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A struggle for the Soviet future: the birth of scientific forecasting in the Soviet Union

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This paper argues for the importance of Soviet forecasting and scientific future studies in shaping Soviet governmentalities in the post-Stalinist period. The de-Stalinization of Soviet governance not only involved the abolition of Iosif Stalin’s personality cult but also led to wider intellectual changes in conceptions of the nature, possibilities, and tasks of governance. Some of these changes, such as the impact of cybernetics after its rehabilitation in 1956, have been explored by historians of science and technology. However, although cybernetic control is based on prediction and therefore principally oriented toward the future, a new branch of scientific governance, scientific forecasting, has been overlooked, despite its transformative role as an applied policy science. Scientific forecasting sought to generate knowledge about the future states of the Soviet economy and society, becoming a field of reform, innovation, and power struggle, one that needs to be rediscovered by scholars. This paper (recently published in Slavic Review) lays the groundwork for such rediscovery, outlining a brief history of Soviet scientific forecasting and drawing out its relation to east-west intellectual and governmental interaction.

This talk is part of the Twentieth Century Think Tank series.

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