Technocrats for the Nation or the Nation for Technocrats? Technology, Governance and Citizenship in Southern Europe (1929-1975)

Technocrats for the Nation or the Nation for Technocrats? Technology, Governance and Citizenship in Southern Europe (1929-1975)

In a special issue of Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences published in 2010, Tiago Saraiva and Norton Wise pointed out the need of addressing the complex coevolution between fascism and science, and asked for definitively challenging “the alleged special connection between science and democracy” (p. 420). Previous historians of Nazi totalitarianism had already questioned this idea, in particular Peter Weingart, Mark Walker and SzöllösiJanze. Nevertheless, the cases of Italy, France and Greece are comparatively understudied (see, for instance, the special issues in HoST, vol.3, and History and Technology, 23:3) and little attention has been paid to the fascist or “fascistized” regimes in countries such as Hungary, Romania and Austria. The same holds true for the longlasting dictatorships of Spain and Portugal, which present particularities that merit special attention.

Unlike in other countries, both Iberian fascist regimes survived for over forty years in the Europe that had defeated the Axis Powers. This allowed them to sustain projects over time, and thus both left a disturbing but
enormous scientific and technological legacy in the form of technological objects, landscapes, institutions and people; a legacy that current democracies in both countries are grappling with. This allows for a longue durée approach to the coevolucion of science and fascism, simultaneously making possible better gauging continuities and discontinuities between the practices that were being developed before and after fascist seizure of power. This is the approach of my postdoctoral project Technocrats for the Nation or the Nation for Technocrats? Technology, Governance and Citizenship in Southern Europe (1929-1975).

The symposium “History of Physics in Spain in the 20th century” (Barcelona, December 12, 2011) was an attempt to look at the agency of scientists and engineers in, rather than “under” or “of”, the Francoist dictatorship (1939-1977). Alongside other participants of this event, such as Xavier Roqué, Néstor Herran and Albert Presas, Lino Camprubí contested in his innovative PhD dissertation (published in 2014 by The MIT Press as Engineers and the Making of the Francoist Regime) the master narrative that understands the role of science and engineering in Francoism as “subdued to” or conducted “in spite of” the fascist regime. Backed by the Cold War ideology as well as by the Mertonian understanding of science, this enduring view roughly stated that the darkage of politics led to a decadent period for science and technology and categorized the dictatorship as irrational, antimodern, backward and unscientific as opposed to the socalled scientific “Silver Age” of the II Spanish Republic (19311939).

The dominant image of a Republican science and technology based on internationalist and democratic practices was confronted in my own PhD dissertation entitled Technocracy and Technological Nationalism in Catalonia during the 1930s. The industrial engineers: from workshop organization to the rationalization of the State (translation), which was an attempt to deal with the autarkic, technonationalistic and technocratic ideals prior to the end of the Civil War (19361939).

In the last chapter, I looked at how engineers in Catalonia changed their nationalist discourses and the national scope of their economic projects after 1939 (or even from 1936 on the other side of the front). Drawing on and intertwiningthese previous works, I am seeking to study continuities and discontinuities in engineering practices and institutions between the abovementioned regimes, and to problematise the “complete rupture” that the Civil War is supposed to have produced (in terms of politics, economy and technology).