2013, Kessler and Wilhelm 2013) have
shown that economic experts perform a legitimation and authorization function in
financial markets. Thus, knowledge from the world of experts is not simply applied to
problems of the financial world (Millo and MacKenzie 2008). Rather, experts and

J. Maesse

expertise, in fact, act as authorities, references and legitimizing instances (Seabrooke


2006). From a discourse analytical point of view, this means that actors speak in the name
of academia and perform themselves as experts of their ideas. Nevertheless, the ideas that
are expressed in these non-academic contexts in the name of academia are not necessarily
from an academic background. Rather, the speaker guarantees as a member of an
institutionalized expertise for the academic and scientific value of the performed
statements. Experts qualify a statement as academic. Thus, economic experts appear
in media discourses as representatives of their academic discipline and can thus benefit
from the academic prestige ascribed to it.

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3.2. Discourses as positioning practises


From a discourse sociological point of view, these processes can be understood as
positioning practices (Angermuller 2013). Individuals and groups take a position with
written and spoken language, with texts and words, pictures and symbols, bodies and
gestures and, thus, become actors in their particular social world(s). By identifying
themselves as members of a group, a tradition, a political party or an academic discipline,
they declare themselves as part of a social status group. But these processes of positioning
never run straightforward and monophonic. Every discourse consists of different voices
(Angermuller 2013). Hence, in expert statements, there is always more than just one
perspective at work. They are polyphonic by nature be it latent and implicit or open and
offensive. Polyphony is not the exception but the rule in the discursive construction of
economic experts (Maesse 2015b).
Yet, positioning practices are not only polyphonic. They are also embedded in a wider
range of social relations, traditions, institutions and power structures. Positioning
practices will be combined with power strategies when actors leave a discourse of
equality and enter into a competitive game in order to become representatives of a
privileged idea. Thus, how can we come to terms with the relationship between discourse
and power? When certain discursive positions such as an expert are combined with
a demand for power, exclusivity must be associated with this particular discursive
position. The next subsection shows how this exclusivity is constituted.
3.3. Discourses as power strategies
According to Bourdieu (1989), social actors as position holders become powerful actors
when these positions are combined with a certain amount of capital. However, for
Bourdieu a discursive position derives from the position which actors obtain within the
social space as well as from the capital value of the respective social field (Bourdieu
1991). This implies a space-field-position determinism because discursive positioning
practices are reduced to relationally constituted social positions. In contrast to a more or
less orthodox Bourdieu perspective, this contribution takes a discourse analytical
reformulation of the capital theory in order to overcome the field-space-determinism
(Hamann 2014, Maesse 2015a, 6074). Accordingly, field-specific fixed capital values
are connected only in the course of the discursive positionings with the resulting social
position. Here, discourses are regarded as devices which bring different forms of capital
and social positions together. Therefore, the combination of capital (i.e. titles, acquired
prestige, etc.) with discursive positions (such as statements to economic policy topics) is
also based on ascriptions by the social environment as any other interpretation in
discourse as well.

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In discursive power relations, capital has a certain authorization and legitimizing


function because distinguishing indications of established positions will be ratified in the
discursive process of interpretative attribution. The authority of the speaker is, therefore,
made visible by features that come from the social origin as a particular social place.
This place is being associated with the respective speaker in discourses. This social
background is leaving its traces in the habitus of the position holder and the social
environment in which the position holders are recognized.
From a discourse analytical point of view, the social background theory can be
reformulated in terms of discursive practices. The social origin of economic experts
leaves their traces in the discourses in which she/he is positioning himself/herself as an
actor of a specific statement. This trace is typically a signature of the background such
as the title, the language, the choice of tone and themes, and so forth. Now, the place
where the discursive positioning takes place appears as the place of allocation of power
and authority because it makes certain aspects of the social origin relevant to the
audience. Bourdieu has never held these two aspects really apart from each other. In
the orthodox field theory, social origin as power became almost automatically relevant
to the discursive audience through the homology principle. In the case of discursive
power, this cannot be possible, of course, since discourses are based on interpretation and
contextuality. Rather, the capitals that were acquired at the place of social origin must be
transferred to the place where the discursive positioning practices actually happen. Thus,
a process of capital conversion connects the place of origin with the place of discursive
articulation. Any transfer of power in discourse is always a conversion of capital.
Discursive positionings are, in fact, capital conversion processes. They are interpretative
transformations driven by social attributions.
This will be illustrated in detail in the following section.

