An impossible science? How hydroelectric engineers, cyberneticists, Orthodox mystics, transport planners, rocket scientists, Stalin, etc. assembled Soviet economics, again
Taking political economy to mean the intersection of visions of the ideal society and claims about the nature of actually existing society that limit and condition political action, I tell a new history of its torturous re-birth from the years of high Stalinism through Khrushchev’s “Thaw” of the 1960s. With the execution of the prominent economists of the 1920s, the political economic horizon of thought collapsed and Soviet reality became identified with ideal socialism; with the launch of forced industrialization, the economy itself collapsed directly into politics. 1) Yet over the 1940s and 1950s, while orthodox political economists gradually resurrected a concept of economic objectivity, engineers and statisticians in the planning apparatus reopened basic economic questions, in the process limning a space of problematization of the economy. 2) Following a very different trajectory through Stalinism, the geniuses of the Moscow mathematical school retained their pre-Revolutionary ideals and professional autonomy. Drawn into the exemplary Big Science projects of WWII and its aftermath — radar, rocketry, the bomb, and the space project — these mathematicians became among the first users and most zealous proponents of Soviet computers. The success of these projects left them politically untouchable and administratively powerful by the late 1950s. From this position they pushed cybernetics as an alternative scientific metalanguage in place of dialectical materialism. This cyborg science allowed the flow of metaphors, models, and personnel between different disciplines in the emerging post-War military-scientific complex — at the same time as it reestablished the autonomy of the scientific from the political. The mathematically-inclined economists and engineers allied with the cyberneticists and thereby institutionalized themselves in the space of a decade, reconfiguring the epistemological field of economics in the process. Two lines of thought sharing mathematical technique with Western economics but otherwise crucially different allowed the reestablishment of a truth function with respect to the economic. Amid the cultural ferment of the Thaw and the proliferation of new ethical stances and strategies with respect to Soviet power, the political economic imagination was reborn, and mathematical economists elaborated a plethora of visions of market socialism. The social and ideological processes thus set in motion are the deep genealogy of the collapse of Soviet experiment.
Maternal Healthcare and the Technology of Emergency
In this paper, I explore what counts as an emergency in maternal healthcare in rural Guatemala today. I argue that the creation and circulation of Planes de Emergencia (Emergency Plans) for birthing shape the possibilities for biomedical maternity care in this context. Drawing on fieldwork carried out in 2010 in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala, and on recent feminist scholarship on “emergency thinking” (Scarry 2011), I suggest that Emergency Plans and the forms of care of which they are a part generate their own forms of knowledge and ignorance about the possibilities for healthcare in this context. In so doing, these planning systems reconfigure both the sociality and temporality of biomedical maternity care in Guatemala today. This “technology of emergency” shifts moral responsibilities among care providers and mothers, engenders new intimate relationships while obviating other forms of collective security, and positions biomedical birth as the only possible outcome of moral action. Considering how this technology of emergency works as a mode of “reproductive governance” (Morgan and Roberts 2012) points to the ways in which reproduction is understood and managed in contexts beyond Guatemala.