Past PhD theses

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KUSTER Marius – The Great Variety of the Living Economy: German Economic Thought and Biological Analogy (1875-1936)

This thesis explores the use of biological analogies in the works of three German economists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Albert Schäffle (1831-1903), Werner Sombart (1863-1941), and Ernst Wagemann (1884-1956) stand out among their contemporaries for explicitly introducing concepts, images, principles, and theories from biology into their economics. The three economists borrowed the concept of tissues, images of the nervous system and the blood circuit, principles of development, and theories of cell metabolism from popular zoologists, physicians, and neurologists of their time. Their borrowings were heavily criticized by their fellow economists and were largely dismissed as unscientific by historians of economics. This thesis challenges these verdicts and argues for a central epistemological value of biological analogies in the works of the three economists. The main claim of the thesis is that Schäffle, Sombart, and Wagemann introduced biological analogies because they were unable to represent the variety (Mannigfaltigkeit) of the economy with the existing theoretical framework. In a world where most economists sought unity in variety, Schäffle, Sombart, and Wagemann were looking for variety in unity. In their pursuit to represent variety in unity, the three economists used biological analogies as tools to create systems, schemas, and networks. With these novel creations, they were able to conserve in their theory the variety of commodities, collectives, firms, and branches and investigate their interplay. By conserving variety, they shaped an alternative or ‘conservative’ style of thought in economics. This style is missing in neoclassical economic theory but still resonates with recent heterodox approaches.


PHILIPPY David – « Le monde derrière la courbe de la demande » : une histoire de l’économie de la consommation aux Etats-Unis (1885-1934)

The thesis is a historical investigation that traces the emergence of a field of research dedicated to the study of consumption in the United States in the early 20th century. The notable feature of this field is that it was essentially composed of protagonists located on the fringe of political economy, the vast majority of whom were women associated with the home economics discipline. This research examines the role played by epistemological and gender issues in this little-known historical episode, providing an opportunity to study how objects emerge in the history of science in dialogue with the shaping of the identities of scientific discourse producers. This thesis characterizes consumption in the history of American political economy as a boundary delineating between different disciplines, and reflecting the significance of the socio-historical context in the construction of knowledge.


FEVRE Raphaël - L'ordolibéralisme (1932-1950) : une économie politique du pouvoir
DESMARAIS-TREMBLAY Maxime – Les biens sous tutelle: essai de philosophie économique

Awarded the « Prix de Faculté HEC » and the « Prix solennel Aguirre-Basualdo en sciences économiques de gestion de la Chancellerie des Universités de Paris »


MÜLLER Thomas – Entre liberté et nécessité : autour de deux débats au XIXème siècle

What do free will and mathematics have in common? One may consider that no serious link can be done between a language, mathematics, and a metaphysical doctrine, determinism.

Nevertheless, such a question became a prominent one in the xix century, and concerned economists, social scientists, mathematician and physicists.

The common ground of all those debates was a vision of determinism as a consequence of a mechanistic view of nature that was prominent between physicists and was imported into the human sciences through the use of statistic by Adolphe Quetelet.

Quetelet, an astronomer, considered statistical regularities as the expression of hidden social laws, and was forced to explain the compatibility of those laws with free will. His widespread influence on the human sciences may explain Léon Walras’s rejection of mathematical economics by Pierre Emile Levasseur.

In order to save freedom of the will, Quetelet had to deny any link between the macroscopic regularities of the averages and individual behaviour. Walras’s general equilibrium, with his stress on the individual agent was understood as a reestablishment of this same link and thus rejected by Levasseur.

At the same time, Quetelet exerted a major influence on Maxwel’s kinetic theory of gases. Inspired by Quetelet views on statistics, Maxwell developed a kinetic theory of gases that treated atoms in the same way that Quetelet considered individuals. Maxwell was also concerned with the question of the compatibility between the determinism of physical laws and free will. Inspired by Quetelet answer on the independence between individual behaviour and statistical regularities, he showed that there are no reasons to consider atoms as deterministic systems in view of the macroscopic regularities of gas laws.

Still lacking a convincing source of indeterminism for the atomic behaviour, he became aware of a strange mathematical results by Joseph Boussinesq. Boussinesq, a French mathematician, had found a class of differential equations with more than one solution. Those equations, that describe very special kind of unstable equilibria, were interpreted by Boussinesq as the final proof that Laplacian determinism was a mistake. The debate that followed Boussinesq mémoire mixed very different kind of arguments, some of them of a physical nature, some indebted with Quetelet, and others of a speculative, philosophical nature.

The historical roots that we have reconstructed explain this unusual entanglement of very heterogeneous perspectives, spreading over different disciplines such as statistics, physics, mathematics and the social sciences, and helps us in understanding what free will and mathematics had in common.


BRISSET Nicolas – Performativité des énoncés de la théorie économique: une approche conventionnaliste

The phenomenon of performativity has recently produced debates about the status of the economic discourse. This thesis aims to discuss the subjectivist idea that if economics “performs” (shapes) the social reality, rather than merely reflect it, then every theory can be “true”. My main goal is to point out the limits of performativity in three ways. First, no theory can be performative because some do not produce empirical landmarks for the agents. Second, the social institutions restrict the performativity. Third, I emphasize the necessity for a theory to be self-fulfilling. This thesis is a prelude to a new kind of performative studies based on an original definition: a theory performs the world if it implies a behavioral regularity which leads to the general coordination between agents. That is to say, if it becomes a convention à la David Lewis.

MISSEMER Antoine – L'analyse économique face à l'épuisement des ressources naturelles: de William Stanley Jevons à Harold Hotelling (1865-1931) - le cas des énergies fossiles

Fossil fuels exhaustion is a current topic. It is often said that its first presages appeared in the 1970s with the first oil shock. Actually, this exhaustion fear is much older than that, it started with the Industrial Revolution and kept going since then. In the second part of the 19th century, some economists focused their attention on the mineral resources depletion, which was at the time an ‘unknown item’ that necessitated the creation of new concepts and new analytical tools to deal with (for example Jevons’ rebound-effect, Marshall-Einaudi’s mining rent). In the 1910s and 1920s, thanks to technical progress and the development of new energies (oil, hydro-electricity), their fears about industrial decline progressively dissipated. Yet, these factual evolutions are not the only ones to consider. Internal factors, inside economic science (marginalism in the 1870s, capital theory in the 1890s), also shaped economists’ viewpoint on resources exhaustion. Why? How? What lessons can we get from this period for our current environmental challenges? These are the questions that are studied in this thesis.

Keywords: history of environmental and natural resources economics, Jevons, peak oil, history of economic thought, Hotelling.


EYGUESIER Nicolas – La notion de progrès chez Sismondi
ALLISSON François – Value and Prices in Russian Economic Thought (1890-1920)

Awarded the Joseph Dorfman Best Dissertation Prize by the History of Economics Society and the Prix de la Société Académique Vaudoise.


SEKERLER-RICHIARDI Pelin – Jevons et Walras: entre philosophie morale et économie sociale, un jalon dans la compréhension de la décision publique
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Theses in open access

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