Hirschmanian Themes of Social Learning and Change

There are a number of themes that converge to suggest “Hirschmanian” alternatives to centralized top-down social engineering models of reform, social change, and development.  Hirschman responded to the balanced growth, big push, and development planning models with an alternative framework of “unbalanced growth.”  The limited powers of cognition and implementation of central authorities in the face of the complexity of organizational, institutional, and social realities do not give much hope for social engineering approaches.  Learning, experimentation, and a one-size-does-not-fit-all pragmatism are basic to any alternative to the planning, command, and control models of development.

A number of related theories developed in recent decades will also be surveyed:

  • Herbert Simon’s notion of bounded rationality and its multifarious implications,
  • Charles Lindblom’s theory of incrementalism and muddling-through,
  • Donald Sch?’s theory of decentralized social learning,
  • Everett Roger’s model of decentralized innovation and diffusion,
  • Japanese management techniques of just-in-time inventories, local problem solving, benchmarking, and continuous improvement, and
  • Charles Sabel’s theory of learning by monitoring.

Finally some half-baked ideas will be broached for designing decentralized programs for the World Bank or other development agencies. This paper is also available as a World Bank Policy Research Working Paper.

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