James C. Scott, F.A. Hayek, and Organization Studies

18 07 2014

Hayek

 

Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson have been posting a series of blog posts on the ideas of James C. Scott, the author of  Seeing Like a State and The Art of Not Being Governed. I believe that Scott is one of the most important social thinkers around today.  Scott’s paradigm blends the best of conservative and left-wing insights. Scott transcend the left-right political spectrum we use to categorize thinkers.  As Brad De Long has shown, Scott’s ideas incorporate a variety of insights from F.A. Hayek and Austrian economics.

 

Scott

 

 

 

Back in 2007, De Long wrote this about Scott’s Seeing Like a State:

 Heaven knows that I am no Austrian–I am a liberal Keynesian and a social democrat–but within economics even liberal Keynesian social democrats acknowledge that the Austrians won victory in their intellectual debate with the central planners long ago.

 

This book marks the final stage because it shows the spread of what every economist would see as “Austrian ideas” into political science, sociology, and anthropology as well.

 

No one can finish reading Scott without believing–as Austrians have argued for three-quarters of a century–that centrally-planned social-engineering is not an appropriate mechanism for building a better society.

De Long mentions that Hayekian ideas have gone mainstream in political science, sociology, and anthropology.  I’m convinced that the ideas of Scott and Hayek also offer a lot to management academics in the field of organizations studies. (I’m actually working, on and off, on a paper on that subject. I suppose I’ll present it at EGOS next year). Anyway, there are signs of growing interest in Scott’s paradigm on the part of people who study large companies. Consider this article:

James Ferguson, “Seeing like an oil company: space, security, and global capital in neoliberal Africa.” American anthropologist 107, no. 3 (2005): 377-382.

As the title suggests, the author draws on Scott’s ideas to understand not a state but another type of organization that replaces market with hierarchy, namely, a big vertically-integrated oil company.

Last year, Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein published a paper called “Hayek and Organizational Studies.” I have tremendous respect for both Foss and Klein and I liked this paper, which discussed the impact of Hayek’s ideas on people in Organization Studies. They listed Hayek’s direct and indirect influence on the field. For instance, they show that the knowledge management concept and knowledge-based view of the firm are based on Hayekian ideas. There was, in view, a serious omission from their paper in that they don’t mention Scott, who has been a conduit for the transmission of clearly Hayekian ideas to a range of scholars of organization, particularly those who are associated with the Critical Management Studies tradition.  I’ve often thought that the intellectual traditions of Austrian economics and CMS are very similar in a number of ways. I think that Scott is a bridge between these two camps.

 

Update: I’m including this cool video in which Scott talks about his research.

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