The Handbook for Economics Lecturers

4. The ‘contending perspectives’ approach

4.1 Summary

Arguably, the best way to achieve the development of comparative and critical capacities is to combine the two approaches above. This can be done in a ‘parallel perspectives’ approach, in which issues or concepts are considered from different perspectives in parallel. This is pluralist but somewhat weakly so. A stronger version of this is ‘contending perspectives’, in which different perspectives are brought intentionally into contrast. The essence of this approach is summarised in Figure 6.

Figure 6: Characteristics of a ‘contending perspectives’ approach

  1. Core economic concepts or problems are examined from an orthodox perspective (as would be done in an orthodox module).
  2. The orthodox perspective is criticised from a heterodox perspective (as in the orthodox-plus design discussed above).
  3. The concept or issue is discussed from a heterodox perspective (as in the module design discussed in Section 3).
  4. Any orthodox rebuttals of the heterodox position and debate that has occurred are examined.
  5. Students are invited to evaluate the debate and argue for a position. In some ways, this may have already been done in the heterodox module, if issues were dealt with in turn from multiple heterodox perspectives. However, the contending perspectives approach does this more explicitly and systematically and allows both orthodox and heterodox positions to be examined.[1]

In terms of learning outcomes, students will gain awareness of a variety of substantive concepts (albeit possibly slightly narrower in scope than on any individual orthodox or heterodox module). However, the key to using the approach successfully is not to compromise on the need to be critical and comparative. The contrast between the perspectives is utterly crucial and must pervade the presentation and assessment of the module being taught.

[1] In theory, one could start with heterodox concepts. In an introductory module that makes most sense. In higher-level modules, in which students have most likely already studied some orthodox economics, the orthodox is most easily taught first.