The State Multiple I: Bureaucracy, Politics, and Accounting (2019)

This new research group came together in 2019 to investigate the paper tools and technological infrastructures of modern forms of governance. Many of these seem to be related to early types of data collection, statistics and numerical systems of addressability. Focusing mainly on the Austrian state and its manifold transformations between the 18th and the 21st century, we are dealing with constellations that allow significant contributions to theoretical as well as methodological debates on modern multinational regimes. The rapidly increasing scholarship on state formation, diasporas and administrative practices – on the level of modern states, empires or international organizations – is characterized by specialist discussions in various disciplines. We will identify the most promising overlaps of these burgeoning research fields for subsequent research proposals, and make contacts with prospective international partners in research fields such as the history and anthropology of administration, history of statistics, history of big data, legal pluralism, standardization, new intellectual history, accounting/valuation studies and the sociology of calculative practices.


The State Multiple II:  Practices, Resources and Sites of Planning (2020)

The term 2020 is dedicated to the question of how practices of planning contribute to the multiplication of the state. Planning as a research perspective recasts the initial questions of the state in the light of maintenance and care. These responsibilities of large administrations are still crucial to interrogate the multiple modes of existence of “the state” beyond bounded conceptions. Whereas planning with respect to resources and populations is exercised through bureaucracy, administration and accounting, it is not confined solely to these fields. Practices of planning as a research perspective allow us to re-investigate these initial fields of our research projects.

Practices: As in the discussions last term (2019), we do not look at idealized Weberian notions of bureaucracy, but at the mangle of practice. We do not depart from accomplished statistics, but at the moment of data production, when the state sends enumerators to the doorstep. We look critically at public administrations embarking on the triumphant road of international standardization and professional data management, while asking about the actual social costs and benefits of these measures. And we are not only interested in the existence of numbering systems, but especially so if they leave their marks outside of the ledgers of the state: on houses, cars, land registers, and the backside of artworks in museum signatures.

Comprehensive plans and unintended circumstances: Plans rationalize, model, and project a governable future. They often trigger unintended circumstances and can therefore be understood - and studied - as “elusive promises” (Abram/Weszkalnys 2016). Yet plans are an undeniable element of communal lives. Today, debates in urban studies refer to studies on the practices, temporalities and modalities of urban planning (Lange/Muller 2016, sub/urban 2017) and put forward that planning not only engages with a multispecies environment but also emerges from distributed agencies (Kurath et al 2018). At the beginning of the 20th century social engineering resonated throughout Europe. Experts put their trust in technocratic modernization (Etzemuller 2009, Hirdmann 1997). The same phenomenon was described from a more technical vantage point by studies in infrastructure (“Tensions of Europe'', Heymann 2019). The “momentum” of these large technological systems is frequently made responsible for an overpowering of other concerns, however ardently raised by environmentalism (Hughes 1989, Güttler 2018). Planning thus has technocratic and technical sides. But it is undoubtedly bureaucratic. In the long perspective the emergence of centralized administrations is described as an attempt to plan for a certain resource. From the early states with their concern for water management, to the significance of mining in the Early Modern period, and the fiscal-military state which sought to know their citizens (soldiers) and sources of revenue (taxes) this development happens in waves. There is a palpable coevolution of states, resource statistics, and centralized bureaucratic practices: The history of census taking (Tantner 2007, Bruckweh 2015, Bouk 2018), the history of statistics (Desrosiers 2011, Behrisch 2016), new deal statistics (Poppendieck 1980, Didier 2020), and the practices of data management (Aronova, von Oertzen, Sepkoski 2017) all testify to this predilection of bureaucracies for numbers and data. But in which circumstances and by whom is this information transferred to a plan? How do plans change when they are transposed from local attempts to remedy a crisis to state level? In what circumstances does participatory planning emerge? Investigating the practices of planning sheds light on the imponderables, multiple requirements and obligations, and unintended effects of a ubiquitous practice.

Three integrating concepts into a research perspective on planning have emerged from previous discussions and activities:

Trust and Promise: Trust is an intended by product of centralised planning. At the same time it emerges from promises that create rather loose but nevertheless productive social relations. These localised and historically grown premises are challenged by new technologies such as Blockchain where trust is at the centre of problematization (project Weichselbraun) and is brought into play here in comparison with established, including state control technologies.Trust in the form of "comfort" is also a central concern in the control work of Supreme Audit Institutions in order to successfully implement everyday audit situations (project Farber). The establishment of an urban order system such as house numbering (project Tantner) also reflects a close connection between control and trust (in numbers). The conceptual value of "trust" and “promise” directs the perspective of planning with respect to new technologies, reliable budget management, the organization of urban society and problematizes the multiplication of the state in terms of intensity and temporality.

Decision and Rules: Administrative practices refer directly to the artefacts, utopias and pragmatics of public concerns. Yet Prussia and Habsburg bureaucrats develop distinctly different routines of planning and decision making (project Becker). To enhance this already comparative perspective further, the information management of the Ottoman empire was included (project Kose). We ask for the first time how bureaucratic forms were used and which types of handwriting and printing were typical in Ottoman administration and knowledge management. For the development of juridical statistics, the perspective of practices of planning helps to raise the question to which uses these numbers were put to. Which decisions are ultimately brought about by juridical quantification (if at all) and what unintended consequences do they enhance in different contexts of the late Habsburg Monarchy (project Torok)? To what extent are various regimes of planning able to correct themselves/learn, guided by what (political, technological, etc.) considerations? In the context of planning as a research perspective, the focus on decisions and rules enables us to emphasize the temporality of planning - and thus of bureaucracy and administration.

Resources and Regulation: The environmental perspective of multispecies resource calculation surfaced as a concern for bureaucracies, which are primarily geared at the maintenance of core functions of societies. Therefore, we invited a project on economic planning and ship insurance (project Wolf) and an environmental history of the Ottoman Empire (project Inal). This is a counter post to the research on the Saxon mining state and its resource extraction, which developed the notion of sustainability in a particular historical meaning of the mid 18th century (project Felten). While all projects do hinge on regulation in some way, it is a topic by itself in the last contribution: The regulation of tokens and sub-monetary instruments in the 19th century, which opened or closed opportunities for resource management (project Echterholter).