Special Issue of HHS: “Social and Human Sciences across the Iron Curtain”

The  October/December 2016 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. This special issue on “Social and Human Sciences across the Iron Curtain” is guest edited by Olessia Kirtchik and Ivan Boldyrev. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“On (im)permeabilities: Social and human sciences on both sides of the ‘Iron Curtain’,” by Ivan Boldyrev and Olessia Kirtchik. The abstract reads,

While the history of Cold War social and human sciences has become an immensely productive line of inquiry and has generated some exciting research, a lot remains still to be done in studying more deeply the known stories, venturing into the unknown ones and, in particular, looking in greater detail at the Soviet side of the Iron Curtain. In our expository introduction to this special issue, we demonstrate how its articles enhance our understanding of the postwar social and human sciences. The special issue invites us to rethink the role of the local intellectual and disciplinary contexts in the postwar cultures of knowledge; to pay more attention to the networks and institutions that fostered communication across the Iron Curtain; to trace various asymmetries at work in the divided academic world and the ambiguous status of many actors who enable the East–West contacts despite the general hostility and ideological cleavages; and finally to arrive at a more differentiated and complex view of the whole intellectual landscape in the history of social and human sciences opening up once all the Cold War protagonists, including the countries of the eastern bloc, are subject to a detailed study. This project, we believe, is worthwhile not just for the sake of historical accuracy but also for understanding and changing the societies we live in, which are often still contaminated by the maladies of the Cold War.

“After Nikolai Bukharin: History of science and cultural hegemony at the threshold of the Cold War era,” by Pietro D. Omodeo. The abstract reads,

This article addresses the ideological context of twentieth-century history of science as it emerged and was discussed at the threshold of the Cold War. It is claimed that the bifurcation of the discipline into a socio-economic strand and a technical-intellectual one (the divide between ‘externalism’ and ‘internalism’) should be traced back to the 1930s. In fact, the proposal of a Marxist-oriented historiography by the Soviet delegates at the International Congress of History of Science and Technology (London, 1931) led by Nikolai Bukharin, set off the ideological and methodological opposition that characterised the later years. Bukharin’s views on science are closely considered, as well as those of his Marxist critics, György Lukács and Antonio Gramsci. It is argued that, despite the fluidity of the positions of the 1920s and 1930s, these theories soon crystallized as demonstrated by the leftist reception of Bukharin’s and his associates’ perspective in the history of science, especially in Great Britain, as well as by the anti-communist reactions. Intellectualist approaches renouncing socio-economic factors, typically those by Alexandre Koyré and Thomas Kuhn, are reconsidered in the light of the ideological confrontation of the Cold War era. Reflection on the political-cultural embedding of the history of science has often been overshadowed by claims about the objectivity and neutrality of science and its historiography. Thus, the seminal discussion of the 1930s remains one of the most lucid moments of reflection about the role of science and history of science as cultural phenomena shaped by political struggles.

“‘A fiction of long standing’: Techniques of prospection and the role of positivism in US Cold War social science, 1950–65,” by Christian Dayé. The abstract reads,

There appears to be a widespread belief that the social sciences during the 1950s and 1960s can be characterized by an almost unquestioned faith in a positivist philosophy of science. In contrast, the article shows that even within the narrower segment of Cold War social science, positivism was not an unquestioned doctrine blindly followed by everybody, but that quite divergent views coexisted. The article analyses two ‘techniques of prospection’, the Delphi technique and political gaming, from the perspective of a comprehensive set of ideas attributed to ‘positivism’. Both techniques were developed in the early 1950s by researchers at the RAND Corporation, a Californian think tank with tight relations to the US Air Force. Despite the closeness of origin, the two techniques show considerable differences in their basic epistemologies. The article thus concludes that more important than positivism in uniting US Cold War social science was the shared sense of urgency and of the potential of social science to put decision-making in foreign policy on a rational basis. In this sense, as far as the Cold War social sciences were of a piece, they were made so by the sense of danger and urgency of action evoked by the image of the Iron Curtain.

“Propaganda, psychological warfare and communication research in the USA and the Soviet Union during the Cold War,” by Benno Nietzel. The abstract reads,

This article discusses the role of communication research in the Cold War, moving from a US-centered to a comparative-transnational point of view. It examines research on prop-aganda and mass communication in the United States and the Soviet Union, focusing not only on the similarities and differences, but also on mutual perceptions and transnational entanglements. In both countries, communication scientists conducted their research with its benefits for propaganda practitioners and waging the Cold War in mind. It has been suggested that after an initial period of close cooperation between politics and communication science, early expectations of the potential of systematic research for controlling the hearts and minds of people through propaganda started to fade. On both sides of the Iron Curtain, communication research eventually became a ‘normal’ scholarly discipline.

