Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy
05 March 2024

The vibrant legacy of Albert Hirschman

Our international workshop explores Albert Hirschman’s seminal insights for a range of contemporary topics of research.

On February 14, scholars from different disciplines and countries informed by Albert Hirschman’s tradition met in the context of an international workshop to exchange on how this tradition enables them to grasp specific research and policy issues.

The first two panels tackled the issue of “Paradigms as Obstacles to Understanding”. The first one focused on Rethinking Development. In her study of subnational variations, Jacqueline Behrend (National University of San Martín, Argentina) laid out a research agenda for an explorative study of how Hirschman’s legacy on developmental strategies and how the role of passions and interests can illuminate several problems faced by Latin American countries where important subnational variations exist. Laurence Whitehead (Nuffield College, Oxford University) stressed, among others, Hirschman’s sensitivity to contextual variations in analytical perspective, as illustrated by his essays in Journeys Toward Progress, while adding that “Hirschman’s heterodox perspectives have also informed the thinking of the Red Eurolatinoamericana de Gobernabilidad para el Desarrollo (RedGob) since it began critiquing the Washington Consensus policy paradigm of the 1990s two decades ago”. Also dealing with the topic of development, Juan Flores Zendejas (University of Geneva) analysed the role of Central Banks in Latin America. Established in the 1920s, these institutions were mandated to ensure the external stability of their currencies, but, at the onset of the crisis, they began implementing unorthodox monetary policies to foster economic recovery, leading to a shift in how these central banks were conceptualized.

A second panel focused on unusual developments that challenge common understandings. Matías Dewey (University of St Gallen) explored the dynamics between regulatory frameworks, financial technology, and informal economic activities. He showed how the rise of fintechs and digital payments has challenged traditional enforcement mechanisms, leading to a complex interplay of formal and informal sectors. Then, Carlo Edoardo Altamura (University of Manchester) discussed his work on “The Lost Decade and the Rise of Neoliberalism in Latin America, 1982-1994”, for which he provided the first historical account of the contested process of adoption and implementation of neoliberal reforms in the region’s three largest economies during the 1980s and early 1990s. Finally, Sung Min Rho presented her project on “Structural Labor Market Changes and Gender Polarisation in Deindustrializing Countries”, with a focus on Korea and China.

During the afternoon, the workshop focused more specifically on the legacy of ‘‘Exit, Voice and Loyalty’’? The first panel dealt with International and Transnational Reconfigurations. Maria Varaki (King's College London) developed a tragic concept of justice, inspired by the world of Ancient Greek Tragedy and the work of Albert Hirschman. According to Varaki, “the inherent limitation of pursuing the absolute spectrum of justice, together with the acknowledgment of this limitation and the parallel effort for the opposite, constitute elements of its cathartic nature”. Moving to the topics of secession, autonomy, and assimilation, Emmanuel Dalle Mulle (Complutense University of Madrid) applied the concepts of exit, voice, and loyalty to nationalism to explain majority-minority relations in interwar Europe. Finally, Martin Hájek drew on a modified version of the exit–voice–loyalty model to reveal an important characteristic of the expression of discontent in this post-totalitarian society in Czech socialism: the strategic distinction between political and non-political behaviour.

A final panel dealt with democracy and political participation. Santiago Gerchunoff (Madrid Carlos III University) referred to Hirschman's analysis of the historical problem of the inexpressiveness of the vote and its relationship with the apparent cyclical crises of public action. Then, Laura Bullon-Cassis (AHDC) presented findings from the project Mapping the Forms of Youth Participation in Europe, specifically on the Paris Climate Academy. Finally, Mara Matta discussed how a group of young Afghan students and artists who have resettled in Italy over the past three years have navigated issues of trauma, violence, alienation, and disenfranchisement to reclaim their voices, agency, and autonomy. During the event, a lively and productive conversation between presenters, commentators, and participants was the best proof of Hirschman’s vibrant legacy. AHCD Co-Director Graziella Moraes Silva and former Director Shalini Randeria attended and moderated sessions.


The event was co-organised by the AHDC and the RedGob network and supported by the Société suisse des américanistes (SSA) de l’Académie Suisse des Sciences Humaines et Sociales (ASSHS). It was preceded, the night before, by a public event on Hirschman’s legacy.