4. The logic of economic expert discourse


From the viewpoint of practical research, this implies two steps: on the one hand, a
discourse analysis of the positioning logics must be carried out. This is typically an
analysis of the polyphonic composition of expert statements. On the other hand, this
analysis of polyphonic rules must be supplemented by an analysis of the types of capital.
By investigating economic expert discourses at the interface of economics, politics and
the media, a capital analysis implies not only the study of the rules of production and
distribution of capital but it also makes a study of the conversion processes of one kind of
capital into other types of capital necessary. Thus, in the case of economic expert
discourses, academic capital (e.g. title) is being converted into forms of populist capital
(public prestige, media appearances, etc.) and political capital (political positions,
invitations, ministerial posts, etc.).
This combination of discursive practices and capital conversion processes will be
outlined and illustrated in an example from economic expert discourse in the following
section. It is the centrepiece of the DPEE approach. Before entering the empirical case
study (Sections 4.2., 4.3., 4.4., 4.5., 4.6.), we will explain the social conditions of
discourse and capital. This is the trans-epistemic field of economic expert discourse.
4.1. The trans-epistemic fields of economic expert discourse
The analysis of the relationship between power and discourse, thus, takes into account the
social origins of economic experts. This is the academic field because this is the place of

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J. Maesse

the production of those insignia that attribute authority to the speakers roles in other
contexts of economic expert discourse such as media, the business world and the political
world.
As a first step, we will have a look at the specific field structure of economic expert
discourse. Second, it focuses on the logic of positioning practices as a polyphonic
spectacle by which the economic experts are being put in their place as actors of a
particular statement in a particular social game. Here, the specific positioning logics must
be studied. And third, it analyses the capital conversions. These conversion analyses
combine the social origins with the positioning practices in order to show what kind of
capital is converted through what kind of discourses.
Hence, the research perspective of DPEE combines neo-Marxist approaches from
post-structuralism with neo-phenomenological ideas from discourse analysis (Maesse
2015a, 71). From the neo-Marxist post-structuralism, it takes the focus on processes of
power and conflict in a discursively split social fabric; with the neo-phenomenological
discourse analysis it shares the perspective on contextuality and the interpretive nature of
discursive relations. While traditional phenomenology is blind to questions of social
power and inequality, but apparently assumes an omnipotence of discourses and
interpretations, traditional Marxism, in contrast, ignores the constructivist capabilities of
discursive practices. For Marxism, social positions were usually just a matter of economic
base and ideological superstructure, while power for phenomenology was only a crude
form of violence. The DPEE approach is a methodological contribution to overcome the
opposition between power and contextuality, realism and constructivism.
The discursive constitution of economic experts is neither operating in a closed
economic structure (Marx) nor in a traditional field (Bourdieu); furthermore, it is not just
the result of conventional face-to-face discourse in the common world of everyday life.
Rather, it is a product of a trans-epistemic field between academia, politics, business and
media (Figure 1).
The trans-epistemic field is a discursively connected, heterogeneous arena in which
different social worlds overlap and merge into each other. It is an open and split structure
(Laclau 1990), which allows and enforces various discursive positioning practices. Thus,
an intensive exchange takes place between the different social worlds, which does not
solely refer to the semantic level of texts, interactions and language. It can rather be
thought of as a process of capital conversion.

Figure 1.

academic
world

media
world

business
world

political
world

The trans-epistemic eld of economic expert discourse.

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4.2. Capital and capital conversion through discursive practices


This complex process of capital production and capital conversion through discursive
processes can be illustrated as follows: If economic experts take a discursive position in
the world of media (top right), then they mobilize insignia from the academic world (topleft) by using symbolic capital. This was produced in the academic world and can now, in
media contexts, be used as a power resource to receive social recognition. On the other
hand, media reputation that has been accumulated in these positioning processes may
eventually also be used in the world of political discourses (bottom-right), such as when
popular economists play with their prominence in the course of policy advice. As an
example, we can mention economists such as Joseph Stiglitz who has a huge influence in
policy advice as well as in media debate and in academia. Last but not least, with the
growth of the impact of economics in the media and the political world, the demand
increases for more symbolic capital from the academic world. In this respect, a feedback
from media and politics to academia can be observed.
This feedback is a call for more symbolic capital. It is not the particular academic
knowledge and economic models that are recognized and requested by media and politics
but the academic status of economists as experts. This will be outlined in detail in the
following three subsections. It is this status of actors and not their problem-solving
models and expertise that gives their statements in discourses on the economic world a
distinctive authority. Thus, a need for the production of legitimacy goods arises. These
legitimacy goods can be official (Professor) or informal (leading economist) titles and
degrees, which may confer power on those players in economic policy debates who are
equipped with these insignias of academic recognition.
The following section gives a more detailed illustration on the relationship between
the social demand for legitimacy in politics and the media (as well as the economy) and
the production of legitimacy goods in the academic world.
The empirical illustration will analyse the relationship between society and the academic
world as a dialectics between academism and elitism (see Maesse 2015c). The dialectics
itself is based on the assumption that the project of nation-state led Western modernity is no
longer able to produce legitimacy for society (Habermas 1985) because the process of
globalization has changed the symbolic and institutional framework of modernity. The
postmodern era which is rising up creates new forms of symbolic power (Jameson 2012).
The resulting lag of legitimacy in society is filled by institutions of education in the wake
of a general expansion of education (Vester 2004). The social background of this
development is the increasing demand for educational credentials to legitimize social
positions of power (Bourdieu et al. 1981). This development spreads now and transforms
itself from the simple forms of cultural capital (school and university degrees) to all
education-science-based credential agencies (such as measuring quality, excellence policies,
best practice procedures, peer review or just the award of an expert status, see detail Maesse
2015b). This trend is generally reflected in the emergence of a quantification and
surveillance panopticon where everything is measured and counted in numbers (Power
1997, Lentsch and Weingart 2013, Angermuller and Maesse 2015). As a result, a
certification industry comes up where educational titles, expert opinions, excellence and
quality certificates fill the void left by the loss of the utopian energies of Western modernity
(Jameson 2012).
The dialectics of academization and elitism are the background for the economic
expert positions. Both are based on the production and conversion process of different
types of capital. Thus, experts take a position in the political world by bringing their

