Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

A Sociological Contribution to HAHR's Open Forum on Jeremy Adelman's (2013) Biography of Albert O. Hirschman

Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

A Sociological Contribution to HAHR's Open Forum on Jeremy Adelman's (2013) Biography of Albert O. Hirschman

Article excerpt

In the past few months, the Hispanic American Historical Review (HAHR Editors 2014) took the opportunity to launch an open forum galvanized by the recent publishing of Jeremy Adelman's ambitious biography Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman (2013) and launched an open forum. This concerned the linkage between Hirschman's intellectual and professional development and the study of Latin America. The senior editors' primarily focus was on the feedback between Hirschman and scholars of the subregion. The forum, currated by Sean Mannion, "started" with Peter Coclanis's review of Adelman's biography. Following, as comments, it listed reviews and responses by Paul Gootenberg, Joseph Love, Richard Salvucci, David Sartorius, Amy C. Offner and Jeremy Adelman. This launched a call for further reactions that would discuss Adelman's effort or that would add to the insights revealed in all of these contributions.

The herein response to this invitation has two purposes. First, it catches up with this editorial initiative from the sociological end of the debate. Second, it shows how sociologists, and sociologists of the unintended in particular, could benefit from revisiting some of Hirschman's insights on the perception and rhetoric of unintended consequences of public policy and reform. In this regard, Adelman's biography is a must because, among other things, it also catches the development and the persistence of the unintended consequences issue in Hirschman's work. To be sure, there would be value in re-bringing also other recognized and celebrated issues in Hirschman, in addition to the problem of the unintended, to the attention of sociologists. Evans and Skockpol (2013), for instance, drew on Adelman's book and exploited the "progressive possibility" theme. Gladwell (2013), on the other hand, revealed the hiding hand and "the power of failure," and I expect the sociologists to be particularly interested in the account of Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States (Hirschman 1970; on the story behind this book see Adelman 2013: Chapter 14-The God Who Helped). Yet, the issue of unintended deserves emphasis because sociologists, although aware of Hirschman's input on the unintended debate, still express a rather vague sense of knowledge when it comes to its particularities and ramifications. This is what can be inferred at least from the general lack of reference to his treatment of the unintended in the field.

Adelman's biography of Hirschman has twenty chapters-not counting the acknowledgements, introduction, conclusion and afterward sections. It is a magnificent undertaking, of a bit less than seven hundred and forty pages, which could be read for various reasons. Let me develop two points. First, there is the rich and adventurous life of the nonmathematical development of an economist, later turned social scientist. Hirschman was born in Berlin, in a middle-class family of assimilated Jews, and left clandestine for France in the spring of 1933, at eighteen years of age, because of Hitler's rise to power. What followed was political involvement in anti-Nazi and anticommunist political activity on various fronts. This evolved from intellectual debates with his sister Ursula, to helping refugees (including Hannah Arendt) to get out of France as part of the Varían Fry rescue network, through volunteering to fight in the Spanish Civil War on the side of Republicans and ulterior serving in the French Army after the German invasion of the country-to point to some of the most memorable episodes.

After his arrival in the United States at the beginning of 1941, Hirschman's military experience continued with his enlisting, in the U.S. Army in 1943, where he worked as a translator in Italy while serving with the Office of Strategic Services. After the war, he acted as an interpreter to Wehrmacht General Anton Dostler in the first of the Allies' war crime trial, he was engaged in the realization of the Marshall Plan, and from 1952 onwards in development advising to the Colombian Government via the World Bank. …

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