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UNRISD Tribute to Alice Amsden

19 Mar 2012



It was with deep sadness that we learned of the death, on 14 March 2012, of Professor Alice Amsden.

One of the most prominent and energetic scholars dealing with development issues—in particular the role of the state—Professor Amsden made a remarkable contribution to academic and policy debates, and influenced policy makers, academics and practitioners around the world with her rigorous research on a wide range of these issues. In particular, her seminal work, Asia’s Next Giant: South Korea and Late Industrialization (1992, Oxford University Press)—one of the most cited works on East Asian development—challenged dominant perspectives grounded in theories of comparative advantage and rooted in neoliberal thinking.

Professor Amsden was an intellectual giant, who with academic rigour, combined with great personal determination, suggested ways in which developing countries could also become giants. Her research on national industrial development through entrepreneurship, export specialization and the play of market forces (further elaborated in the book she was most recently working on, tentatively titled The Rational Revolution: Developing From Role Models) provides evidence against the simple equation between freer markets and greater efficiency, offering insights into feasible alternative development strategies.

UNRISD was a beneficiary of Professor Amsden’s unflagging energy and drive. From the spring of 2011 until her untimely passing, she participated in a joint UNRISD / Korea International Cooperation Agency project, Making Development Cooperation Effective: Lessons from the Korean Experience. Her paper, Securing the Home Market: A New Approach to Korean Development, emphasizes the importance of nationally owned companies in generating employment and accumulating technology and skills in developing countries. Professor Amsden shared her ideas at a methodological workshop in May 2011 and presented her paper at a conference organized by UNRISD and KOICA in Seoul in October that year, with a vibrant demonstration of both her humour and her knowledge. UNRISD is deeply saddened by her sudden death and will cherish her work and memory.