Hidden Reserves

Hidden Reserves of Productivity in Socialist Planning: From Historical Consciousness to Science and Expertise


"Fenster im Staatsrat 1" by SpreeTom - Own work.
(Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 de via Wikimedia Commons)

My research focuses on the transformations of central planning in Romania as a historically specific form of “modern technopolitics.” Using archival material from the Romanian government, from several schools of industrial management, and from various factories in Cluj (a town in the North-Western part of Romania), I analyze how the making of “the plan” put in motion a set of practices which made possible – but also hindered – politics of knowledge, anticipation, and calculation that were articulated around the simultaneous pursuit of economic growth and social emancipation. My investigation breaks down the very notion of a top-down “centrally planned economy” through an in-depth exploration of “planning” and “centralization” as processes and relations which were continuously negotiated on the ground by local state agents, factory managers, and workers.

More specifically, I follow the emergence of a new field of expertise and of new mechanisms of knowledge production around the notion of “productive hidden reserves” in the mid-1960s. I look at how this notion was re-defined as the domain of the experts, as part of a systematic endeavour to replace the early socialist reliance on workers’ voluntary self-transformation and practical knowledge with contemporary Western methods of industrial management. This historical transition of the Romanian industrialism from local and embodied knowledge to a professionalized field of expertise with universalistic aspirations opens a broad space for questioning the nature of socialist economies as modern objects of governance and governmentality. It also offers glimpses into the redefinition of the worker, from the subject of a political project, to an object of policy and scientific analysis.