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elitism/symbolic capital

authorization/
economic capital

Figure 2.

multiple reference/
popular capital

academic
world

media
world

business
wolrd

political
world

academism/
political capital

The relation between capital production, capital conversion and discursive polyphony.

educational background into play; they perform in the media world by playing
simultaneously with everyday expectations, academic reputation and political ideologies.
Academism and multi-reference as positioning strategies would not work if the elitism in
the academic world were not able to generate symbolic capital, which is then converted
into other forms of capital in other contexts (Figure 2).
Each particular social world produces capital through discourses. This capital is
circulating between the worlds of the trans-epistemic field and is thus available as a
power resource in other worlds. While the elitism in the academic world responds to the
social legitimacy demand from media, politics and business firms, these non-academic
fields, in turn, consume symbolic capital from academia and convert it into their contexts
according to the particular discursive rules and social needs. The academic world, in fact,
plays a special role here, as the whole educational system does in order to assess and
legitimize power and inequality in society.
4.3. The elitism dispositif in economics: the forces of emergence
The concept of elitism refers to a trend in the world of economics, which originated in
US economics departments in the 1970s (see Coats 1993, 40713) and then spread
throughout the world of economics globally (Fourcade 2009). Elitism as a discursive
practice refers to social contexts in which some economists can take a position as top
economist in the world of economic expert discourses. In order to make such positioning
strategies possible in academic discourses, a general elitism dispositif must be
institutionalized. This includes institutional as well as structural devices which frame
the discursive activity of academic economists. Five different forces can be identified
which transformed the world of economic discourse into an elitism dispositif.
4.3.1. Rankings and journals
First to be mentioned in this respect is the introduction of a publishing culture that is
based on the quantification of scientific quality in order to be able to assess and

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Table 1. Citations of economic journals.


Number of citations to

1970

Papers published 19651969 All papers (est.)

4,815
13,192

Papers published 19751979 All papers

1980

1990

17,798
45,018

Papers published 19851989 All papers

28,122
83,948

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Source: Laband and Piette (1994, 652).

compare research performance. This development started in the 1970s and was
characterized by a general trend towards English as the universal language in economics,
a predominance of journals instead of other publication forms and the establishment of
rankings which compare and classify publications in a linguistically homogenous world.
As Table 1 shows, the output of journal paper grows enormously.
This development is accompanied by the assertion of a formalist, model-oriented
understanding of the economics (Blaug 2003). This was initially forwarded by the
establishment of a neoclassical orthodoxy and later accompanied by non-neoclassical
and other heterodox paradigms (Pahl 2013). Given the overwhelming hegemony of
critical microeconomic approaches such as behavioural economics, information economics, game theory and institutionalist economics, today one can hardly speak of a pure
neoclassical orthodoxy of the field (Colander et al. 2004). Rather, the model-formalism
can be regarded as a paradigm in the Kuhnian sense that has created a relatively
heterogeneous and controversial academic landscape of conflict and controversy within
its formalist scope.
4.3.2. Hierarchy and stratification
Besides the establishment of rankings as accounting technologies, a second trend
emerged which is characterized by in a hierarchical transformation of economics and a
Table 2. Stratification of research quality in terms of funding at economics departments.
Elite class

Near-elite class

Middle class

Working class

LSE
UCL
Warwick
Oxford
Essex

Nottingham
Bristol
Queen Mary
Cambridge
Manchester
Southampton
Royall Holloway
Exeter

Kent
Leicester
Birkbeck
Surrey
Surrey
Sheffield
York
Birmingham
East Anglia
Sussex
City
Brunel
Loughborough

London Metropolitan
Kingston
Manchester Metropolitan

Source: Lee et al. (2013, 700).

