The Provocative Joan Robinson: The Making of a Cambridge Economist

by Nahid Aslanbeigui and Guy Oakes
series edited by Barbara Herrnstein Smith and E. Roy Weintraub
Duke University Press, 2009
eISBN: 978-0-8223-9108-1, OA eISBN: 9781478090175, Cloth: 978-0-8223-4521-3, Paper: 978-0-8223-4538-1

One of the most original and prolific economists of the twentieth century, Joan Robinson (1903–83) is widely regarded as the most important woman in the history of economic thought. Robinson studied economics at Cambridge University, where she made a career that lasted some fifty years. She was an unlikely candidate for success at Cambridge. A young woman in 1930 in a university dominated by men, she succeeded despite not having a remarkable academic record, a college fellowship, significant publications, or a powerful patron. In The Provocative Joan Robinson, Nahid Aslanbeigui and Guy Oakes trace the strategies and tactics Robinson used to create her professional identity as a Cambridge economist in the 1930s, examining how she recruited mentors and advocates, carefully defined her objectives, and deftly pursued and exploited opportunities.

Aslanbeigui and Oakes demonstrate that Robinson’s professional identity was thoroughly embedded in a local scientific culture in which the Cambridge economists A. C. Pigou, John Maynard Keynes, Dennis Robertson, Piero Sraffa, Richard Kahn (Robinson’s closest friend on the Cambridge faculty), and her husband Austin Robinson were important figures. Although the economists Joan Robinson most admired—Pigou, Keynes, and their mentor Alfred Marshall—had discovered ideas of singular greatness, she was convinced that each had failed to grasp the essential theoretical significance of his own work. She made it her mission to recast their work both to illuminate their major contributions and to redefine a Cambridge tradition of economic thought. Based on the extensive correspondence of Robinson and her colleagues, The Provocative Joan Robinson is the story of a remarkable woman, the intellectual and social world of a legendary group of economists, and the interplay between ideas, ambitions, and disciplinary communities.


Nahid Aslanbeigui is Professor of Economics and the Chair of Economics, Finance, and Real Estate at Monmouth University. She is co-editor of Rethinking Economic Principles: Critical Essays on Introductory Textbooks and Women in the Age of Economic Transformation: Gender Impact of Reforms in Post-Socialist and Developing Countries.

Guy Oakes is Professor of Philosophy and Jack T. Kvernland Professor in the School of Business, also at Monmouth University. He is the author of The Imaginary War: Civil Defense and American Cold War Culture and Weber and Rickert: Concept Formation in the Cultural Sciences.

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