Social Science Knowledge and Economic Development

An Institutional Design Perspective
Vernon W. Ruttan
Synthesizes various strands of social science research and thought, including evolution of thought about development in anthropology, sociology, political science, and growth economics


Ruttan brings an impressive breadth of knowledge to this book, in which he synthesizes various strands of social science research and thought, including evolution of thought about development in anthropology, sociology, political science, and growth economics. These, he argues, are important for development economists as they work to improve economic conditions for people throughout the world. He draws on these contributions in exploring the state of knowledge on the adoption, diffusion, and transfer of technology; the renovation and transformation of traditional institutions; the roles of religion, culture, ethnicity, and nationalism; and the role of foreign economic assistance in economic development.

Ruttan advances a model in which institutional change is induced by changes in resource and cultural endowments and by technical change. The disequilibria resulting from such changes create opportunities for the design of more efficient institutional arrangements. The design perspective employed in the book stands in sharp contrast to organic and evolutionary perspectives.

With its emphasis on interdisciplinarity, Social Science Knowledge and Economic Development is important reading for social scientists, for development economists, and in the development studies classroom.

Vernon W. Ruttan is a Regents' Professor Emeritus in the Departments of Economics and Applied Economics at the University of Minnesota. He attended Yale University and the University of Chicago.

His research has been in the fields of agricultural development, resource economics, and research policy. Ruttan is the author of Agricultural Research Policy; Agricultural Development: An International Perspective (with Yujiro Hayami); Agriculture, Environment, and Health: Sustainable Development in the 21st Century; and United States Development Assistance Policy: The Domestic Politics of Foreign Economic Aid. His most recent book is Technology, Growth, and Development: An Induced Innovation Perspective.

Ruttan has been elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and to membership in the National Academy of Sciences. He has been awarded honorary degrees from Rutgers University (1978), Christian Albrecht University of Kiel, and Purdue University.

Praise / Awards

  • "No one can match Vernon Ruttan's encyclopedic knowledge of the social science literature on economic development, and few can match his passion for harnessing it to the task of removing the obstacles to progress in poor countries. This book not only informs economists and development practitioners of potential sources of insight from recent work in anthropology, sociology, and political science, but it provides an insightful, sympathetic, and constructive critique of the efforts of these disciplines to make a difference in the lives of poor people."
    —Christopher Clague, San Diego State University
  • "For those of us who have read Ruttan through the years, bringing his insights together within one set of covers is an incredible asset. Not only do we get his early thinking, but we are able to see how his thinking has evolved and developed over time. He has given us a classic that should last for multiple decades."
    —Elinor Ostrom, Indiana University
  • "Ruttan's book is a noteworthy contribution to the great task of explaining institutional and technological change, the very heart of development. His firm command of the literature of the social sciences enables him to create illuminating new ways of seeing and understanding these extraordinarily complex phenomena."
    —Henry Bruton, Williams College
  • "With breathtaking range and a provocative spirit, Vernon Ruttan assesses the contributions of all the social sciences to our current knowledge of development. His own theory of induced institutional innovation provides an optimistic and needed alternative."
    —Stephen Gudeman, Professor of Anthropology, University of Minnesota
  • "...[A]n excellent reference in multidisciplinary teaching settings...The depth and breadth of Ruttan's knowledge of the relevant literature is unsurpassed...the book may become a classic in itself."
    Development & Change
  • "Economic development is a dynamic process central to the sustainability of markets and, ultimately, the success of human society. Ruttan's remarkable analysis of the intellectual history of this process...provides a rich resource depicting how far our understanding has evolved, and importantly, of how much more work remains to be done. His singular contribution reflects the challenges to understanding how best to address the pressing human issues of our time."
    Journal of Economic Issues

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Copyright © 2004, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 364pp.
  • 10 drawings, 3 tables, 6 illustrations.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2003
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11355-2

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  • $99.95 U.S.