Not a Knowledge Bank: The Divided History of Development Economics and Development Organizations

Social Science History, 2016 Forthcoming

49 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2015 Last revised: 13 Oct 2015

See all articles by Michele Alacevich

Michele Alacevich

University of Bologna - Dipartimento di Scienze Politiche e Sociali; Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET)

Date Written: July 17, 2015


In the aftermath of World War II, the birth of development economics was paralleled by the growth of development organizations, the most prominent of which was the World Bank. Not surprisingly, the paths of the Bank and of the pioneers of the new discipline often crossed, and it is fair to say that the Bank and the new discipline – from the perspective of the history and sociology of social sciences – are part of the same story. Indeed, one would think that the Bank was the natural place for the breeding of development economics. This seems coherent with the image we have of the Bank today: the reign of economists, endowed with resources for economic research which would “dwarf those of any university department or research institution working on development economics.” Yet, for most of the years when development theory was shaped and advanced, the Bank, although very active in development policies worldwide, was remarkably silent in the field of development economics. Other multilateral agencies such as the UN Secretariat and regional agencies, on the contrary, became important centers for the elaboration of development theories addressing the problems of less developed countries.

Based on previously untapped archival sources, this paper examines the different trajectories that development economics followed at the World Bank and other multilateral agencies. This will help reflect on how the history of development economics has intersected, has shaped, and has been shaped by, the history of development organizations.

Keywords: Development Economics, World Bank, United Nations, History of Social Sciences, Organizational Development

JEL Classification: A11, A14, B25, D23, O19

Suggested Citation

Alacevich, Michele, Not a Knowledge Bank: The Divided History of Development Economics and Development Organizations (July 17, 2015). Social Science History, 2016 Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Michele Alacevich (Contact Author)

University of Bologna - Dipartimento di Scienze Politiche e Sociali ( email )

Strada Maggiore 45
Bologna, 40129

Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) ( email )

300 Park Avenue South, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10010
United States

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