“Opinion polling behind and across the Iron Curtain: How West and East German pollsters shaped knowledge regimes on communist societies,” by Jens Gieseke. The abstract reads,

In the context of the Cold War, opinion polling as a method of observation stood for the shift from confrontation and clandestine preparations for a hot or cold civil war towards a competition between systems in the fields of political and cultural attractiveness and economic capabilities. Based on the cases of the West German polling institute Infratest and the East German Institute for Opinion Polling of the Socialist Unity Party, the article highlights the shifts in the external observation and internal self-observation of socialist society with respect to the change in epistemological approaches, research topics, patterns of construction of societal structures and the confluence between political expectations, professional self-understandings and impact on policy-making processes.

“Game theory modeling for the Cold War on both sides of the Iron Curtain,” by Harald Hagemann, Vadim Kufenko, and Danila Raskov. The abstract reads,

The bi-polar confrontation between the Soviet Union and the USA involved many leading game theorists from both sides of the Iron Curtain: Oskar Morgenstern, John von Neumann, Michael Intriligator, John Nash, Thomas Schelling and Steven Brams from the United States and Nikolay Vorob’ev, Leon A. Petrosyan, Elena B. Yanovskaya and Olga N. Bondareva from the Soviet Union. The formalization of game theory (GT) took place prior to the Cold War but the geopolitical confrontation hastened and shaped its evolution. In our article we outline four similarities and differences between Western GT and Soviet GT: 1) the Iron Curtain resulted in a lagged evolution of GT in the Soviet Union; 2) Soviet GT focused more on operations research and issues of centralized planning; 3) the contemporary Western view on Soviet GT was biased and Soviet contributions, including works on dynamic stability, non-emptiness of the core and many refinements, suggest that Soviet GT was able to catch up to the Western level relatively fast; 4) international conferences, including Vilnius, 1971, fostered interaction between Soviet game theorists and their Western colleagues. In general, we consider the Cold War to be a positive environment for GT in the West and in the Soviet Union.

“International construction of area studies in France during the Cold War: Insights from the École Pratique des Hautes Études 6th Section,” by Ioana Popa. The abstract reads,

An Area Studies Division was created at the 6th Section of the École Pratique des Hautes Études (Paris) in the mid-1950s. It was devoted to several world regions, including the USSR and eastern Europe. This article investigates the links between its institutionalization and the international scientific and financial transfers underpinning it: the transatlantic support granted to the nascent division by the Rockefeller and Ford foundations and the academic cooperation programme that it launched with eastern Europe. The Russian, Soviet and East European programme served, thus, as an East/West interface and a platform for broader intellectual exchanges. Local French scientific, academic and political rationales favoured the specific pathways it took. The article also shows that the EPHE 6th Section was discreetly linked with American players in Cold War intellectual warfare whose forms of action gradually changed in the context of the thaw. In particular, it had connections with the Congress for Cultural Freedom. These collusions attest to the entanglement of scientific and political issues, their intricacies increasing when external factors compounded domestic ones.

“In the shadow of technology: The anatomy of East–West scholarly exchanges in the late Soviet period,” by Simo Mikkonen. The abstract reads,

The study of the cultural Cold War and East–West interaction outside diplomacy and high politics has emerged as an important research field during the last two decades. With a few exceptions, however, scholarly interaction has been overshadowed by other forms of interaction. Existing research has mostly paid attention to technological exchange and to espionage, which was at times connected with scientific exchanges across the Iron Curtain. This article discusses scholarly exchanges in the human sciences between Finland and the Soviet Union. Even though Finland was a western-style democracy with a market economy, it had close political ties with the Soviet Union, which allowed for the development of active scholarly connections between the countries. This article discusses the emergence of such connections in the human sciences and the reasons for their rapid expansion in the 1970s.

“Internationalization of Cold War systems analysis: RAND, IIASA and the institutional reasons for methodological change,” by Matthias Duller. The abstract reads,

This article has a dual purpose. First, it looks at the transfer of the methodology of systems analysis from the RAND Corporation to the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in the wake of an East–West bridge-building effort during the Cold War. Second, it draws out a more general argument about how the institutional structures of these research organizations condition their methodological orientations. Acknowledging the complexity of factors influencing methodological choices at RAND and IIASA, the article concentrates on the centrality of institutional purpose, institutional environments and internal organizational structure, and demonstrates how, when taken together, these factors led to a methodological diversification at IIASA that is best summarized as the internationalization of systems analysis.

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About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Surrey in the UK. She completed her doctorate in the History and Theory of Psychology at York University in 2014.

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