Members and their projects


Peter Becker

Professor of Austrian history and history of the 19th and 20th century; Institute of Austrian Historical Research, FHCS, University of Vienna

Decision-making in a Modern State: The Habsburg Monarchy from a comparative perspective

Modern States are deeply invested in economic, social, political, and cultural activities through regulating and licencing, as gate-keeper for access to limited resources, and through adjudication of conflicts between citizens. The expansion of the state since the mid-19th century made an ever increasing number of citizens depend on decisions by state authorities. Decision making is a key function of any organization. The state as organization makes in principle no difference. In practice, state(s) operating under the rule of law have a higher level of formalization as decisions have to be based on legal norms. The application of law involves, however, a high amount of discretion, which has to be controlled in order to guarantee equal treatment for all citizens. Modern states struggled during the 19th and 20th centuries to find theoretical and practical solutions to meet these three requirements: rule based decisions, standardized use of discretion, and all this by a widely dispersed set of decision makers.

The Habsburg monarchy will be the analytical nucleus in this comparative study. Its transformation into a modern state has received highly contradictory assessment, ranging from complete failure to a success story, terminated by the Great War. With a focus on the materiality and technicalities of the state, the transformation into a modern state and the adaptation to its expansion into economy and society can be assessed from a new perspective. To better understand the specific character of the Austrian case, transformation processes in Prussia and England will be used as comparison.

Anna Echterhölter

Professor of Modern History, History of Science; Institute of History, FHCS, University of Vienna

Tokens. A History of Regulation

the modern state relies heavily on planning of resources. The collection of information on crucial monetary metals like copper becomes an early example for inventories on a global scale. From the second half of the 19th century, states are increasingly cooperating with civil society actors to build a knowledge base for operating within the world economy. The efforts to collect reliable data for international mineral resource appraisals will provide a starting point for exploring the dynamics and practices of data collection on a global scale.

Alexa Färber

Professor of Historical Dimensions of Everyday Cultures; Institute of European Ethnography, FHCS, University of Vienna

Accounting for each other: negotiating fiscal responsibility and the public good in the court of audits // Miteinander rechnen müssen: Der Rechnungshof als Aushandlungsort „guten Haushaltens“ und gesellschaftlicher Commons

the ethnographic study of the Austrian Court of Audit will reflect on the ways in which modern forms of management consultancy are embedded within the traditional structure of auditing of the management of public funds by a collegial body. In addition to this interest in the integration of new methods of assessment into established procedural routines, this research will reconstruct the ways in which changing rationales of assessment and normative expectations about the performance of institutions are linked to public debates about public goods and „good budgeting“.

Sebastian Felten

Postdoc, History of Science; Institute of History, FHCS, University of Vienna

Mining Knowledge in Early Modern Saxony, 1450-1850

the modern state develops its institutions partly through mining industries. In the 18th century the Saxon silver mining centers were labor-intensive, capital-hungry, and barely profitable. The mining business depended on fraught distributed cognition between investors, administrators, and academics. The explosion of formal rules during early modern state-building posed new challenges to the judgement of bureaucrats, calling for minds that were both streamlined and nimble. They called for a bureaucratic persona equipped to make abstract plans work on the ground.

Anton Tantner

‘Privatdozent’; Institute of History, FHCS, University of Vienna

Die Kulturtechnik der Nummerierung / The cultural technique of numbering

The little tools deployed by state agencies to collect, process, and manage information are not the exclusive property of these agencies. Technologies used by the state are often developed outside of it. It is worth reflecting on the question, in which ways the integration of technologies from the outside affects the working of the state. Considering the crucial relevance of data and knowledge for the modern state, the use of reference instruments has been of utmost importance. Situating the use of reference numbers within the general practice of numbering will highlight this aspect.

Borbála Zsuzsanna Török

Postdoc; Institute of Austrian Historical Research, FHCS, University of Vienna

Legal Knowledge and Uses of Justice in Austria-Hungary and the Successor States

The modern state requires reliable data about its own performance. This second degree observation emerges within the legal domain. The normative foundations of the legal system both in its material and procedural aspects have been codified comparatively early. On this basis the observation of the performance of the local courts have been read as an indicator of the locally and regionally specific working of the legal system as well as an evidence of criminal behavior and civil law activities. The historical study of legal statistics around 1900 from a comparative perspective will offer important insights into contemporary expectations of and reflections on the collection of information, the standardization of this procedure, and the liability of the data.

Anna Weichselbraun

Postdoc, Historical Dimensions of Everyday Cultures; Institute of European Ethnography, FHCS, University of Vienna

Technologies of Trust: fantasies of blockchain governance

The legitimacy of the data collected by the state and transformed into knowledge for its use derives from the perceived legitimacy of the state. While the state’s institutional processes have long enjoyed the authority of bureaucratic objectivity, growing mistrust in state structures and processes has raised the appeal of non-bureaucratic technological solutions to the problem of trustworthy and legitimate information. Today distributed ledger technologies such as Blockchain promise the verifiability of information without recourse to centralized institutions and their corruptible practices. The Austrian state’s enthusiasm for so-called trustless technologies such as Blockchain stands in tension to fundamental assumptions about the state and its legitimacy as derived from bureaucratic practices supported by little tools.