Accepted paper:

From quantitative techniques to affective economies: Cybernetics and the shaping of economic time in socialist Romania

Authors:

Narcis Tulbure (Bucharest University of Economic Studies / University of Pittsburgh)

Paper short abstract:

Approaching ethnographically the advent of cybernetics and the institutionalization of an extensive apparatus for the collection and manipulation of statistical data in socialist Romania, I aim to reconstitute the economic and political futures envisioned by Romanian prospective thinkers.

Paper long abstract:

The 1970s brought an acute awareness of the limits of economic growth and the fear of the rapid depletion of natural resources "east" and "west" of the Iron Curtain. Far from irrational, such apprehensions were forms of educated concern premised on growing amounts of statistical data about nature, economy and society and by new disciplines able to incorporate the data into plausible theoretical models of the future: demographics, macroeconomic forecasting, environmental sciences, etc. Cybernetics, most of all such disciplines, both made possible a systematic vision of the catastrophic futures engendered by present actions and promised to offer efficient instruments for stirring the future towards desired trajectories. Approaching ethnographically the advent of cybernetics and the institutionalization of an extensive apparatus for the collection and manipulation of statistical data in socialist Romania, I aim to reconstitute the economic and political futures envisioned by Romanian prospective thinkers ('futurologists'). I conceptualize time as a malleable resource and ingredient of action that was effectively made up of statistical data series often antagonizing the visions of politicians and specialists and grounding passionate disputes about things to come. My presentation will pay attention both to the quantitative techniques and instruments used to structure economic interventions and to the affective economies that conveyed the urgency of reforms and revealed momentum in the dynamics of the economy. The techniques, visions, and anxieties produced in disciplines concerned with the future have framed our understanding of the economy at the time and continue to shape the world we live in.

panel P160
Sense and sensibility: investments of emotion and rationality in the charting of future scenarios