Faculty Profile

Global Studies Faculty

Tara Natarajan, PhD

Professor of Economics | Chair, Department of Economics

Ph.D. University of Nebraska - Lincoln
M.A. University of Bombay (Mumbai), India
B.A. Sophia College, Bombay (Mumbai), India

Areas of Expertise:

Theoretical Research: 1) Economic Thought: Theory &Philosophy, Methodologies & Practice; 2) Pluralism in Economics
Applied Research: 1) International Development & Poverty Studies; 2) Globalization, Institutions & Development Transformation

For examples of publications, please click on "Research"

Courses I Teach:

  • Economics of Development and Poverty
  • Economic Thought and Policy
  • Microeconomic Theory
  • Principles of Macroeconomics
  • Principles of Microeconomics (regular terms and summer sessions)
  • Senior Seminar
  • World Economies

My Saint Michael's:

I joined the college as a faculty member in 2001. Over the years I have realized that, the connection I develop with students, really matters to me. We first get to know each other in class, where I combine conversation and lecture along with spontaneous “call and response” modes of interaction. Our college engenders mentoring as an ethos which when combined with manageable class sizes, makes it possible for me to connect with students during extended sessions in my office to help and reinforce their understanding of the material. These interactions also provide the conversational space not only to explore a variety of topics related their career and academic interests but also lighter conversations about music and food for example. As a teacher, advisor and mentor in a residential liberal arts college, I am able to develop an ongoing relationship with many of my students, mentees and advisees during their four year college career which often continues after they have graduated.The kind of personal investment we make in each one of our students is a mutually reinforcing process between students, faculty and all those connected with them in a variety of capacities outside of classes. These relationships create our evolving institutional ethos and collective values at the college.

As a social scientist, specifically an economist, I understand the world as a social construct. The economy is socially, philosophically and culturally embedded, simultaneously shaping and shaped by values, through historical time and by events. The economy is alterable, evolving, and most importantly complex. My commitment to scholarship, teaching, and service are articulations of how I understand and live in the world. These three aspects of an academics avocation, for me are expressions of living both consciously and conscientiously.

My thoughts on Teaching

My Research & Scholarship:

I am a heterodox economist (explained below) and I pursue my scholarship and research both in theoretical and applied fields of economics.

Applied Research:

1) International Development & Poverty Studies

2) Globalization, Institutions & Development Transformation.

Regional Focus for Applied Research: South India (primarily Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh)

  • Rural livelihoods and food production systems
  • Agrarian Transformation
  • Agents and agency of change

Theoretical Research:

1) Economic Thought: Theory &Philosophy, Methodologies & Practice;
2) Pluralism in Economics

Examples of Publications

Edited Book, 2009 Institutional Analysis and Praxis: The Social Fabric Matrix Approach edited by Natarajan,Tara, Wolfram Elsner, and Scott Fullwiler. Springer.

Journal, Special Issue Editor, 2015 Formal Methods for Integrated Socioeconomic Analysis, A Special Issue of the Forum for Social Economics edited by Natarajan, Tara, 2015, Taylor and Francis. Individual articles are available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rfse20

Examples of Journal Articles and Book Chapters

2017   Forthcoming Natarajan, Tara. “A Curricular and Pedagogical Approach to Enriching Undergraduate Economics:  Integrating Heterodox Approaches from within” in a special issue on Innovations in Economic Education: Review of Keynesian Economics

2016   Natarajan, Tara and Wayne Edwards. “Institutions and Values: A Methodological Inquiry”, Journal of Economic Issues Vol L No 2 June 2016

2015   Natarajan. Tara. “Formal Methods for Integrated Socioeconomic Analysis: An Introduction to the Special Issue” in A Special Issue on Formal Methods for Integrated Socioeconomic Analysis, Ed. by Natarajan, Tara for the Forum for Social Economics, Taylor and Francis, currently published online at http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07360932.2015.1073606, DOI: 10.1080/07360932.2015.1073606

2014   Natarajan, Tara. “Shifting Economics: Fundamental questions and Amartya K. Sen’s Pragmatic Humanism” in the Journal of Philosophical Economics, Volume VIII Issue 1. Available at http://www.jpe.ro/?id=autor&p=2198

2009   Natarajan, Tara. “Indian Agriculture in a Liberalized Landscape: The Interlocking of Science, State Policy and Neo Liberalism.” Chapter 14, in Institutional Analysis and Praxis: The Social Fabric Matrix Approach, Eds. Natarajan,Tara, Wolfram Elsner, and Scott Fullwiler, pp. 291- 314 Springer.

