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Making and Becoming "New (Wo)Men": Rationalisation, Subjectification, and Materiality in the Industrial Town of Zlín, 1920–1950

Making and Becoming "New (Wo)Men" enquires into the history of social experiments in industrial capitalism. It studies private-industry planning, subjective appropriation and urban materiality in the Czechoslovak industrial town of Zlín and the shoe company Bat’a. The project analyses the history of Zlín as a factory town from the establishment of an independent Czechoslovak state after the First World War to early state socialism (1920–1950), i.e. it includes the consecutive economic and political ruptures.

With a focus on disciplinary action towards workers and clerks in the Bat’a company the project raises the question, how the rationalisation of production extended towards workers and how these workers should be made "new (wo)men". Furthermore, the project studies the working people as subjects and carves out, how these individuals appropriated the social experiment, expressed their Eigen-Sinn and became "new (wo)men" or avoided any appropriation. Finally, the project analyses the material and social infrastructure of Zlín that became both a product and a tool of social planning and fostered the dynamics of discipline and appropriation. The analysis of a private-industry experiment in social engineering introduces Czechoslovakia to a broader European history of industrial and radical social planning in the first half of the twentieth century.
The project is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) from 2020 to 2023.