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CREES Noon Lecture. “The Value of Labor, the Science of Commodification, or ‘How Did the Work Unit Get Made?’”

Wednesday, October 14, 2015
12:00 AM
1636 International Institute/SSWB, 1080 S. University

In 1949, the Communist Party of Hungary set itself the task of designing scientific wages, demonstrating the superiority of socialism over capitalist cronyism and exploitation at work. Within six weeks bureaucrats at the Ministry of Agriculture had worked up an entire matrix of labor value to assess and reward work at cooperative farms. Long assumed to have been adopted from the Soviet kolhoz, the work unit was in fact based on several decades of agrarian work science that was primarily influenced by German firm studies (Betriebswirtschaft). The paper describes the birth and baby steps of the humble work unit: its initial articulation in agrarian firm studies during the interwar period, its adoption by socialist bureaucrats, and its fraught implementation in cooperative farming in the early 1950s.

Martha Lampland is associate professor of sociology and faculty director of Science Studies at the University of California, San Diego. She received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Chicago in 1987. She has been a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; a Fulbright Teaching Fellow at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest; and a research fellow at the Humanities Research Institute at the University of California, Irvine. Professor Lampland served as managing editor of the Journal of Historical Sociology (1996-2002). Professor Lampland has published and co-edited several books: The Object of Labor. Commodification in Socialist Hungary (University of Chicago Press, 1995); Altering States. Ethnographies of the Transition in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union, co-edited with Daphne Berdahl and Matti Bunzl (University of Michigan Press, 2000); and Standards and their Stories. How Quantifying, Classifying and Formalizing Practices Shape Everyday Life, co-edited with Susan Leigh Star (Cornell University Press, 2009). Her most recent book, The Value of Labor. The Science of Commodification, is forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press. Lampland has also published articles on a range of topics in Hungarian history and society: labor, gender, instinct and class, state formation, decollectivization, jokes, state planning, and the pragmatics of numbers.

Part of the CREES-sponsored series, Buying and Selling, States and Markets, which focuses on various aspects of economies in Russia, Eastern Europe, and Eurasia. How did socialist regimes theorize money, consumption, wages, and pricing? How did markets during state socialism actually work, and what is their legacy in contemporary times? What are the social roles of commodities and economic transactions today?

Sponsors: CREES, CES

Martha Lampland, associate professor of sociology, University of California, San Diego