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J. Maesse

stratificative enculturation of the field. Here, strong differences in academic reputation


came up (see Table 2 for the British case). Whereas research-oriented and relatively
successful economists are based in the elite departments, a wide range of departments
developed which hardly obtained such a high research output in high-ranked journals.
Thus, Goyal et al. (2006) have shown how a cluster of citation communities and coauthorships emerged around the so-called academic stars or Big Shots. This
encapsulation and isolation of top researchers vis--vis the academic periphery and
semi-periphery is also reflected in the career paths. As Han (2003) has demonstrated,
based on an analysis of recruitment channels, there is a very low social mobility between
the hierarchically segregated departments. Post-docs coming from the elite institutions
tend to get a job at other institutions with a high academic reputation, whereas post-docs
from lower ranked departments remain in the minor leagues of economics.
What seems to develop here is a segmented class hierarchy. Only those economists
who are academically socialized to the upper floors of the academic society will have the
capabilities of publishing in top journals systematically. This, in turn, is a prerequisite for
entering certain social networks to make valuable acquaintances in order to get more and
more academic honours. As the highest level of symbolic recognition, finally, the Nobel
Prize in economics can be obtained (Lebaron 2006).
This development towards elitism now spreads globally. In a first step, a proliferation
of the elitism in the UK already took place in the late 1980s. In the course of this
transformation, the emergence of an academic class society can be observed (Lee
et al. 2013).
In the 1980s/1990s, an enormous change in the economic research landscape took
place in the course of the introduction of research performance indicators, first, by the
Research Excellence Assessment (REA) and later through the Research Excellence
Framework (REF). As a result of this development, a couple of strong research
departments came up, such as the LSE, UCL, Warwick, Oxford and Cambridge.
Besides these departments, some more departments fluctuating back and forth
between academic elite and second division. Particularly impressive is the change
that can be observed in Oxford. Here, the old college model has been transformed in 1998
and replaced by the American department model. Whereas the old College University of
Oxford had just employed a handful of economists who did research and especially
teaching throughout the colleges, this changed completely after 1998. Now, a highly
recognized department emerged with about 30 professors (including full professors and
assistant professors) and 30 other researchers (listed on the website).
4.3.3. Departmentalization as a new form of research organization
This process of departmentalization, which is the third trend of elitism, can also be
observed in the German-speaking world of economics. Regional traditions such as the
college teacher in the UK or the Humboldtian professor in Germany are substituted by
new types of academic researchers. Departments pursue a collective, organizationalized,
bureaucratized and managerialized research policy, which is directed to common
objectives of the department as an academic organization.
The introduction of graduate schools in Frankfurt, Cologne, Mannheim, Munich,
Bonn (the former already had such a school before!) and other small universities, for
instance, demonstrates this change. Graduate schools aim at a systematic vocational
training of young economists. Graduate training is not about a Humboldtian intellectual
education for higher symbolic purposes (Hamann 2014), but rather to generate

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publication cadres who systematically publish in top journals. For this purpose, a dense
network is designed consisting of different vocational levels to be climbed step by step
(in detail Maesse 2015a, 75114).
The young economists are not only familiar with the latest methods and the necessary
know-how. They also get in contact with established researches and other colleagues. Due
to their position in elite networks, they know what kind of research topics might be
promising for a good positioning in journals. Here, they learn how to communicate in an
appropriate academic way and how to acquire a distinctive style of writing and
argumentation. Excellence has to be practiced, although the structural arrangements
work for keeping out of competition the others coming from the academic periphery.

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4.3.4. Magnification as Critical Mass principle


These three trends the transition to a system of model-oriented journal rankings,
hierarchization and departmentalization are covered by a fourth feature, which works, in
fact, as a necessary requirement for an institution to rise up onto the top of the hierarchy.
This is the magnitude of a department: without any exception, all cases that can be
observed in the UK, and the German-speaking world of economics show that elitism is
based on a critical mass of the departmentalized departments. Both, in Germany and in
the UK elitization processes became successful in those faculties that were equipped with
at least 20 professorships.
Magnification refers to the fact that a certain number of academic resources is
necessary to become a department that is in a position to apply a research policy of
collective excellence. Exceptions to this rule exist, of course, and they can be regarded
as a new academic middle class that aims upwards to rise to the elite institutions or
they are captured by the upper class as part of a relocation or expansion strategy of the
huge institutions (perhaps Essex, the Swiss institutes, Florence).
4.3.5. Concentration of academic capital
After the implementation of rankings (in Germany with the Handelsblatt ranking, in the
UK by the Diamond list) and the introduction of departmentalization process in the
magnified institutes, finally a general concentration process of all varieties of academic
capital such as external funding, publication potent researchers, posts, titles and
positions, public funds, etc. took place. In the German-speaking world, these
concentrations take place primarily in Munich, Mannheim, Bonn and Frankfurt, followed
by other institutions in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, such as Zurich, Vienna, Graz,
Cologne, Gttingen, Kiel, etc.; in the UK this is especially the LSE, Warwick, UCL,
Oxford, perhaps Essex, Cambridge and some other places.

4.4. The external sources for the elitism dispositif: the heteronomous voice and the
public image of economists
What is the impact of this development towards elitism for the discursive positioning
practices in the academic world of economics? First, discourses in the academic world of
economics are characterized by polyphony typical for academic discourses (Flottum
2005). Thus, academic actors are members of smaller and bigger research groups by
defining themselves and others through labels and tokens in the course of their academic
career (Angermuller 2013).

