Expertise shapes modern forms of governance. Yet, we know significantly more about the postwar Western expertise than we know about the other side of the Iron Curtain. ExpertTurn will put expertise center stage and analyze socialist countries.

Focusing on health and normalcy as discussed by the human sciences, we will study the negotiation of knowledge, analyzing how experts communicated with: other experts, the state and ordinary people in four neighboring countries: Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary and East Germany.

While these countries shared the socialist path, they diverged in expertise institutionalization. Our research stems from a post-totalitarian paradigm that refuses to perceive the state-socialist past as a monolith.

Further, in contrast to prevailing views that communist ideology commanded human scientists and tainted their findings, our hypothesis is that it was expertise that shaped the ideas of health and normalcy that socialist governments subsequently implemented. Making this “expert turn” will bring a novel understanding of governance in modern, yet authoritarian societies.

Research aim and objectives

ExpertTurn will explain the character of governance and the construction of health and normalcy through human-science expertise during state socialism in East-Central Europe. It will analyze the role expertise played and the ways it intersected with the Party and the state. We can gain new knowledge if we look at previously understudied phenomena:

1) human-science expertise during state socialism: such as psychology, sociology, demography, medicine

2) gendered ideas about health and normalcy: particularly visible on the examples of mothers and children, i.e. maternal health, contraception and abortion, normal emotional development of children, youth delinquency, attitudes of young people toward family life and work ethics

3) comparative analysis of East-Central Europe: Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, and East Germany, paying attention to transnational expert exchanges, both cross-border and via agencies such as the United Nations

Doing so, we will gain a new understanding of the recent past during which alternative modernity was attempted via expertise. We will ask the following research questions (RQs):

Main RQ: How did expertise in the human sciences construct the gendered ideas of health and normalcy during the state-socialist period in East-Central Europe?

We will seek answers to the following sub-questions:
RQ1: How did these constructs change over time?
RQ2: How did expertise intersect with the state and the Party?
RQ3: What kinds of expertise played a decisive role at different points in time?
RQ4: How did expertise travel across national borders?

In contrast to prevailing explanations of socialist science as a product of communist ideology, the hypothesis of this project is that expertise shaped the ideas of health and normalcy that socialist governments subsequently implemented.