Peter Katzenstein Book Prize

The Katzenstein Prize, in honor of in honor of Peter J. Katzenstein, the Walter S. Carpenter, Jr. Professor of International Studies at Cornell University, recognizes an outstanding first book in International Relations, Comparative Politics, or Political Economy.  The prize was established on the occasion of Professor Katzenstein’s 40th Year at Cornell University and has been made possible by the generous support of his colleagues, collaborators, and former students.

Prize citation – 

In How China Escaped the Poverty Trap, Yuen Yuen Ang offers a revisionist theoretical framework that grapples with complexities of institutional adaptation alongside detailed analyses of sub-national variation in development outcomes. In contrast to conventional wisdom that good governance is a requisite for ameliorating poverty, she points out how weak institutions can, at times, allow for innovations in the development of markets. Thus Ang’s project contributes to multiple debates, including but not limited to China. Theoretically, her systematic engagement with diverse literatures circumvents disagreement over which came first, democracy or development, to make a field-shifting move to non-linear complex processes. How China Escaped the Poverty Trap goes far beyond saying context matters to show how non-linear processes are simultaneously place-specific in their manifestations (e.g. China) yet general (to a wide range of contexts). In addition, Ang’s research offers an exemplar of how to move beyond methodological nationalism through attention to sub-national variation. Beyond area specialists, anyone concerned with institutions, development, or the role of China in the world, should read this elegantly written book.

Zelizer Award for Best Book in Economic Sociology 

Awarded by the American Sociological Association

List of past awardees: link

Prize citation – 

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.