Skip To Content

Athabasca University

What is Political Economy?

Political Economy most commonly refers to interdisciplinary studies drawing upon economics, political science, law, history, sociology and other disciplines in explaining the crucial role of political factors in determining economic outcomes.

It's more than four hundred year old history includes the works of French Physiocrats, Adam Smith, David Ricardo and Karl Marx, among others. More recent scholars related to the field of Political Economy include Robert Keohane, Robert Gilpin, Peter J. Katzenstein, and Stephen Krasner, aside from a more critical school inspired by Karl Polanyi, Susan Strange and Robert W. Cox in particular.

Historically, there have been many reasons for adopting a distinctively political economy perspective in one's analysis of local and global change. Political Economy is concerned with the interplay between politics, society and economics and it has a long and distinguished history in the social sciences. Thinkers as diverse as Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, David Ricardo, Karl Marx, Raya Dunayevskaya, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman have all grounded their work on the fundamental observation that politics and economics are inherently linked.

Today, there is growing consensus that the separation between the study of politics and economics is an artificial one and the pendulum is swinging toward an integrated approach. Further, political economy is an area of study that permits a variety of ideological perspectives and theoretical paradigms. The academic return to political economy is especially encouraged by the growing interest in interdisciplinary studies.

However, it is important to note the distinction between the discipline of Political Economy as described above and a political economy approach which is applied by a variety of disciplines from different vantage points. For instance, a political economy approach in Sociology is applied to study the effects of people's involvement in society as members of groups, and how that changes their ability to function. While Political Science employs Political Economy to focus on the interaction between institutions and human behaviour, the way in which the former shapes choices and how the latter change institutional frameworks. Similarly, Anthropology, History, Economics, Human Geography, Cultural Studies and a whole array of disciplines and interdisciplinary fields employ political economy approach in a variety of ways.

The Political Economy Programme at AU reflects both the rich traditions of the discipline of Political Economy and introduces students to the diverse applications of the political economy approaches.

Updated March 10 2015 by Student & Academic Services

AU, CANADA'S OPEN UNIVERSITY, is an internationally recognized leader in online and distance learning.