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J. Maesse

4.4.1. Academic Excellence as cult and ritual


At the same time, however, an academic elite is generated by the hierarchical system of
rankings and journals where membership can be measured and counted. Here, certain
research products will be regarded and awarded as excellent in contrast to others.
Now, next to a horizontal categorisation also a vertical assessment of academic work
becomes important in the field. However, it is not important whether or not researchers
are able to publish in an A-journal from time to time. Moreover, it is important to achieve
a high output regularly. This yields to a publication strategy which always goes for top
journals. Through this procedure, a cult of excellence is generated, which is not tied to
a particular individual, but is firmly institutionalized and fixed in the field and maintained
by the elitism dispositif consisting of hierarchization, departmentalization, concentration,
magnification and evaluation. For about 40 years, the academic world of economics on a
global scale tends towards hierarchy and elitism. As a look on different countries suggest
(see Coats 1993, Lebaron 2001a, 2008, Fourcade 2009, Lee et al. 2013, Maesse 2015a,
c), this trend towards elitism can obviously not be delayed. It proceeds from country to
country throughout the world.
Moreover, it is obvious that the hierarchization process in economics hardly meets
resistance. This would be unthinkable in many other disciplines from the social sciences
and humanities. In general, there seems to be an intra-scientific consensus on certain
aspects of the discipline of economics that took other disciplines into internal horizontal
differentiation in a hermeneutic/qualitative/humanistic and a positivist/quantitative/
scientific camp (Abbott 2000). In economics, in contrast, those differentiations take a
different form. How can this be explained?
4.4.2. Academic Excellence as an export article
If no plausible factors from the inner academic world can be determined in order to
explain this feature of economics, than an external explanation for the elitism dispositive
may be applied. Thus, to understand the particularities of economics we have to take into
account the special socio-discursive form in which economics is embedded as an expert
discourse. Economics is an academic discipline that was already very close to the
requirements of the state. First, since its full institutionalization at the end of the
nineteenth century (Breslau 2003) and, second, today as a device for the production of
legitimacy goods (Maesse 2015c). Hence, this contribution argues that the special
relations which economics maintains to the rest of society have an impact on the internal
developments of economics towards the elitism dispositive. The foreign relations of
economics are important, and not the internal differentiation dynamics,
Economics is not restricted to an academic field (Bourdieu 1988) in the narrow
sense. Rather, it is part of a trans-epistemic world of economic expert discourse. This
close trans-epistemic link of the academic world to the world of media, politics and the
economy creates a pressure on the academic field. This pressure transforms the anarchy
of academic tribes and epistemic cultures into a structured organization for the production
of export articles. Here, the elitism dispositive constitutes an elite and excellence cult.
This cult puts some participants in the academic world under pressure to produce
symbolic capital that works as a credential and an evidence of the exceptional nature of a
particular scientific point of view.
In this respect, the academic voice of the stars, big shots and elite economists in
the discourse of academic economics is a heteronomous voice. It produces a product that
is primarily not intended for the inner circle of academic knowledge production, but

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rather for their public image. It is the voice of the other of academia which gives
economics as a discipline itself a particular form of identity. Economics is constituted by
two voices which work as forces; one is the public image that speaks in favour of its
social mission, the other voice is its academic conscience that pleas emphatically for
pure science. According to its own image, economics committed under the control of
the elitism dispositif is less a science for the pursuit of empirical research. It is,
furthermore, a profession for the construction of efficient markets. When academic stars
or big shots take a position in their academic contexts, then, they are not primarily
talking about the narrow academic world, their theories, models and methods, Instead, the
discursive voice reaches beyond this small world since it is controlled, indirectly, by the
demand for external power and legitimacy.
The combination of the normative, social mission voice with the positive,
scientific clarity voice is fundamental for the identity of economics. However, this
polyphonic structure culminates in the elitism dispositif as a double membership of
economics: to the state with its practical challenges and to academia with its pure and
artificial knowledge. This split voice creates symbolic capital, the pure principle of power
by recognition, which can now be transferred into other contexts of society. In these
contexts, it will be converted into new forms of capital and used by other discursive
practices. In the remaining two sections, this relationship of academic discourse to society
in the fields of media and politics will be analysed.

4.5. Multiple reference in the media: the production of popular capital through
polyphony
Economists are permanent members of the political discourse in the media. They have an
important impact on the political debate and public opinion since the foundation and
institutionalization of economic experts councils from the mid-twentieth century in all
Western countries (Hall 1989). Even the great economists of the Keynesian period from
the 1940s to the 1970s such as John M. Keynes or Milton Friedman were famous for their
public polemics and political commentaries (Fourcade 2009). All of them were not only
highly respected economist and prominent political consultants. Furthermore, they knew
how to serve the political emotions of their time. In this role, they were first and foremost
populists because they had a feeling for the popular taste, i.e. the political emotions of
the public sphere. But todays media scene is not missing prominent economists, such as
Paul Krugman, Mario Draghi or Joseph Stiglitz.
Despite some parallels and overlaps between the media economists of the past and the
present, on the one hand, and between economic experts and experts from other
disciplines for instance, from the social sciences on the other hand, contemporary
media economists are characterized by some special features (in detail Maesse 2012).
4.5.1. Economists as Universal Intellectuals
First, experts from other disciplines are generally considered as experts in their respective
expert area. Experts on education, for example, talk about their specific educational
expertise: early childhood education, school or university issues. Sociologists are also
mainly conceived as specialists of particular areas like youth, consumption or
(increasingly rare) issues of social inequality. They are discursively constructed as
specific intellectuals (Foucault) or rather special intellectuals because they relate to
their specialist area. In contrast, economists in the media seem to feel competent to take a