2007   “Rigidities, Living Conditions, and Institutions in the Far North.” with Wayne Edwards Forum for Social Economics, Volume 36, No. 2, pp. 63-72.

2005   Natarajan, Tara. “Agency of Development and Agents of Change: Localization,           Resistance and Empowerment”, Journal of Economic Issues, Vol. XXXIX No. 2.


On Heterodox & Mainstream Economics: Methodology, Values & Practice

Author: Tara Natarajan, Ph.D. Professor Economics Saint Michael’s College


This excerpt below consists of material I have written elsewhere: conference papers and journal articles. Please do not copy or cite without permission. Feel free to contact me for further references.

I am a heterodox (evolutionary and social) economist specializing in two subfields of economics listed above under “Research”.  Heterodox economics[1] is a classification of

economic thought and practice that consists of a heterogeneous group of approaches to economics as a subject. It is not a sub-field of economics; rather it is an umbrella term used to cover various approaches (world views), schools, or traditions which are considered outside the mainstream in economics. Mainstream economics i.e., the currently dominant/standard/received view is often also referred to as orthodox or conventional and/ or neoclassical economics.

In general heterodox economists, specifically evolutionary institutionalists view the economy as being embedded in society, thus as an evolving, real, complex, alterable, dynamic, socioeconomic system. “Heterodox economists distinguish themselves from mainstream orthodox economists by taking a much more dynamic and interdisciplinary approach to analyzing a much broader range of human economic issues”[2]. Unlike mainstream economics, heterodox economics does not adhere to artificial universally static assumptions of an individual ‘agent’s’ behavior, is not predicated on the use of prescribed mathematically precise and elegant models and is thus not restricted by a specific methodology[3]. While mainstream economics deals with the "rationality[4]-individualism-equilibrium nexus", heterodox economics deals with the "institutions-history-social structure nexus”[5]

… Evolutionary (institutional) economics is about the study of economies, of how people go about provisioning themselves, whether as individuals or as members of groups with common purposes. No universal aim, no universal method or logic is assumed. Rather it is what people want to achieve, and how they go about it- the institutions that govern provisioning-become the subjects of study. Standard economics [mainstream economics], becomes the logic of economizing, meaning least effort, least cost, most output based in universal assumptions of economic motives and behavior. Neale 1987[6] 

Founding heterodox thinkers such as Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes, and Thorstein Veblen were followed in the twentieth century by the influential works of Joan V. Robinson, Karl Polanyi, John R. Commons, John Kenneth Galbraith, Hyman Minsky to name a few. A few examples of heterodox schools of thought are: Marxian, Social, American (Evolutionary) Institutionalism, Feminist, Post-Keynesian amongst others with overlaps amongst some approaches more than others. Schools such as Behavioral Economics and those in the heterodox tradition also overlap in their unified cause to broaden mainstream economic methodology, enrich extant practices and values of economics therein except do so from different perspectives resulting in different methodologies.

According to Nobel Prize winning economist, Amartya K. Sen[1], whose life’s work amongst others has contributed to expanding the evaluative space in economics,

“What is objectionable in the economic theorizing that identifies widely different concepts of self-interest, motivations, etc., is not the fact of simplification itself, but the particular simplification chosen, which has the effect of taking a very narrow view of human beings (and their feelings, ideas and actions), thereby significantly impoverishing the scope and reach of economic theory.” A.K.Sen[2]  

“What goes wrong with the traditional model of the invisible hand is not just the limitation of relying exclusively on self –interest, but the stunning ambitiousness of trying to guarantee social efficiency- not to mention social optimality– on the basis of independent pursuit by some individuals of some general objective (such as profits). … The effectiveness of non-profit behavior is important in that less ambitious but more practical context.” Behavior norms have to be assessed in light of comparative achievements rather than in terms of just attainment or efficiency or optimality. A.K.Sen[3]

According to pluralist and social economist Irene Van Staveren and feminist economist Julie Nelson[4],

In real life, humans are mentally incapable of doing the calculations that the neoclassical rationality assumption requires, and they have only imperfect information to inform their calculations. Economic actors cannot possibly calculate the algorithm assumed by standard rationality. They satisfy rather than maximise… Staveren[5] 19

Economic behavior is neither purely determined from outside, nor purely subjective actions taken by unrelated self-interested individuals. Rather, economic behavior is the interdependent action of individuals in their societal relations. Staveren 21.

