I have never met Marc.
The first time I heard from Marc was when he sent me an email informing me that I had won the 2018 Zelizer Award for Best Book in Economic Sociology, along with a prize citation. “Again, on behalf of the committee, congratulations!” he wrote. That was June 23, 2018.
I replied, “This is incredible. I am stunned… Thank you!!!”
Marc’s exact last words to me were “Thanks and continued best with your research.”
While this may seem like a simple, polite exchange, I can’t begin to explain how much it meant to me. I had given it all to write this book, and it was followed by dismissal and ridicule. Was I crazy? Was I stupid? For a while, I thought, perhaps I had been crazy and stupid all along.
Marc’s email brought me one of the happiest moments in my career. It’s not just that I had won an award, but that Marc and the committee members understood, appreciated, and articulated my work in the way I dreamed. Wow. It meant validation and peace: I was not crazy.
I am extremely humbled and fortunate to have crossed paths with Marc Steinberg. Although we’ve never once exchanged a word in person, Marc’s thoughtfulness, fairness, and kindness shines through – and its uplifting effects on people, and on me, will never go away.
Thank you, Marc. Rest in Peace.
(Below you can see both our exchange and Marc’s citation for the book award.)
It is with great pleasure that I write to you to inform you that the Economic Sociology prize committee has awarded How China Escaped the Poverty Trap the 2018 Zelizer Award for best book. I apologize for the long wait. The committee was extremely impressed with your bold reframing of the development process. You will receive your award at the ASA meeting should you attend. Below please find a draft of the award presentation announcing the prize. Again, on behalf of the committee, congratulations!
In How China Escaped the Poverty Trap Yuen Yuen Ang offers a bold and innovative framework for understanding economic development, one that challenges current wisdom from modernization and institutionalist perspectives. The later, she argues, are simply too linear, top-down and errantly predicated on inductive modelling from Western contexts that make little sense for the global south. She founds her alternative in complexity theory; envisioning economic development as a recursive and dynamic process in which state and markets co-evolve through innovation that cannot be prescribed.
Ang both theorizes and demonstrates how this process is bootstrapped using weak institutions at all levels of governance. Developmental paths are formed through what she terms directed improvisation, the process by which the state sets some clear makers for policy makers at lower levels, but otherwise provides incentives and support to use local knowledge and experimentation. This allows for necessary variation across the economic landscape and in different industries, the capacity for bureaucrats and entrepreneurs to select novel combinations of strategies, and the pursuit of niche economies that provide for virtuous growth cycles with ramifications for the larger economy. In a series of richly detailed case studies Ang demonstrates how success was nurtured when goals were initially narrow and institutional transformation broad but gradual, when bureaucrats at all levels were incentivized to become entrepreneurial stakeholders, and when the boogie of corruption is harnessed to build momentum.
She carefully analyzes these dynamics at the macro-, meso- and micro-levels. Through these case studies Ang additionally examines how the unleashing first of the coastal economies provided for cascading effects on their inland counterparts. She is also sensitive to how this co-evolutionary process produces systemic problems with respect to the environment and inequality. To add depth through comparison she also applies her model to disparate cases such as medieval Europe, the antebellum post-depression United States and Nigeria’s Nollywood film industry.
How China Escaped the Poverty Trap truly offers game-changing ideas for the analysis and implementation of socio-economic development and should have a major impact across many social sciences.
Dear Marc, Sarah, Frederick, Simone, Gabriel –
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“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” Hunter S. Thompson
“The thing I find interesting about reality is that it is abnormal.” Salman Rushdie