A short summary of my PhD project

My doctoral research project is about the geographies of the so-called ‘quantitative revolution’. I am interested in the circulation of knowledge produced in the emerging global centre(s), to provide a sort of overview of the ways neopositivism and mathematical spatial planning theories were brought in (or back) and adapted in different European contexts. Although their application in e.g. ‘Thirld World’ countries is also interesting, I find the case of semi-peripheral countries the most intriguing.

In the Hungarian case, the adaptation process should be understood in the context of a reformist movement in economic policy that also affected spatial planning. This was closely linked to the integration to the capitalist world economy under an upturn in global economic cycles, which surfaced in what I call a ‘technocratic turn’ in knowledge production from the 1960s. I think this is well exemplified by shifting discourse, as they called the new semi-capitalistic reforms ‘The New Mechanism’, which is a machinic term. World economic integration went hand-in-hand with the dissemination of formal-mathematical technocratic thinking (‘efficiency’, ‘rational’, etc.). This was also in tune with the Soviet Union’s transfer of quantitative-statistical planning theories from the West, thus  the canonical works of US quantitative geographers were translated into Russian. I am interested in the reception of these (‘Western’) theories by Hungarian spatial planning: how and why these got here?

Why is this socialist context important in understanding postsocialism? In the case of human geography, these developments determined the directions and intellectual agendas of postsocialist knowledge production. For example, regional science was institutionalized by technocrats formerly working in the National Planning Office partly in the 1980s and fully in the second part of the 1990s. In consequence, our department(s) still specializes in positivistic quantitative analysis, which determined my own intellectual opportunities as a university student. E.g. the “new approaches in geography” class was dubiously filled previously with chatting about 1970s planning literature. I am also interested in this because – following Judit Timár – I want to see why and to what extent Hungarian geography did not develop critical theories, so this connects to the historical question of the possibilities of creating critical knowledge and doing critical geography in Hungary. I think our position of doing so should be considered in the context of semi-peripheral knowledge production.

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