HY4A6      Half Unit
Technocracy, Social Engineering and Politics in the Era of the World Wars, 1914-1945

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Professor Alexander Nützenadel


This course is available on the MA in Asian and International History (LSE and NUS), MA in Modern History, MSc in Empires, Colonialism and Globalisation, MSc in History of International Relations, MSc in International Affairs (LSE and Peking University), MSc in International and Asian History, MSc in International and World History (LSE & Columbia) and MSc in Theory and History of International Relations. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

This course explores the relation of technocracy, social engineering and politics in the period of the two world wars. Industrial warfare, social conflicts and economic instability led to scientists and technical experts gaining a strong political influence. The emergence of technocracy, however, meant more than finding ‘technical’ solutions to social and economic problems. It was linked to the fundamental crisis of parliamentary democracy and the appearance of authoritarian movements. Both fascist and socialist regimes adopted technocratic concepts in order to improve economic efficiency and to control social conflicts. However, during the Great Depression, technocratic movements also gained ground in democratic societies, in particular in the United States during the ‘New Deal’. This course combines methods of comparative and transnational history. While technocracy was linked to the nation state and often went hand in hand with concepts of economic autarchy, there were strong transnational trends and cross-border transfers as well. Moreover, we will view this topic through the perspectives of various historical sub-disciplines (including political history, economic and social history, history of science and technology). The seminar will also discuss the legacies of technocracy and its revival in recent political debates and practices.


20 hours of seminars in the MT.

There will be a reading week in week 6 of the Michaelmas Term.

The School aims to run in-person seminars, subject to circumstances, with some online provision as and where necessary.

Formative coursework

One essay (2000-2500 words) in the Michaelmas Term.

Indicative reading

  • William E. Akin, Technocracy and the American Dream: The Technocrat Movement, 1900–1941, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977
  • Patricia Clavin, Securing the world economy: the reinvention of the League of Nations 1920–1946, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2013.
  • Sabine Clarke, “A Technocratic Imperial State? The Colonial Office and Scientific Research, 1940-1960”, in Twentieth Century British History, vol. 18, no. 4, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007, pp. 453-80.
  • Antonio Costa Pinto, “Fascism, Corporatism and the Crafting of Authoritarian Institutions in Inter-War European Dictatorships”, in Rethinking Fascism and Dictatorship in Europe, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, pp. 87-119.
  • John Guse, Nazi Technical Thought Revisited, in History and Technology, vol. 26, 2010, pp. 3-38
  • Jeffrey Herf, “The Engineer as Ideologue: Reactionary Modernists in Weimar and Nazi Germany”, in Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 19, no. 4, 1984, pp. 631-648
  • Janis Mimura, Planning for Empire: Reform Bureaucrats and the Japanese Wartime State, Ithaka, NY: Cornell University Press, 2016
  • Kiran Patel, The New Deal: A Global History, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016
  • Don K. Rowney, Transition to technocracy. The structural origins of the Soviet administrative state, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989


Essay (100%, 5000 words) in January.

The summative essay will be submitted in week 0 of the Lent Term.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2020/21: Unavailable

Average class size 2020/21: Unavailable

Controlled access 2020/21: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills