Social Science Knowledge and Economic Development: An Institutional Design Perspective.

Author:Okediji, Tade O.
Position:Book review

Social Science Knowledge and Economic Development: An Institutional Design Perspective, by Vernon W. Ruttan. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press. 2003. Cloth, ISBN 0472113550, $80.00. 364 pages.

What can various social science disciplines tell us about the process of economic development? And what is the relationship between early insights and contemporary approaches to the complex and seemingly intractable problems confronting poor countries? In this provocative book, Vernon Ruttan addresses these questions by providing a compelling synthesis of the key contributions of social science to the discourse on economic development.

The book focuses on the centrality of institutions in the process of economic development and identifies insights from anthropology, political science, and sociology that strengthen our understanding of institutional change. The importance of institutions to the process of economic development is analyzed in the context of Ruttan's theory of induced institutional innovation, in which changing endogenous variables such as technical change and cultural endowments are viewed as important sources of institutional innovation.

Ruttan's careful but isolated treatment of the various social science disciplines and their subfields has some drawbacks. In reviewing contributions from cultural anthropology, for example, Ruttan notes the potential for the materialist approach to provide insights into microeconomic issues bearing on development such as the production and consumption decisions of indigenous or peasant households. But as Ruttan rightly notes, some anthropological traditions easily view production and consumption patterns as components of culture, which encompasses farming practices, religious rituals, and beliefs about nature. Isolated insights from various theoretical perspectives without an analysis of their cumulative import may lead to an underestimation of the utility of anthropology (or other disciplines) for resolving microeconomic problems, which Ruttan argues lie at the heart of the development process.

With respect to sociology, Ruttan emphasizes the structural-functionalist perspective advanced by Talcott Parsons and James Coleman's Foundations of Social Theory. Theories of social capital developed from Coleman's work address issues that are central to Ruttan's theory of induced institutional innovation such as intercultural interaction, social capital/cohesion, and trust. These factors are integral...

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