Economics for the Masses: The Visual Representation of Economic Knowledge in the United States (1910-45)

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Map drawn by Otto Neurath for the March 1932 issue of Survey Graphic

This is a paper I wrote with my friend and colleague Loïc Charles (Université of Saint-Denis and INED). Here is the abstract:

The rise of visual representation in textbooks is an important feature of the development of the economics discipline after World War II. We argue that it was preceded by a no less significant rise of visual representation in the larger literature devoted to social and scientific issues. During the interwar period, editors, propagandists, and social scientists encouraged the use of visual language as an important means of spreading information and opinions about the economy to a larger audience. We explore different yet related aspects of this development by studying the use of visual language in economics textbooks intended for nonspecialists, in periodicals such as the Survey (a monthly magazine intended for an audience of social workers), and by various state departments and agencies during the Roosevelt administration. We focus on two types of visuals that developed rapidly and had a strong relationship with the social sciences in this period: photographs and pictorial statistics. In the last part, we discuss how visualizations that were created as part of a critical program of more abstract forms of social theorizing (e.g., classical and marginal political economy) were transformed into an engine for New Deal political propaganda in the 1930s.

It is now published in the December 2013 issue of History of Political Economy.

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