Pranab K Bardhan & Isha Ray
Economic Development and Cultural Change, 54: 655 – 676
Publication year: 2006

In this essay we argue that the key barriers to interdisciplinary work between economists and anthropologists are differences of methodology and epistemology—in what the two disciplines consider important to explain and how they evaluate the criteria for a good explanation. The essay is an introduction to three articles, on economics, anthropology, and the question of the commons, that illustrate some of these differences and that suggest both the potential and the pitfalls of trying to bridge these methodological gaps. Our goal is not somehow to resolve the differences. Rather, we are motivated by the belief that understanding what is important to the other discipline, and seeing the differences in the light of that understanding, is important for interdisciplinary work and for respectful conversation. We have highlighted three dichotomies that are emblematic of some of these differences: autonomy versus embeddedness, outcomes versus processes, and parsimony versus complexity. We hope that our discussion leads economists and anthropologists to reexamine the assumptions and modes of analysis that prevail within the disciplines and to open up new conversations in new directions.