Conference: Technological Innovation and the Spread of Globalization in the Cold War

Christoph Strobel's picture

Posting this on behalf of Peter Svik:


Technological Innovation and the Spread of Globalization in the 
Cold War

In 1951, in an article entitled “Culture Theory and Industrial 
Analysis”, the American sociologist Paul Meadows pointed out that “with 
the advent of industrial technology… a new culture system has evolved in 
one national society after another [and] its global spread is incipient 
and cuts across every local ethos.” Quintessentially rationalist and 
econometric in its essence, this new industrialist culture rests on 
routinization, mechanization and serialization of skills and techniques 
“once used for the fortuitous fashioning of implements and weapons”, 
Meadows went on.

This being the first academic article to use the term globalization in 
its present-day meaning, its key thesis can be distilled into the 
following argument: while globalization presents a specific stage in the 
historical development of industrialism, the growth of these two 
processes has been initiated and stimulated by the new technological 
inventions which eventually resulted from a (military) competition 
between various nations or political ideologies.

A similar conclusion can, for example, be drawn from Odd Arne Westad’s 
seminal work The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the 
Making of Our Times in which the Cold War was interpreted as a clash of 
two hegemonic ideologies. Both the US and the USSR struggled to gain an 
upper hand in application of newest technologies and in attaining the 
political backing from the countries of the so-called Third World. 
However, we still know very little on how East-West technological 
competition fostered the processes of globalization or how technology 
transfers contributed to the creation of interconnected structures 
between the two hostile blocs and how such structures, in turn, may have 
facilitated the world-wide technological unification and 

To address this glaring lacuna in research, an international conference 
will be held in Vienna on October 12-13, 2018 and its keynote lecture 
will be delivered by Prof. Odd Arne Westad, the S. T. Lee Professor of 
US-Asia Relations at Harvard University. The conference, organized by 
Prof. Wolfgang Mueller and Dr. Peter Svik of  the Department of Eastern 
European History of the University of Vienna, centers (albeit not 
exclusively) on following research themes and research questions:

•       Technological development and the globalization of Cold War 
ideologies: How did the influx of new technologies (aviation, nuclear 
energy and computation technologies) influence and shape ideologies, 
geopolitical strategies and policies followed by the key actors? Did the 
threat of mutual nuclear annihilation or increased air travel since late 
1960s inspire the rise of internationalism, environmentalism and other 
trans-national ideologies? How did these and similar factors influence 
the growth of global awareness and identities over the world and across 
local cultures?
•       Actors and agency:  Did East-West competition in providing economic 
development programs to the developing countries increase globalization 
and if so, how and in which ways? Who were the key actors in promoting 
globalization? To what extent was their policy-making inspired by the 
Cold War ideologies, by belief in technocratic internationalism or by 
more practical considerations such a public safety or elimination of 
pollution? What role did international organizations such as various 
United Nations bodies play in the rise of globalization and East-West 
•       Cold War technologies and globalization: In what ways did East-West 
technological competition stimulate globalization? What role did the 
military sector play in this process? How did new military technologies, 
or technologies originally developed for military sector stimulate 
globalization? And would today’s globalization be conceivable without 
the strong initial interference from the military and public sectors, 
both in the West and the East, taking into account the tremendous 
expenses for various aerospace, communication and computer development 
•       Technology transfers: How did the adoption of global international 
norms and standards influence the transfers of technology and the rise 
of the East-West technological inter-connectedness? Did common norms 
directly instigate the process or was their contribution more modest and 
were other factors of technological and economic nature of equal or even 
greater importance?
•       The impact of transfers on the Eastern bloc and post-Cold War 
transformation: How did Soviet bloc countries use the technologies 
imported from Western countries? Were they employed for their original 
purpose or were they adapted for a different use than originally 
intended? Was it the transformation from industrial to information 
economies, mainly driven by increased global mobility of goods and 
people, where the Soviet bloc missed the train? To what extent did 
technological and infrastructural interconnectedness enable a swift 
transformation from communist to capitalist economies in Central 
European countries?

Although all proposals for case studies are welcome, we particularly 
appreciate proposals taking a comparative, transnational or systemic 
perspective as well as those approaching the subject from 
multi-/trans-disciplinary positions.  Proposals accompanied by brief 
CVs, both no longer than 300 words, should be delivered to by April 15, 2018. Selected participants will be 
notified by April 30, 2018.

The organizers are endeavoring to find third-party funding to cover (or 
refund) travel costs, but do encourage applicants to secure their own 
funding if any such available. The selected participants will be 
informed in due time on available options.