In Anglo-American social science Albert Hirschman occupies a position at once central and peripheral, or at least anomalous. Of his centrality there can be no doubt. As one of three permanent members of the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, he has a unique vantage-point for gathering and influencing scholars from all over the world. His Strategy for Economic Development (1958) had an immense impact on development economics, by introducing the notions of backward and forward linkages, and by preaching the virtues of unbalanced growth. The short and incisive Exit, Voice and Loyalty (1970) was an instant classic of political science no less than of economics. In that book he looked at 'exit', i.e. taking one's business elsewhere, and 'voice', i.e. protest against the leadership, as alternative 'responses to decline in firms, organisations and states'. This way of rephrasing the distinction between economic and political behaviour proved very useful, although the main virtue of the book lay elsewhere. Drawing on an extremely broad range of empirical knowledge, sifted, purified and rearranged by an acute and imaginative analytical mind, it generated a state of almost intolerable intellectual excitement in the reader. For many of us it provided a durable model of what a work in the social sciences should be like: free of jargon, devoid of abstract theorising, wide-ranging in application, yet with an intense analytical focus. Among current practitioners of the social sciences only Thomas Schelling and Amos Tversky come to mind as demonstrating to the same extent Hirschman's quality of controlled imagination.
LRB 16 September 1982 | PDF Download