Pleas for Fieldwork: Polly Hill on Observation and Induction, 1966-1982

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The chapter reconstructs the methodological trajectory of Polly Hill. Crossing the boundaries between economics and anthropology, Hill’s work was simultaneously an epistemic challenge to development economics, and a testimony to the complexity and richness of economic life in what she called the “rural tropical world.” Drawing inspiration from the process that Mary Morgan called “seeking parts, looking for wholes,” the chapter explores the evolving relationship between observational practice and conceptual categories in Hill’s work on West Africa and India. It is argued that fieldwork, the central element in Hill’s methodological reflection, served two main functions. Firstly, it acted as the cornerstone of her views on observation and induction, framing her understanding of the relationship between “parts” and “wholes.” Secondly, Hill used fieldwork as a narrative trope to articulate her hopeful vision for an integration of economics and anthropology, and later express her feelings of distance and alienation from the ways in which these disciplines were actually practiced.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationResearch in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018

Publication series

NameResearch in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology
PublisherJAI Press
ISSN (Print)0743-4154