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Creating Economics in the Lab: From Physical Place to Laboratory Space

Including a Symposium on Mary Morgan: Curiosity, Imagination, and Surprise

ISBN: 978-1-78756-424-4, eISBN: 978-1-78756-423-7

Publication date: 24 October 2018


Economics laboratories have become the primary locations of experimental economics research by the 1990s. They were a result of a decade long development from ad hoc opportune places to dedicated, purpose designed spaces. The distinctive feature of the economics laboratory and its key instrument became networked computers running custom-built software. However, the history of the economics laboratory is not just a history of evolving technology. I argue in this article that it is mainly a history of learning how to build an experimental economics community. Only a functioning community was able to change a physical place to a laboratory space. The distinction between place and space originates in the work of Michael de Certeau and I use it to analyze the evolution of economics laboratories. To this end, I analyze the case of Austin Hoggatt’s Management Science Laboratory at Berkeley in the 1960s as it illustrates the indispensability of creating a community centered on the laboratory. In contrast, the laboratories in Arizona and at Caltech since the 1980s, and in Amsterdam since the 1990s have become successful spaces, because, unlike Hoggatt, they focused equally on community building as on infrastructure and technology. This gave rise to social infrastructure and division of labor in the laboratory space.




This project was generously funded by The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research, the NWO (VIDI-grant #276-53-004). I would like to express my gratitude to two anonymous referees, participants of the Utrecht workshop in Mary Morgan’s honor for helpful comments and enjoyable time, and especially to Mary without whom I would not have embarked on the journey of exploring the history of experimental economics.


Svorenčík, A. (2018), "Creating Economics in the Lab: From Physical Place to Laboratory Space", Including a Symposium on Mary Morgan: Curiosity, Imagination, and Surprise (Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology, Vol. 36B), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 163-177.



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