… if we allow that economic practice is human practice, developed and refined within human communities, then the possibility must be admitted that human limitations, interests, and perpetual biases will have effects on the culture of economics. …. economics, like any science, is socially constructed. Nelson[6]

How can we address the role of [such] values in economics without, on the one hand, moving so far away from our discipline into sociology and without, on the other hand reducing values to axioms that exclude any meaningful rationality, as is in the case of neoclassical economics? In other words, we would first need to find out which values are particularly important in economic life compared to other values that may be important in other spheres of life. Second, we need to find out how these values are expressed in economic transactions. .. and how these values are somehow related to each other in the economic process. Staveren 25

Therefore, for heterodox economists, culture, power, ideology, social constructs and values are that from which economic behavior and outcomes derive, both at the aggregated and disaggregated level. So for example markets are an institution, embedded in culture, social institutions, attitudes, ideology and so forth, representing, “…a complex mix of the agency of individuals in their various roles, influenced by structures and influencing these structures in turn” (Staveren 21).

Heterodox economics treats problems as real, contextual and evolutionary. Processes of social life matter; they are subject to change and determined within a historical, cultural ideological and social context. Political ideas, ecology and technology impact society and the outcomes therein.

Therefore one of the goals of heterodox economics is to broaden the view of the economy and move away from the (extant) overly reductionist and arid view. 

[1] See Journal of Economic Literature (JEL) classification codes for subfields and schools of thought published by the American Economic Association (AEA) (https://www.aeaweb.org/econlit/jelCodes.php?view=jel)

[2] Van den Berg, Hendrik. 2015 “Mainstream economics’ flight from complexity” in “Formal Methods for Integrated Socioeconomic Analysis” A Special Issue, Ed. Natarajan Tara, Forum for Social Economics 1-24

[3] This feature in mainstream economics is known as the practice of methodological individualism.

[4] The selectivity of the neoclassical rationality concept has been argued to be a scientific error causing a narrow mechanistic view against that of real people- both men and women- with needs and capabilities. For these and other critiques contributed to the reputation of economics as a ‘dismal science’, see Staveren 2001.

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heterodox_economics

[6] Neale, Walter C. 1987 “Institutions”, Journal of Economic Issues 21 (3), 1177-1206

[7] He is generally not identified with any school of thought, thus lending an objective voice to this debate.

[8] Sen, Amartya K. 1987 Commodities and Capabilities Chapter 1 page 3 Oxford University press. 

[9]Sen, Amartya K. 1984 Resources, Values and Development

[10]Leading scholars in questions of values and definition of economics, economic methodology.

[11] Staveren, Irene van 2001. Values of Economics: An Aristotelian Perspective Routledge

[12] Nelson, Julie 1995 “Feminism and Economics” in Journal of Economic Perspectives Vol 9 No 2,131-148

In addition to several national and international conference papers, international development workshops, field work, and book review I have published articles in the Journal of Economic Issues, The Forum for Social Economics, Native Studies Review. My most recent work is a book entitled Institutional Analysis and Praxis: The Social Fabric Matrix edited by Tara Natarajan, Scott Fullwiler and Wolfram Elsner (Springer, Summer 2009).

Life Off Campus:

I live in Hinesburg, VT with my husband and daughter. If I could, I would live in Vermont, Norway, Alaska and India simultaneously! Aside from economics, I am a trained south Indian classical singer and participate in Indian dance performances. I am on the board of the Friends of Indian Music and Dance. Music, food preparation, art in everyday living and language are all interwoven organically into my everyday home and life in Vermont. 

Tara Natarajan, professor of economics chaired a session on "Development and Growth in Theory and Practice" at the International Confederation of Associations for Pluralism in Economics on Jan 3 2019, in conjunction with the annual economics convention held in Atlanta from January 4-6, 2019.  One of the articles from the special issue of the Forum for Social Economics edited by Tara received the Patrick J. Welch award for best paper published in 2018 in the journal. The paper entitled "A problem-solving approach to data analysis for economics" authored by Panayotis Giannakouros and Lihua Chen emphasizes data analysis, problem solving and computational thinking for social economics, with an emphasis on ethics and assumptions. Tara’s special issue on "Formal Methods for Integrated Socioeconomic Analysis" featured five articles (Vol. XLVII, Issue 1 2018). The award was presented on January 5, 2019 at a ceremony of the Association for Social Economics.
(posted January 2019)

