Worlds of management: Transregional approaches to management knowledge since 1945

Worlds of management: Transregional approaches to management knowledge since 1945

Katharina Kreuder-Sonnen (University of Vienna), Lukas Becht (University of Vienna), Florian Peters (Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History, Berlin), Vítězslav Sommer (Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague)
Vom - Bis
25.11.2020 - 27.11.2020
Kreuder-Sonnen, Katharina

Managers and management have been regarded as key elements of capitalist economies, be it as central actors in organizing capitalist production and distribution of goods1 or as bearers of a ‘new spirit of capitalism’2. With regard to state-socialist economies, however, management has not been conceived as a meaningful practice. It has been semantically covered by the enigmatic term of ‘planning’ and the stereotypical idea of the rigid central plan, which was destined to fail. Yet the skillful organization of economic endeavors striving for productivity and efficiency has of course also been part of the economic practice in state-socialist systems. Plans were not only circumvented by improvisation, illegal action and creative adjustments, but various actors also attempted to adapt and improve planning by applying different fields of knowledge and related practices. What is more, recent studies have revealed that the knowledge of management has been a field of lively exchange across the supposed ‘Iron Curtain’.3 More broadly, the idea and knowledge of (economic, social and spatial) planning has been shown to be a global phenomenon, inherent to the construction of ‘modernity’, and thus fundamentally transgressing geographical, political or economic borderlines.4
The workshop therefore aims at shedding light on the knowledge of management in both capitalist and state-socialist economies in the Northern and Southern global hemispheres. We understand management knowledge to comprise discourses and practices produced and sustained by scientific management, practitioners, workers as well as by material and medial environments.
The transregional approach aims at historicizing socialist and capitalist economic practices and at treating them as entangled across the political system-divide. Starting from the general assumption that economies are essentially produced by practices and discourses5 we want to tackle the question of how the field of management co-constituted certain economic logics. If these were fundamentally different in the capitalist and socialist sphere is to be considered an explicitly open question. Consideration could be given to economies in the postcolonial Global South as a relevant point of departure, given that many of them cannot easily be assigned to one of the two blocks.6
By focusing on the knowledge of management we want to bridge the gap between a history of management ideas and stories of individual workplace management. We aim at bringing together studies about (scientific and public) management discourses, management knowledge production, management practices, materialities and media in a global circulatory perspective. Individual papers may address regionally specific case studies, which the workshop can help to place in a global context.
Topics and questions of special interest include:
- Management knowledge from the ‘peripheries’ of the second half of the 20th century:
Whereas scientific management discourses and (to a lesser degree) practices produced in the Western hemisphere have received scholarly attention,7 the knowledge of organizing work flow in Eastern Europe and the Global South still remains largely unknown.8 We encourage contributions to go beyond a history of management ideas and look at the socio-technical networks of managerial knowledge production and at the ways this knowledge was put into practice. We are also interested in the analysis of scientific management discourses in these regions.
- Management in the Global South:
Management knowledge in the Global South deserves further attention in other respects. The postcolonial world was not easily split between the two blocks. Rather, the newly independent states chose (more or less successfully) individual ways for organizing their economies and whom to ask for financial assistance. How then did they employ management and planning knowledge? Was the Global South a space in which socialist and capitalist practices of management came together, an important hub, maybe site of experimentation, in the global circulation of management knowledge? How did management knowledge from the Global North merge with local knowledge of organizing work? How did management knowledge influence discourses of development in and about the Global South?
- Circulation of management knowledge:
In order to grasp the entanglement of management practices and discourses in different local, economic and political settings, the study of circulating management knowledge is important. If we conceptualize the production of management knowledge as being in circulation from the very start, stemming not only from the United States but having multiple origins and itineraries, what stories about Taylorism, Operations Research or cybernetics9 can we tell?
- Planning and management:
Analyzing socialist and capitalist economic practices as entangled, the workshop also asks for the relationship of management towards planning. The two fields are closely intertwined. Both aim to cope with the uncertainty and complexity of the socio-economic world through actively anticipating and shaping an uncertain future. We encourage papers to specify the multi-facetted relationships between planning and management by focusing on the practices, which united or separated the two fields. We also find it promising to look at what happens in the 1970s when “planning” optimism faded, yet the uncertain future remained to be tackled by economic as well as public actors.
- Representations of management:
How is management represented and what roles are attributed to managers and management in scientific, political, economic or public discourse in different times and spaces? Is management portrayed as a responsible way of bringing economy and society forward or as a ruthless activity stemming from economic greed? Is management male or female? Is a manager constantly overworked and therefore a neurasthenic/sick from manager’s disease? Such questions about the representations of management are important in themselves, but can also be valuable for understanding management knowledge and economic practice.
- Management in Transformation:
After 1989 capitalist modes of organizing economies and of imagining social and economic rationality reached unquestioned hegemony worldwide. What role did managers and management knowledge play in the transformation from state-socialist countries to capitalist market economies? How did managerial skills and popular discourses about them influence ideas and practices of building capitalism in the former Eastern bloc? Considering that management knowledge had been part of state-socialist economies, how did the existing managerial culture contribute to shape the ‘spirit of capitalism’ in the transformation period? Which concepts and policies of the neoliberal intellectual tradition were relevant for management knowledge in this time period when state economic planning (socialist as well as Keynesian) declined?

