So big changes ahead for me. This is my last week at Harvard, as I am moving to the Institute for Advanced Study as the Albert O. Hirschman professor in the School of Social Science. Here is the Institute’s official announcement. My new home page is here, although it is barely under construction at the moment. (The Institute is located in Princeton, N.J, but no, it is not part of or affiliated with Princeton University.)
Counting my undergraduate years, I have spent a total of 27 years at Harvard -- an inordinately long time. Harvard has been incredibly good to me, even though I never quite felt an insider.
For all its craziness, the Kennedy School was a perfect home, allowing me to connect economics to the other social sciences, and scholarship to the world of practice. The School has what any researcher can only dream of – a most wonderful group of colleagues, and a supportive administration. Its access and connections worldwide are unparalleled: all you have to do is sit in your office, and the world comes to you.
I was blessed on top with great students: The MPAID, in particular, is as close to a perfect training program for development practitioners as I can imagine. I am amazed by the quality of the students we are able to attract to the program year after year. And I haven't mentioned the rest of Harvard yet...
So why leave?
If someone had told me as recently as six months ago that I would be leaving, I would laugh it off. But when the Institute came knocking, it was time for reflection. In the end, it wasn’t simply the honor of assuming a chair named after Albert Hirschman and filled previously by a scholar no less distinguished than Eric Maskin – though the honor is great indeed. It wasn’t just the singular privilege of having no responsibilities other than research – no teaching, practically no administrative duties – though that privilege is enormous too. It was the thought that moving to the IAS would free me up for a new, if, at the moment, quite unpredictable intellectual journey.
I imagined remaining at Harvard. I could predict more or less what I would be doing five years from now if I stayed – the kind of papers I would be writing, the courses I would be teaching, the meetings I would be attending, the debates, intellectual or otherwise, I would be having.
A research career can serve both as scaffolding and as trap. My views on globalization and development have evolved – and, I’d like to think, become more sophisticated – as my work on these topics accumulated. But sometimes I do get the feeling that I am repeating rather than renewing myself – that I am chewing over the same material over and over again.
The IAS opens for me a new page. It removes any conceivable excuse for becoming stale. I don’t imagine I will stop working on my usual topics. But my intellectual trajectory is now infused with an added element of uncertainty and flux. And this excites me more than anything else in my research career for quite some time.