18

J. Maesse

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position on almost all aspects of social life. They not only talk about economic issues
but also on social values and habits as well as on general political questions. In this sense,
they present themselves discursively as universal intellectuals in a society that is
affected more and more by economic globalization.
In this respect, economic experts can perhaps be called the universal intellectuals of
globalization. Of course, economists are specific intellectuals in the sense that we never
live in a world fully determined by economic issues. However, the hegemonic economic
categories determine the general social perception of the social, political and business reality
more and more due to the neoliberal drift in the 1970s. This is the discursive-ideological
background for the universalism effect of economics, a trend that has been studied in detail
by the financialization studies as well (Epstein 2005, Leyshon and Thrift 2007).
4.5.2. Economists as Complex Actors
The contemporary media economists such as Joseph Stiglitz differ from their
predecessors mainly by the fact that success in academic research and success in the
field of economic policy can hardly be provided by a single person today. Media
economists are embedded in widespread and strong networks and organizations. Today,
political and academic issues and problems fall apart because they are parts of highly
differentiated fields of expertise.
While at the time of John Maynard Keynes, a handful of economists in academia and
politics could cover different fields of expertise. Today, thousands of researchers in
politics as well as in academia form discursive communities of specialists. Successful
media economists are backed by networks and apparatuses of researchers from different
expert fields. The economic policy apparatus is now based on a scientific community that
works not more in personal union with the academic world. The functional division of
labour within economics as a profession, media agency and academic discipline has
reached a relatively stable level of institutionalization (Coats 1993).
4.5.3. Economists play at three discursive registers: public values, academic validity and
political conflict
What does this imply for the discursive construction of economic experts in the media?
According to research on economists in media (Mercille 2014, ORourke and Hogan
2013, Maesse 2012), economic experts communicate to three different social groups
through three communicative channels simultaneously. As universal intellectuals they
use a common sense rhetoric. This rhetoric alludes to the common knowledge and the
public moral of the people. In phrases like We must save money or We need a strong
and stable monetary union, media consumers do not need to know or even understand
the economic theory behind those phrases in order to construct a meaningful utterance of
it. Furthermore, economists can play with the semiotic ambiguity and the implied moral
reference of such statements. Through these techniques, the discourse is mobilizing
moral capital in the form of social norms and values.
At the same time, however, expert discourses play with a second discursive register:
namely the academic world itself where other economic experts critically evaluate the
academic meaning of economic expert utterances. Economic expert statements should
meet basic standards of scientific clarity even if they are prepared for media purposes.
Each economic expert is also a representative of the entire academic community. As a
member of an academic group performing in the media she/he mobilizes prestige which is

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used as symbolic capital. Since symbolic capital must be produced in a very elaborate and
complex process at universities, the academic colleagues of media economist take care
that this prestige will not be destroyed through an abuse of economic theory in the media.
Now, the elitism cult enters into the game. Specifically, media experts are not always
personally and fully involved in academic research on the top level. However, it is rather
necessary to display and perform membership to academic elitism somehow and keep in
touch symbolically with excellent research. Here, the different ways how media
economists acquire the labels from elite departments can be studied. For instance, this can
be expressed and presented to the public by the membership to a specific university (such
as the London School of Economics), institution (such as the Central Bank), a network
(the CEPS network) or just through the title (Professor of Economics). Media experts
keep and incorporate the insignia of elitism in their discourses. They are marked by the
signatures of excellence.
Last but not least, the economic expert statement is confronted with a third register:
the political field of conflict. Here, it will be connected to ideological and political
debates to which it refers implicitly or explicitly. The discourse takes a position on parties
in the government and the opposition and it refers to political ideas of lobby groups and
other political stakeholders. To plea for saving or stability, for example, implies not
only particular moral attitudes and academic stances. Such a statement enters into the
political field of conflict as well. Thus, an economic expert utterance intervenes and
communicates into three different social contexts of the trans-epistemic field: in the
everyday world and public sphere by bringing moral capital into play, in the academic
world by mobilizing symbolic capital from the elitism cult and in the political world by
recruiting political and ideological capital. Only when all three registers are addressed, a
particular sort of power can be generated through the economic expert media discourse.
This can be named populist capital.
The economist is a populist when she/he combines popularity with political
positioning and academic seriousness. This complex socio-discursive scenario can be
called multiple reference since it is a play with several contexts at the same time. Media
experts speak with three different voices simultaneously.
4.6. The academization of political advice: the production of political capital through
authorization
As we have outlined above, media economist are closely connected to the political world.
The current form of impact of economists onto this world can be termed academism.
The academization of the world of politics is a phenomenon with a special history
(Desrosires 1998, Hall 1989). The beginning of the scientific advice of the state,
especially in economic policy starts with the beginning of professional empirical
economic research in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. In particular, the
scientific apparatus of economic governance was established through three developments:
first, the proliferation of statistical offices in the nineteenth century; second, the
foundation of economic research institutes at the beginning of the twentieth century;
and the development of econometrics and economics as a model-based science and
professional analysis of the economy after the Second World War (see Desrosires 1998,
Morgan 1990, Breslau 2003).
At the same time, a regulated banking system (Ziegler 2005) and a comprehensive
system of central banks (Galbraith 1990, Fourcade 2006) with a strong regulatory
commission were established. This was paralleled by the foundation of expert councils

