Michael Woolcock: Conflict, causal claims, isomorphic mimicry, and the uncertain trajectory of change

Last night I went along to a Dean’s lecture by Michael Woolcock (World Bank) on ‘Development policy and practice as if social theory mattered’.

It was interesting, much more interesting than I expected in fact, and Woolcock is a great speaker (even if his physical delivery is rather distracting). The talk was delivered with a bit of a ‘sense of fun’ and an embrace of intellectual elitism when it came to throwing in big name social theorists wherever possible.

As I now only read anything ‘applied’ as primary texts (i.e. as part of the context that I am looking at), I scrawled down with a bit of a smirk his early points about trying to make social theory and research methods ‘actionable’ and ‘useful’. However, I thought the line he pursued through his talk about change bringing about conflict, so development needs to accept this conflict and work to understand the specific context in order to reduce the likelihood of this conflict becoming violent, was quite a good choice of argument for his talk. Woolcock remarked that change follows an ‘uncertain trajectory’, complete with reference to multiple modernities, and that different disciplines have different ways of making causal claims. I liked the way he set up parallels between changes in the rhetoric around development practices and changes brought about through programs, even though I did not find his comparison between ‘business as usual’ development and ‘New Generation’ projects all that satisfying.

The most useful part of the talk was coming away with the fancy term for describing when projects are seen as being able to be transferred between contexts – isomorphic mimicry. Hopefully now that I am armed with the fancy term I will be able to track down more of this literature.


Tags: , ,

2 Responses to “Michael Woolcock: Conflict, causal claims, isomorphic mimicry, and the uncertain trajectory of change”

  1. Another student blog Says:

    […] think isomorphic mimicry is a problem, and I am really not sure that we ever have enough information about the social world to know which […]

  2. Another student blog Says:

    […] ‘Isomorphic mimicry’ was a term I was pretty happy to come across the other year. However, I had never noticed ‘urban policy travel’, which seems to have some overlap in meaning. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s