Twentieth Century Technocracy – A Transition Aborted

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This paper is based on a chapter in the recently published Policy Press book edited by Federico Savini and Mike Raco, Planning and Knowledge how new forms of technocracy are shaping contemporary cities. It shows how technocracy began in the early twentieth century as a campaign for the principle of government by experts, linked to Taylorism, scientific management, planning, and the Third Way; and how and why the term lapsed from political vocabulary in its original usage, expressing faith in social transition through science. But then we see it reemerge in the 1960s in critiques of welfare managerialism, implying an improper capture of democratic institutions by unaccountable expertise. In this sense, top-down planning was commonly criticized as 'technocratic', in contrast to an anticipated transition to participatory democracy. The paper ends in the contemporary era of neo-liberalism, when populist free-marketeers have subverted healthy scepticism about the legitimacy of expertise to undermine all capacity for collective action on the most pressing issues of our time. The history of technocracy is also a history of utopian transitions awaited and aborted. In conclusion it’s all the more important to reaffirm the nexus between democracy and science: the modern world needs more, not less, technocracy.
technocracy, applied science, planning history