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Using great works of literature in an interdisciplinary, political economy framework

Andrew Mearman (Associate Professor in Economics, University of the West of England, Bristol, UK)
Steve G. Snow (Associate Professor and Chair of Government and Politics, Wagner College, Staten Island, NY, USA)

On the Horizon

ISSN: 1074-8121

Article publication date: 7 September 2015




The purpose of this paper is to contribute to the effectiveness of teaching in economics.


This paper provides as a case study, the authors’ reflections on a first-year “learning community” at a US liberal arts college, which combined courses on political science and economics to explore issues of political economy, including poverty and social mobility.


The authors argue that, compared with standard delivery, using literature allows increased student access to and, thus, greater engagement with certain theoretical concepts. More specifically, literature can open avenues for critical thought, and challenge pre-existing views, when it illuminates controversial questions without providing obvious answers. It is this open-ended aspect of literature that seems to provide the best opportunity for increased student engagement and critical thinking.

Research limitations/implications

The arguments in this paper are based on authors’ reflections and would benefit from other empirical analysis. This method of teaching only offers pedagogical opportunities, and learning gains do not occur automatically. Several features of the course design and assessment, and the interaction between disciplines, made the use of literature more likely to be successful.

Practical implications

These authors also reflect more broadly on their use of literature in other courses, and provide some suggestions for specific works that might be used in further teaching and research.


This paper contributes to current debate on teaching practice in economics, and will be of use to those seeking to challenge student viewpoints in a subtle yet effective manner.



The authors thank Daniela Gabor for her perceptive suggestions for improvement. The authors also acknowledge the contribution of anonymous reviewers. The usual disclaimer applies.


Mearman, A. and Snow, S.G. (2015), "Using great works of literature in an interdisciplinary, political economy framework", On the Horizon, Vol. 23 No. 3, pp. 149-157.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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