Technocratic Governance and Expert Knowledge in Czechoslovakia 1960 - 2000


One of the most debated issues in contemporary history and social sciences is the nature of the systemic changes in Central and Eastern Europe after 1989. Was it a ”democratic“, ”liberal“, ”neoliberal“, or ”capitalist“ revolution? What enabled the speedy change in 1989/1990 from a generally “democratic revolution” towards “liberal hegemony” stressing representative democracy, privatization and the capitalist “market without adjectives”? How come the “neoliberal governance” scored such an overwhelming success in the former socialist countries in the 1990s? We are more and more aware of the fact that the existing framework of research, focusing on either the “end of the Cold War and Communist dictatorship” in 1989 or the “beginning of democracy and capitalism” in the same year, has to be revised in order to answer these questions.

Generally, the “neoliberal governance” is defined through several major elements, namely: dominance of the market at the expense of labor regulations (trade unions, tripartite, etc.); long-term public spending cuts and deregulations; privatization as a major tool creating a crucial social layer of responsible owners; replacement of the concept of ”public welfare” as a major socio-cultural cohesion principle by that of ”individual responsibility” and ”individual initiative.” Conceived as such, these principles dovetail neatly with major transformation policies of new liberal or liberal conservative political elites (especially the ODS and the ODA) in Czechoslovakia or Czechia in the early 1990s. These policies were presented as a radical breakaway from the Communist past and a denial of all other potential ”third way” temptations. At the same time, however, these ways of thinking and neoliberal governance principles emerged in its essential elements from political and economic thought, mental patterns and cultural and social practices of the late socialism. The rise of technocratic and expert layers of the ”managerial socialism”, growing significance of the socialist corporate sector as a counterweight to state and party structures, individualization and atomization of social life during the ”normalization“ period, and parallel increase of the value of private and informal relationships and bonds of trust (“familiarity”) at the expense of public activism – all of them can be considered a precondition for the ways and means the societies and states in Central and Eastern Europe were governed after 1989.

Today, the most influential research field - above all in the domains of sociology, anthropology and political economy - conceptualizing the continuities between the late socialism and post-socialism can be subsumed under the so-called neoliberal hegemony thesis bringing in a new perspective on Eastern and Central Europe’s position in the global order as well as critical interpretation of how post-socialism works on a micro level producing post-socialist, neo-liberal subjects.

The main objective of the present research project is to build upon some of the stimulating traits of critical post-socialism and neoliberalism studies, test them on the particular case of the Czech Republic. By exploring hypothetical continuities between the two political and socio-economic orders or - in other words - rethinking late-socialist expert and technocratic roots of the post-1989 neoliberal governance, we aim both at historicizing our current understanding of the early post-socialist period and at introducing more historical sensitivity to the existing academic debate on neoliberal post-socialism hitherto shaped mainly by sociologists, anthropologists and political economists.

The basic assumption of the present research project is that, on closer inspection, the turn to “neoliberal governance” after 1989 was based on a number of intellectual, mental and socio-cultural continuities related to the previous era. However, these were publicly blurred by an “anti-Communist gesture” (mechanisms and processes of the “coming to terms with the Communist past”) rhetorically rejecting the paternalistic state socialism. In order to explore these continuities and to historicize our understanding of that period, we need to “bracket the year 1989” and reconsider the whole period falling approximately between 1980 and 2000 as a period of a “long-lasting systemic change”. Such historical analysis should be pursued along two basic lines or in two conceptual fields. The first one concerns intellectual and conceptual history; the other aims at a micro-historical or micro-sociological analysis of knowledge production and power practices. They include: a) technocratic and expert discourses about the state, its economic role and governance potential, and b) central administrative and local power structures, forms of expert governance, and local management adaptation to the changing socio-political order.