Tara Natarajan, professor and chair of economics at Saint Michael's, edited a Special Issue of the Forum for Social Economics (Vol 47. No.1), a journal of the Association for Social Economics published by Routledge (Taylor & Francis group). Her introductory article entitled, "Formal Methods for integrated socioeconomic analysis" leads the issue. After her proposal for the thematic special issue was approved by the journal, she announced a call for papers, organized the peer review process, selected and edited the five articles that are now part of this special issue. The articles range from a historical perspective on economic methods developed to deal with socioeconomic complexity to accounting for climate change with articles entitled, "Problem solving approaches to data analysis" and "Mainstream Economics' flight from complexity." The issue consists of both established scholars and upcoming researchers in the field of integrated methods to conduct holistic socioeconomic analysis. Tara is an evolutionary economist who specializes in economic thought/ methodology and international development and poverty. Earlier this year Tara had an article published in the Review of Keynesian Economics (ROKE), a major publication in her field. Her article was titled: “Enriching undergraduate economics: curricular and pedagogical integration of heterodox approaches from within.”
(posted June 2018)

Tara Natarajan, professor and chair of economics, recently had an article published in a peer-reviewed journal:  “Enriching undergraduate economics: curricular and pedagogical integration of heterodox approaches from within,” in the Review of Keynesian Economics Vol 5 No. 4 Winter 2017 pp 533-550. From the abstract: “In exploring the importance of integrating heterodox economics into undergraduate economic education this article justifies taking an approach that is both non-divisive and programmatically integrative in a department in order to have an enduring curricular and institutional impact.”
(posted December 2017)

Tara Natarajan, professor of economics, published a co-authored article entitled “Institutions and Values: A Methodological Inquiry” in the Journal of Economic Issues, Vol 50, Issue 2 in June 2016. Tara was lead author of this article and co-authored it with Wayne Edwards, visiting associate professor at Colby College, ME. Tara also was appointed to the Editorial Board of the Forum for Social Economics, one of two peer-reviewed journals published by the Association for Social Economics. And, she was recently promoted to full professor and will take over as Chair of Economics & Geography as of July 1, 2016.
(posted June 2016)

Tara Natarajan,associate professor of economics, presented a paper entitled, "Institutions and Values: A Methodological Inquiry" at the evolutionary economics sessions of the meetings of the Allied Social Sciences Association (annual econ convention) held in San Francisco Jan 2-- 5 2016. She also edited a “Special Issue on Formal Methods for Integrated Socioeconomic Analysis,” for the Forum for Social Economics, Taylor and Francis in 2015. Individual articles are available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rfse20

(posted January 2016)

Tara Natarajan edited A Special Issue on Formal Methods for Integrated Socioeconomic Analysis, for the Forum for Social Economics, Taylor and Francis in 2015. Individual articles are available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rfse20

(posted September 2015)

Tara Natarajan, associate professor of economics, in 2015 published “Formal Methods for Integrated Socioeconomic Analysis: An Introduction to the Special Issue” in A Special Issue on Formal Methods for Integrated Socioeconomic Analysis, (Ed. by Natarajan, Tara) for the Forum for Social Economics, Taylor and Francis, currently published online at http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07360932.2015.1073606; Natarajan, Tara, 2015 Editor A Special Issue on Formal Methods for Integrated Socioeconomic Analysis, for the Forum for Social Economics, Taylor and Francis. Individual articles are available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rfse20 Also in 2015 she was the author of “Agriculture” and “Agricultural Technology” articles in the Encyclopedia of World Poverty (edited by Odekon, Mehmet, 2nd edition Sage Publications: Thousand Oaks, CA).

(posted September 2015)

Tara Natarajan, associate professor of economics, presented a conference paper, “Commodification of waste: Social Provisioning, Capabilities and Human Development? A case of Toxic ‘development’,” at the annual economic convention of Allied Social Science Association (ASSA) 2015, held Jan. 3-5 in Boston. Tara presented in a joint session of Association for Evolutionary Economics/Union for Radical Political Economics at the ASSA gatherin

(posted April 2015)

Tara Natarajan, associate professor of economics, had a journal article, "Shifting Economics: Fundamental Questions and Amartya K. Sen's Pragmatic Humanism," published in the Journal of Philosophical Economics, Vol VIIII Issue 1 Autumn 2014. Tara also is currently editing a special issue of the peer-reviewed journal Forum for Social Economics. The title of this special issue is, "Formal Methods for Integrated Socio-Economic Analysis.”
(posted December 2014)

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