Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology: Including a Symposium on the Work of François Perroux: Volume 40C

Cover of Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology: Including a Symposium on the Work of François Perroux

Table of contents

(12 chapters)



The trajectory of François Perroux across the Vichy regime poses about all possible range of methodological issues to the historian of ideas: individual versus collective biography, ideational versus ideological reading, internal versus external analysis, etc. The chapter outlines key elements about Perroux’s trajectory showing the entanglements and boundaries of science and politics in the transition from democratic to authoritarian rule and vice versa. A particular emphasis on uncertainties and adjustments shows, against the tendency to a teleological explanation induced by a linear interpretation of his career, that different paths were considered by Perroux, but that his choices were nevertheless constrained by the forces of both the scientific and political fields.


This chapter aims to address the question of the evolution of economists’s reception of Marxism in France, and thus to complete the more general history of the development of Marxism among French academics. To do so, we follow the relationship to Marx’s work of the economist François Perroux, a priori typical of the reversal reception of Marxist ideas in the 1950s, moving from open hostility to enthusiasm. Indeed, an incisive critic of Marx’s writings before the war, then head of the scientific institution of the Vichy regime, Perroux became in the postwar period a leading figure in the diffusion of Marx’s ideas in France. He founded the ISMEA (Institute of Mathematical and Applied Economic Sciences) which published the journal Études de marxologie, and eventually penned the preface to Marx’s economic works in 1963 for the Pléiade. By following this sinuous path, we show that the way Perroux related to Marx’s work helps us shed light on the various shifts in Perroux’s relationship to the science and politics of his time.


Aversion to liberalism and socialism was indeed a trademark of Catholic economic thought from Rerum Novarum onwards and therefore many Catholic economists are to be found among those looking for a third way. François Perroux and Maurice Byé were among the most prominent of them. They partook a closeness to the Catholic church and a good knowledge of Brazil through their missions in this country. But they differed in their methodology and in their approach to the European Union. Byé remained firmly rooted in the methodological individualism whereas Perroux’ approach seem too fuzzy to be characterized. These differences are obvious in their treatment of the European issues where Perroux’ stance for a Europe without shores contrasts with Byé’s successful recommendations for a step-by-step construction of the Little Europe. After six decades it is time to bring Byé out of the shadows.


The purpose of this contribution is the investigation and the assessment of François Perroux’s book – Unités Actives et Mathématiques Nouvelles – Révision de la théorie de l’équilibre économique général (Perroux, 1975a) – in connection with the research program he initiated before and during the Second World War. Concerning the analytical relevance of this book there is no consensus. According to some economists it has to be considered as the masterpiece of Perroux’s intellectual project which provides an alternative approach to the usual theory of general economic equilibrium (GEE). Others think that today the book is almost entirely forgotten and it does not help really to improve Perroux’s general research project. We try to set here our own view combining two ways of proceeding in the investigation about the relevance of the book. The first one develops an analysis of Unités Actives as dispassionate as possible, avoiding taking into account the personality as well as the social and political views of François Perroux. The second favors a retrospective approach relating the 1975 book to the previous contributions of the author. The first three sections of our contribution are dedicated to Perroux’s contributions written before his attempt to “revise” the usual version of the GEE theory. The five following sections are devoted to the direct contents of the “revision” of this theory and tries to propose a global assessment of it.


François Perroux was an economist of strong convictions and fruitful ideas. His belief, which was also shared by other eminent development economists of his time, that backwardness was not a fate is entirely reflected in his development pole theory, which has a prominent place within the regional development theory. This implies that his theory was highly influential, as evidenced by the fact that strategies based on development poles were implemented around the world, in both developed and developing countries. Although these strategies took different forms, largely depending on the specific contexts in which they were applied, there was a common factor in all of them, which was the importance of the direct use of large-scale investment resources to generate the hoped-for structural changes through accelerated economic growth. Looking carefully at the Italian and Brazilian cases, it should be noted that the development pole strategies had, in addition to the use of heavy investment resources already mentioned, some common characteristics, such as: the focus of attention directed toward the backward regions, specifically the Mezzogiorno region in Italy and the Amazon region in Brazil; the fight against regional disparities within both countries through structural change and the strengthening of backward regional economies as an underlying reason; and the active participation of the State in the drawing up and implementation processes of development poles. This chapter aims at comparing the development pole strategies in Italy and Brazil, highlighting similarities and differences of these experiences in triggering the long-awaited regional development.


The archives of François Perroux deposited at IMEC bear witness to the fact that he has devoted, beyond his scientific production, great energy to the most material aspects of research: setting up and maintaining networks to publicize his work and that of other economists, either directly or through the institutes and the journals he headed; organize seminars and symposiums; take care of relations with colleagues and the press; create collections and journals; and so on.

In this chapter, we concentrate our attention on the archives relating to the management of the institutes, those attesting to the lines and themes of the producer’s research, and those concerning his important correspondence.

Thanks to the archives deposited at IMEC, it is possible to follow the development of the theoretical work of François Perroux by contextualizing it. They also show the itinerary of a Christian intellectual, whose attachment to social Catholicism constitutes a guiding thread and is reflected in all his activities. Finally, the archives illuminate his substantial role in the institutionalization of research in economics in the France of the twentieth century.


Cover of Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology: Including a Symposium on the Work of François Perroux
Publication date
Book series
Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
Book series ISSN