The Unlikely Revolutionaries: Soviet OR and Systems Analysis

In this chapter I examine the development of Soviet decision sciences as an intellectual and institutional field where a new governmental epistemology emerged in the 1960s-1980s. This chapter is based on a study of archives of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, and interviews with ex-Soviet scholars who were involved in the development of systems analysis in the Soviet Union. Outlining the history of OR and systems analysis as a framework for decision making in the Soviet planning process, I trace their impact on a) conceptualization of governance, b) institutional design, and c) governmental practices, mainly economic planning. OR and systems analysis were part of the de-Stalinization process, distributing decision-making power among new, heterogeneous actors, such as decision scientists and professionally trained managers; this phenomenon is described as a rise of Soviet technocracy, a process which was shaped by East-West transfer where the elite Soviet scientists and highly positioned policy-makers learned from Western, predominantly US experience. Soviet decision sciences were initially adopted in military-industrial sector as an advanced but strictly technical instrument to improve decision making in industry and policy. However, in the 1960s, Soviet decision sciences developed an ambitious agenda, in effect becoming an alternative social science, formulating non-ideologically constricted explanations of social order and change. Decision-making was conceptualised as a de-personalised, adaptive process, one which at least conceptually permitted zones of autonomy and what was described as ‘degrees of freedom’. I propose that the history of early Soviet decision-science, therefore, is a story of a relative liberalisation of an authoritarian political regime, a process that addressed the same concerns as in the West (irrationality and mass participation in government) and also foregrounded later spread of neoliberal economic models.

To be published in The Decisionist Imagination, edited by Nicolas Guilhot and Daniel Bessner (Oxford: Berghnan Press, 2017).


Soviet Policy Sciences and the Earth System Governmentality

This article contributes to growing historiography on Earth system governmentality, positing a need to reassess the role of non-Western policy sciences in the context of emerging governance of large scale and long term phenomena, such as global biosphere. As it became increasingly clear that existing intellectual models of governance did not make sense when applied on Earth system, new notions of governance and control had to be developed. This study outlines a particularly important attempt at such an intellectual innovation, the rise of noosphere theory in the late Soviet Russia (1970s-1980s), which replaced the cybernetic notion of governance as teleological control with the “noospheric” governance through guidance. As noosphere theory was rooted in quantitative disciplines of decision science, computer modelling and biology, it was officially considered as apolitical. However, noosphere theory liberalized the Soviet mentality of governance replacing a centralist, top-down goal-setting with the notion of bottom-up government through milieu.


From a High Risk Technology to National Heritage:

Authorised Nuclear Story-Telling in the Russian Museums

This paper maps the key shifts in the narrative and material presentation of nuclear power in Soviet and post-Soviet Russian museums from the 1950s to the present. While the links between the nuclear energy industry and authoritarian government have been widely discussed (Hecht 2009; Schmid 2008; Brown 2013), there is a lack of research into how museums, the central sites of modern sense-making (Bennett 1995), were used to legitimize the nuclear industry. This paper asks: What was the role of museums in shaping the legitimacy of the nuclear complex in the Soviet Russia? What are the continuities and shifts between the communist propaganda of nuclear energy and corporate narratives of the Russian nuclear authority, Rosatom? Are there any new, critical narratives of nuclear legacies emerging? This study draws on archival and ethnographic research, with a focus on the Polytechnic Museum in Moscow and the Rosatom museum in St Petersburg.


Mapping Cold War Cultures of Predictability:

Computer Simulations of the Long Term


In this chapter I propose an agenda for a study of cultures of predictability, focusing on the case of computer-based simulations of the long-term future during the Cold War. Computer simulation facilitated the notion of the future as a development of short- and long-term consequences that intertwine in complex systems. The future thus conceived has important social and political implications, expressed in organisational practices and forms for coping with uncertainty. In the context of a growing historiography that charts different epistemological and institutional efforts to define, know and control the future the focus on computer simulations of the long-term across different political regimes offers a particularly sharp lens to identify and examine the scope of shifts in the governance of the future.

To be published in a handbook Futures, edited by Jenny Andersson and Sara Kemp (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018)


Boundary Objects of Communism: Understanding a Post-Soviet Museum

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the meanings of the Soviet past had to be reinvented. This chapter explores different ways of presenting the communist past through material culture in Lithuania, suggesting that it is necessary to revise the analytical habit of looking for a top-down and linear policy of dealing with the communist past. Post-Soviet museum exhibitions in Lithuania are neither channels of governmental ideology, nor can they be  grasped as consensual scripts of the past. Instead, the museum expositions about the communist past are terrains where meaning-making struggles intertwine with the forging of political and economic capital. This study focuses on three different museums.

Accepted for publication in a special issue of Ethnologie Francaise, anticipated to be published in 2017.