We welcome contributions dealing with any of these topics or related research questions from multiple disciplinary backgrounds (e.g. history, cultural studies, media studies, sociology, economics). Papers will be presented in thematic panels and commented on by a discussant.
Selected papers will be considered for publication in a peer-reviewed collected volume.

Confirmed keynote speaker: Eglė Rindzevičiūtė

Please send your abstract of max. 300 words and a short CV to until 15 April 2020. We will notify you about the selection of papers by 15 May.
We will be applying for third-party funding in order to reimburse travel costs. A relevant budget has already been secured to support junior researchers or long distance travelers.

1 Alfred D. Chandler, The Visible Hand: The managerial revolution in American business, Cambridge, Mass., London 1977.

2 Luc Boltanski/Ève Chiapello, Le nouvel esprit du capitalisme, Paris 1999.

3 Sandrine Kott, “The social engineering project: Exportation of capitalist management culture to Eastern Europe (1950-1980)”, in: Planning in Cold War Europe: Competition, cooperation, circulations (1950s-1970s) ed. by Michel Christian, Ondrej Matejka and Sandrine Kott, München/Wien 2018, 123-141; Vítězslav Sommer, “Managing socialist industrialism: Czechoslovak management studies in the 1960s and 1970s, in: ibid., 237-259.

4 This is a subject of ongoing research (see e.g. the upcoming conference “Planning – a global political religion?” Recent publications include: Christan/Matejka/Kott, Planning in Cold War Europe, op.cit.; Thomas Etzemüller, Thomas (ed.), Die Ordnung der Moderne. Social Engineering im 20. Jahrhundert, Bielefeld 2009; Valeska Huber, Global histories of social planning (special issue of the Journal of Contemporary History 52, 2017).

5 Christof Dejung, Monika Dommann, Daniel Speich Chassé, Auf der Suche nach der Ökonomie. Historische Annäherungen, Tübingen 2014.

6 David C. Engerman, “The Second World’s Third World”, in: Kritika. Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 12, 2011, 183-211.

7 E.g. Agatha C. Hughes/Thomas P. Hughes, Systems, experts, and computers: The systems approach in management and engineering, World War II and after, Cambridge, Mass. 2000; Heinrich Hartmann, Organisation und Geschäft. Unternehmensorganisation in Frankreich und Deutschland 1890-1914, Göttingen 2010.

8 Pioneering studies include Slava Gerovitch, From newspeak to cyberspeak: A history of Soviet cybernetics, Cambridge, Mass. 2002; Sommer, Managing socialist industrialism, op.cit.; Alina-Sandra Cucu, Planning labour. Time and the foundations of industrial socialism in Romania, New York 2019.

9 An important contribution has been made by Eglė Rindzevičiūtė, The power of systems: How policy sciences opened up the Cold War world, Ithaca/London 2016.



Katharina Kreuder-Sonnen

Universität Wien, Institut für Zeitgeschichte
Spitalgasse 2-4, Hof 1, 1090 Wien

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