About this Project

When do cities act on challenges of their time? As cities are again at the front lines of such social issues as public health and climate change, this pressing question defies answers tied to a single discipline.

This project turns to Fin de Siècle Vienna for insight. Vienna’s dramatic growth at the turn of the twentieth century provides a counterpoint to theories that suggest that thriving economies, progressive movements, and the reproduction of rational bureaucracy give rise to city administration. The expansion of Vienna’s administration followed on a collapse of mid-nineteenth-century economy and coincided with the rise of the Christian Social movement that allowed an anti-Semitic populist to take the reins amid “political and cultural chaos.” The formation of what was to become a behemoth of social welfare—under the auspices of a politically unimaginative government—highlights the interplay between social and humanistic change in literature, art, and philosophy.

Our project puts scholars of bureaucracy, organizational emergence, and urban politics into a conversation about the formation of a city administration in turbulent times. To catalyze this conversation, the research team will examine the growth of the city from the viewpoint of the city itself. Computational text analysis of administrative literature creates a new opportunity to trace the formation of a city as it evolves from imperial agent to modern principal. This project has a notable social scientific significance. Yet bureaucratic change cannot be separated from the cultural history that challenged liberal ideology in Fin de Siècle Vienna, just like the rediscovery of cities today cannot be disentangled from the illiberal turn of the twenty-first century.

IMAGE: Vienna City Hall circa 1885. Via Wikimedia Commons.

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