20

J. Maesse

and planning commissions, following the model of the US council of economic advice and
Soviet planning boards (Pechman 1989). From then on, the political establishment and the
state began to mobilize scientific expertise and developed expert knowledge in economic
expert institutions in order to manage the economy (Hall 1989).

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4.6.1. Economics as scientific capital and academic capital


This changed in the 1970s and 1980s. The so-called oil crisis and the supposed
impossibility to manage the economy was, in fact, a political crisis of the Keynesian
macro-economic paradigm. Yet, in the crisis even more economic expert knowledge was
mobilized instead of less economic expertise. The neoliberal turn helped the neoclassical
price theory to a breakthrough in the field of economic policy. Macroeconomic
aggregates were never abolished. They have been reformulated with the so-called
micro-foundation of macro-economic categories. They became extended and transformed
through expectation theory and rationalist models of behaviour (homo oeconomicus). The
economics knowledge was now fully established and economic expert knowledge could
be used as an instrument for state intervention and political conflict. Thus, in the course
of foundation (early to mid-twentieth century) and expansion and professionalization
(from 1940 onwards) of economic expert knowledge as well as with the extension and
deepening of it with micro-economic categories (starting at about 1970), economic
expertise was mobilized and institutionalized as scientific capital (Maesse 2015b). The
modern nation-state was completed with the institutionalization of an apparatus for
economic governmentality as a result and effect of the incorporation of economic
scientific capital into the state.
Yet, in the 1980s and 1990s, a new trend emerged. After the first phase of the
constitution and a second phase of transformation of economic management apparatus, an
academization process started. In contrast to the 1940s and the years after the Second
World War, the age of academism refers to a situation where scientific capital (theories,
models, statistics, econometrics, data of all kinds, etc.) is fully established in the
governmental institutions. Economic tools are available for everybody and can be used,
applied and modified depending on the political and ideological orientation because of
the democratization of economic expertise.
This is the reason why economic expertise as scientific capital has been replaced by
academic capital since the former is no longer important as a resource for power struggle
in the global political economy. Macroeconomic tools can easily be used to strengthen
and weaken, support and control particular social groups and classes. It happened in the
1960s in benefit for the working class and from the 1970s onwards in support for the
capitalist class. Hence, when everybody has access to the same tools and can use them for
contrary purposes, then, the tools lose their discursive specificity in power struggles.
From this moment on it is important to mobilize the speaker with the highest
academic degrees as proponents for a specific expertise in order to serve particular
political purposes and strategic aims.
4.6.2. Academization as credentialization
This academization process can be studied in the case of the economic research institutes
in Germany in the 1990s, when the institutes were requested to prove the academic
quality of their (previously government-related and relatively non-academic) research
(see detail Maesse 2015b). The content of economic policy advice became less important

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Journal of Multicultural Discourses

21

compared to the academic reputation of the proponents of a particular economic idea.


Labels for research excellence which construct star economists replace the practical
usefulness of an economic policy measure. Today, no economic research institute has a
chance for recognition and public funding, which is unable to prove their research
quality in terms of academic competition, regardless of the practical applicability of the
economic models.
To put it bluntly, a model published in a top journal seems to be more prestigious than
a model that can solve social problems. Whereas economists in the 1950s and 1960s at
the economic research institutes have dealt with the economic state apparatus, giving
advise to politicians, today the Ph.D. students and young researchers are concerned about
how to publish in prestigious journals.
This academization process takes place in different economic expert institutions such
as Central Banks. The ECB and the Fed, for instance, are recruiting a considerable
amount of academically accredited economists who are trained to publish in top journals
(Fourcade 2009, Lebaron 2006). What does this imply for the economic policy discourse?
The specific practical and problem-solving knowledge becomes less important. Governmental agencies can recruit this sort of knowledge especially internally via their own
experts and only occasionally make use of external expertise. However, the signatures of
academic excellence become increasingly important for the positioning practises in
economic expert discourse not only in the media but also in policy advice. Here, experts
refer directly or indirectly in economic policy debates to their academic prestige in order
to take a powerful position and to extend and improve their impact on political debate.
Now, academic capital (titles, references, credentials, etc.) replaces scientific capital
(knowledge about models, techniques, methods, etc.).
Economic experts not only emphasize economic and political ideas in discursive
positioning practises on economic policy debate. They also enforce the insignia of an
apparatus for academic credentialization and certification. Now, it is no longer enough to
be established in the power structure of the political debate in order to have influence.
Rather, academic capital must come into play to take a strong position and to create
power in the political game. Therefore, the discursive voice of economic experts in the
political discourse has a dual structure: on the one hand speaks the economist as a
discursive figure on behalf of a political-ideological camp; on the other hand, she/he
becomes visible as a representative of his academic group, which is, generally speaking,
independent of a particular political camp. This positioning logic can be described by the
term academism (see Maesse 2015b). Here, economic experts mobilize symbolic capital
from the academic world in the course of their discursive performance in order to
improve the impact on and within the political conflict. In these processes, economic
expert discourses convert academic capital into political capital (prestige, administrative
positions, offices in commissions etc.).
5. Conclusion
Economic expert knowledge is not limited to a single social field. It is rather circulating
throughout the heterogeneous terrain of a cultural political economy of discourse and
power. Economists are not actors with one professional identity and one clearly defined
social role. In contrast, economists are split persons and hybrid figures, constructed
through discourses of power at the interface of a trans-epistemic field. The transepistemic field of economic expert discourse is a strategic arena where positioning
practices in one field presuppose positionings in other fields because positionings are,

