Assembling Hungarian socialist urban and regional planning in the early post-WWII period

This paper explores the early post-WWII era institutionalization of socialist urban and regional planning, and the uneven relations between the nation-state and the urban scale in Hungary. From the perspective of science and technology studies and the sociology of knowledge, the paper presents archival materials and policy plans to show how a specific “socialist” planning and a new form of expertise, urbanistics was assembled. Drawing on Hecht’s (2011) “technopolitical rupture-talk” as a rhetorical invocation of technology that confines the political economic continuities behind the promotion of a new division of the world, and Lampland’s (2011; 2016) application of this notion on the transition to socialism and the early Cold War in Hungary, the paper aims to highlight the technopolitical lineage of scientific knowledge and state policies of urban and regional planning under the instrumental implementation of the “socialist state”. In contrast to political revisionist narratives that emphasize the rupture of “Sovietization”, the imperialism of the Soviet Union and the essential traits of the “socialist system”, strong state involvement in top-down planning and a technocratic impulse are also evaluated in continuation with 1930s modernism and etatism, post-WWII reconstruction and utopianism, and embedded in the local and transnational discourse and networks of planning experts. Socialist and most postsocialist narratives in the profession emphasize the “voluntarist” planning of 1949–1957 and confine these contexts. Meanwhile they also disregard the “socialist” application of pre-WWII administrative plans on the settlement network, such as by Gyula Prinz, Károly Kogutowicz, Zoltán Magyary, and the research team of István Bibó at the Institute of State Science (1926–1949) between 1945–49, despite that references to “bourgeois” literature were de-emphasized in public discourse. The emergence of Hungarian urbanistics was also part of a general Cold War trend of state policies taken over by the “new builders of the state”: economists, engineers and architects. Hungarian urbanists outpaced economic geographers in institutionalizing urban and regional state planning in 1958, while tensions developed, as the Party needed immediate legitimation from technocrats. However, the “Second World” experiences in statist technopolitical theories, such as central place theory (e.g. Christaller), the rational-mathematical calculation of population sizes and service centres in the settlement network, have been completely left out of mainstream Western academic accounts, while go beyond static preconceptions of “capitalist” and “socialist” systems or the planned “socialist city”, and offer insight into wider Cold War trends, such as the shift from settlement morphology to functionalism.

© Copyright. Do not cite without author’s permission.