Programme

(T178)
Designing alternative futures: planning, expertise, policy
Location 112b
Date and Start Time 03 September, 2016 at 16:00
Sessions 1

Convenors

  • Martha Lampland (Univ. of California, San Diego) email
  • Alina-Sandra Cucu (Humboldt University, Berlin) email

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Discussant Tamar Novick (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science)

Short Abstract

The panel addresses innovative strategies being designed and implemented to restructure economies and polities in the mid-20th c. The papers discuss the technical demands, novel forms of expertise and political imaginaries bound up with the sciences of planning and governing.

Long Abstract

The promise of more effective, scientifically designed policy tools captured the imagination of politicians and economists across the globe in the mid-20th c. Heady debates over the relative value of markets and plans occupied some minds, while others proceeded to institutionalize economic planning as national mandate. Innovative approaches were proposed to improve policy, strategies that could only be realized if the proper tools and techniques could be designed to achieve the hopes invested in them. The papers in our panel analyze cases in which statisticians, economists and state officials grapple with the difficult task of designing alternative means of solving economic and political problems. As we will demonstrate, technical details were often foregrounded in these efforts for immediacy's sake, but restructuring collectivities was the long term goal. Presentations will discuss the various temporal horizons envisioned in planning, the search for labor's potential, the nature of belonging in new polities, models for testing the limits of uncertainty, and the creation of new forms of knowledge and expertise. The constitution of markets and the dynamics of finance have been given extensive treatment in Science Studies, but the extensive role of economic planning in government policy and business has been neglected. This panel is intended to draw more attention to the significance of planning as a scientific endeavor and as a major field of economic analysis.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Modeling Uncertainty: Statistical Planning in Warsaw and London, 1930s

Author: Theodora Dryer (University of California, San Diego)  email

Short Abstract

Throughout the 1930s statistical planners advocated for model-based techniques that could measure the limits of uncertainty. This paper historicizes an international statistical estimation model, evincing the rise of a practical statistics enterprise and its achievement of model-based governance.

Long Abstract

This paper documents the rise of an international network of model-based planners during the Depression era. Statistical models were designed and rapidly employed in efforts to break away from a reliance on the Bayesian paradigm seen in late 19th and early 20th century statistical sampling practices. Here I focus on a particular model—a statistical estimation technique—developed to create a more efficient agrarian science program in Poland. This confidence-planning model emerged at the nexus of eastern and western science, converging mathematical modeling techniques from Moscow with British statistical programs. During his appointments with the Agricultural Institute of Bydgoszcz and the Nencki Institute in Warsaw, Poland (1921-1935) practical statistician Jerzy Spława-Neyman was concerned with the unexamined dimensions of agrarian population analysis—how to measure unknown potential yields of sugar beets—and how blind commitments to mathematical laws such as the law of random errors impacted empirical results. Neyman's own commitment to the critical examination of statistical sampling techniques resonated with Egon Pearson at the University of College London. Together they developed confidence planning in order to test the limits of certainty and uncertainty in statistical sampling. Significantly, these models quickly proliferated through various institutional and industrial contexts. Throughout Poland, England, and the United States economists, statisticians, bureaucrats, and corporate leaders partook in the celebration of these new statistical models for in them they saw unprecedented accuracy in planning the future.

Quantifying socialist accumulation

Author: Alina-Sandra Cucu (Humboldt University, Berlin)  email

Short Abstract

The paper investigates the ways in which the idea of “hidden reserves of productivity” – fundamental expression of socialist accumulation – was constitutive to mechanisms of knowledge production, fields of expertise, and technologies of making the factory shopfloor visible.

Long Abstract

My paper explores the politics of quantification that underlay the idea of "accumulation" at the implementation of planning in early socialist Romania. More concretely, I investigate the ways in which the notion of "hidden reserves of productivity" was an integral part in the calculation and anticipation of economic growth, and was constitutive to mechanisms of knowledge production, fields of expertise, and technologies of making the factory shopfloor visible. Subjecting the emergence, evolution, and unfolding on the ground of this notion to the interpretative gaze that STS provide allows me to shed plausible light on how centralization and planning were achieved in state socialism.

"Hidden reserves of productivity" encapsulated the idea that at the moment of planning, the true capacity of a worker, factory, or of the economy as a whole could not be assessed by planners or factory managers because there were always yet-undiscovered ways to push their limits into uncharted territories of efficiency and organization. Thus, the very possibility of economic growth in early socialism was predicated on elusive units of planning whose real possibilities had to be discovered, nurtured, and harnessed. Based on factory documents, political speeches, and technical debates in the 1950s, I argue that the political imaginary in which these efforts took place was defined between three conflicting temporal horizons of socialist construction: the time of modernization and historical catching-up, the linear time of workers' discipline and factory management, and the transcendent time of a revolutionary outcome.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.