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22

J. Maesse

simultaneously, capital producing, consuming and transforming practices. From a DPEE


perspective, capital cannot be saved and stored. It is rather constructed to get be used by
other discourses, to be transformed in different sorts of capital and to be invested in new
contexts. Economists as split beings are always involved in processes of discursive
positioning and capital transformation.
This discursive interdependence can be analysed as a capital circulation process:
economic experts in the media are related to academic discourses while economists in
economic policy advice mobilize academic prestige as well as populist capital from media
discourse. Economists from academia, in turn, perform an elitism and excellence cult
which is a prerequisite to produce academic capital as a symbolic export article. This, in
turn, is consumed by their colleagues in the world of media, politics and in the economy.
Therefore, elitism and academism is one way how Western globalized societies
compensate the legitimacy deficits determined by the crisis of the project of nation-state
modernity.
The elitism dispositif which is at the centre of economic expert discourse in
the current historical period is not a functionalist reality but a positioning logic of the
academic world in economics. It produces symbolic capital because the discursive practices
are also under the heteronomous pressures of the non-academic world. In the media world
the multiple referential triad operates as a discursive production technique and in politicaladministrative discourse academic prestige becomes more and more important. The world
of business and firms follows a similar logic (Leins 2013, Wansleben 2013, Kessler and
Wilhelm 2013, Schmidt-Wellenburg 2013).
To understand how economic expert discourses operate in a trans-epistemic field, we
need a discourse analytical methodology that is able, first, to analyse discourses as
positioning practices (Angermuller 2013), and, second, to make discursive practices
visible as power strategies in a heterogeneous world of social relations (Maesse 2015a).
However, the DPEE approach is a methodology that works out the different voices in
economic expert discourse. Compared to other discourse analytical approaches (Wodak
and Meyer 2001), the DPEE is critical in so far as it uncovers the hidden power strategies
beyond the surface of pure communication; in contrast to knowledge-based methodologies (Keller 2010), the DPEE is focusing on the polyphonic aspect of discursive practices;
against holistic approaches (Shi-xu 2014), DPEE is focusing on the particularity and
contextuality of discourse and power; and compared to phenomenological approaches in
discourse analysis (Potter 2012), the DPEE is studying power and discourse between
micro- and macro-levels of society.
From the DPEE viewpoint, the different social contexts of the trans-epistemic field of
economic expert discourse are connected to each other by different forms of polyphony
and capital conversions. Further research should be done on the particular strategies of
economists within these contexts. Thus, economists in the media world, for instance,
apply different discursive power strategies in changing situations and circumstances.
Similarly, further research requires more and detailed inquiry into elitization and
academization processes in different national contexts. Whereas the European countries
seem to follow the elitization and academization pathway according to their own
institutional trajectories, economics in the Asian, African and South American countries
has to respond to these global trends with respect to their particular contexts as well. This
paper has sketched out the general trends and characteristics of economic expert
discourse. It can now be taken as a point of departure for more and detailed empirical
case studies on economic expert discourse in media, firms, politics and academia in
different regional and cultural contexts.

Journal of Multicultural Discourses

23

Acknowledgements
I would like to thank Johannes Beetz, Veit Schwab and Shi-xu for helpful comments.

Note
1.

See for a deeper discussion the contributions in: On the Horizon, special issue Language and
Economics, 22/4 (2014) and special issue Language and Economics Summer 2015.

Notes on contributor

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Jens Maesse, sociologist, is involved in a research project on Economic Expert Discourse between
the University of Erfurt and Warwick. His research focus is on discourse analysis, sociology of
science and education, economic sociology and political economy. His publications include Die
vielen Stimmen des Bologna-Prozesses. Zur diskursiven Logik eines bildungspolitischen Programms (Bielefeld 2010), Elitekonomen. Wissenschaft im Wandel der Gesellschaft (Wiesbaden 2015).

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