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Joan Robinson
[1903 - 1983]
by Hannah Rasmussen
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Joan Robinson was born Joan Maurice in 1903 in Surrey, England. She studied Economics at Girton College at Cambridge until 1935. Joan Robinson returned to Cambridge to teach after a three-year stint in India with her husband, economist Austin Robinson. Joan Robinson earned the position of full lecturer in 1937. During this decade, as she taught, she published three books and several articles. Additionally she was a member of John Maynard Keynes’ “Circus”, volunteered for the British Labour Party and had two children. Despite her scholarly success, it wasn’t until 1965 that she was given the position of full professor and fellow of Girton College. However, Joan Robinson was considered by many to be an excellent economist and in 1979, just four years before her death, she became the first female fellow ever at King’s College.

The Work of Joan Robinson
Many economists stick to one area of study throughout their career. Joan Robinson instead studied and wrote on a great number of topics. For example, at the beginning of her career Joan Robinson focused upon building on neoclassical theory. A famous book of hers, written in 1933, introduced the theory of imperfect competition. This theory is still taught in first-year economics textbooks. Despite this success Joan Robinson was quick to move on to a new topic and switched her focus to Keynes’ General Theory. She then turned to Karl Marx. Joan Robinson was one of the first writers to take Marx seriously as an economist. Her 1942 paper on Marxian Economics was considered ground-breaking.

During the Second World War Joan Robinson worked for several committees for the wartime Labour government. In this position she visited both the Soviet Union and China. Joan Robinson was also very interested in underdeveloped and developing countries. She made great contributions in this area of economics. However, Joan Robinson also praised the Chinese Cultural Revolution so much that many of her friends and colleagues were quite embarrassed due to the negative aspects of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

In 1956 Joan Robinson published her magnum opus "The Accumulation of Capital". Despite the fact that it is now more than 50 years old many people agree that students will learn more about finance, money and credit from this book than from any other textbook. Near the end of her life Joan Robinson concentrated both on more methodological problems in economics and in trying to recover the original message of Keynes’ General Theory. Between 1962 and 1980 she wrote many books to try and bring several economic theories to the general public. Joan Robinson is quoted as saying "the purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists."

Joan Robinson never won a Nobel Prize in Economics. Some people believe that this was due to her gender; a female has never won a Nobel Prize in Economics. Other people believe that she never won this coveted prize due to her eclectic study of economics. However, despite the fact that she didn’t win this important prize, Joan Robinson’s works are still being studied while many Nobel Prize winners’ works have faded away.

Books on Joan Robinson
  • Joan Robinson and the Americans - Marjorie Shepherd Turner, M.E. Sharpe Publishers, 1989.
  • The Joan Robinson Legacy - Ingrid Hahne Rima, M.E. Sharpe Publishers, 1991.
  • Joan Robinson and Modern Economic Theory - George R Feiwel, New York University Press, 1989.
  • Joan Robinson : A bio-bibliography - James Cicarelli and Julianne Cicarelli, Greenwood Press, 1996.
  • The Economics of Joan Robinson - Maria Cristina Marcuzzo et. al, Routledge, 1996.
Journal Articles on Joan Robinson
  • Joan Robinson and her Circle - Geoffrey C. Harcourt, History of Economic Ideas v9, n2 (2001): 59-71.
  • The Economics of Joan Robinson - Vivian Walsh, Science and Society v65, n2 (Summer 2001): 229-35.
  • "Your Position Is Thoroughly Orthodox and Entirely Wrong": Nicholas Kaldor and Joan Robinson, 1933-1983 - Journal of the History of Economic Thought v20, n4 (December 1998): 411-32.
  • Joan Robinson 1903-1983 - G.C. Harcourt, Economic Journal v105, n432 (September 1995): 1228-43.
  • Joan Robinson: In the Radical Vein. A Laywoman's Homage - Sita Narasimhan, Cambridge Journal of Economics v7, n3-4 (September-December 1983): 213-19.
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