Roman N. Abramov

HSE, Moscow, Russia

Articles. Research
This paper focuses on the labor practices of Soviet engineers in the period between the 1960s through the 1980s, with an emphasis on problems, challenges, and tensions arising in their everyday work. The analysis is based on a range of oral history sources, including published memoirs of Soviet engineers, journal articles, social media posts, and interviews. The first part of the paper gives an overview of existing research on late Soviet engineering in sociology, history, and anthropology. The paper then proceeds with a brief overview of late Soviet science and technology policy, and the system of R&D management, looking at the forms of bureaucratic mobilization and attempts at decentralization of the governance of science and technology. A special emphasis is put on the difficulties of creative selfrealization of late Soviet engineers. On the one hand, inventive activity was actively encouraged and facilitated through a network of institutions for expert and informational support for new technical inventions. On the other hand, a high degree of bureaucratization, low speed of implementation of technical innovations, and the overall orientation towards imitating Western technology in several industries undermined the motivation for technical creativity. Soviet engineers’ labor was organized through a system of centralized planning and managerial techniques such as network planning and PERT systems. At the same time, it was accompanied by a mobilizational rhetoric that appealed to the imperatives of plan overfulfillment and increased the pressure on the engineering labor. To analyze this contradiction, the paper draws on the theory of Boltanski and ThĂ©venot. Overall, the paper contributes to the social history of late Soviet engineering intelligentsia, offering a synoptic view on the various aspects of its everyday life, from the culture of technical invention to the organization of the labor process.
Keywords: engineers, engineering and technology policy, labor organization, inventive activity, creativity, PERT