Xavier Rambla Sociologia

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juny 16 2011

The historical coefficient of development

Many scholars stress the role of collective projects in socio-economic development. In their view, although social change produces many unexpected and undesired effects, collective projects can make a difference in crucial social transformations. Elites, political organisations, civil societies and social movements create and propose these projects. These assumptions are normally associated with Antonio Gramsci’s views in the 1920s and 1930s, and may be labelled as the “production of society” (Touraine, UAB library code:  301 Tou) or “theories of social becoming” with a high historical coefficient (Sztompka: code in UAB library 301.17 Szt ).

Post-development theorists and historical institutionalists draw on this approach to spell out the political clues of big social transformations that either favour or hinder the dimensions of human development such as well-being, schooling, health and so on. For instance, Arturo Escobar attributes the flaws of many programs to their inspiration on grand narratives of development biased by Western worldviews. Similarly, Peter Evans finds out a powerful mechanism in deliberative development triggered by participatory institutions and collective mobilisation.

Remarkably, the historical coefficient (or historicity) does not necessarily make reference to the Nineteenth or event former centuries but to a set of properties of all past and present societies. These theories emphasize that societies are dynamic networks of relations instead of fixed realities, that changes are multi-dimensional instead of products of mainstream trends, that events play a decisive role in all conjunctures depending on the views, aims and power resources of the social agents who intervene. Coherently, most of them also rely on agent-based analyses of the social order.

As to some particular analyses of Social Change and Globalisation, the authors who research the power relations that shaped financialisation clearly share these assumptions.

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juny 16 2011

Stages of development?

A long tradition of scholars portrays socio-economic development as a line of stages from primitive economies and closed social orders towards postindustrial economies and open societies. In sociology, the work of Ronald Inglehart (2006, UAB library code:301.175 Ing)  has recently contributed to this line of analysis by portraying a sequence of economic, political and cultural changes that lead to economic growth, stable democracy and postmaterialist values. In economics Douglass North has pointed at a hypothetical trend of social changes from closed-access to limited- and finally open-access social orders. Michael Spence also outlines the change of economic structures from low-value to high-value industries in a similar way.

Besides discussing their potential and lots of associated controversies, it is important to notice that these theories retrieve an old understanding of change in social theory, which could be roughly labelled as a Hegelian view. In essence, they assume that social reality entails an internal mechanism that triggers the mainstream changes that most social entities undergo; therefore, it is plausible to derive predictive hypotheses on the likely outcomes of a given conjuncture. These are theories with a low historical coefficient (see Sztompka: code in UAB library 301.17 Szt).

These authors may endorse both structure-based and agency-based explanations of the social order. On the one hand, Inglehart predicts the lines of probable change depending on the (dis)integration of economic, political and cultural structures. The stages of development are the outcome of these societal attributes. On the other hand, for North closed, limited-access and open-access societies are emergent institutional equilibria produced by similarly rational individuals who respond  to different incentives. Then, these equilibria become a fixed reality that patterns following change.

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