Cold War Social Sciences Beyond Academia: The Case of Radio Free Europe As a Social-Scientific Research Institution

Friday, 20 July 2018: 15:30
Oral Presentation
Simon OTTERSBACH, International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture Giessen, Germany
In this paper, I will argue that extending the historiographical research agenda on producers of “Cold War Knowledge” to media institutions such as Radio Free Europe (RFE) will lead to a more complex and nuanced picture of Cold War Social Sciences.

Studies in this field have mostly focused on US academic actors such as Harvard’s Russian Research Center, but often neglected the crucial role of non-academic actors in the transnational construction and circulation of social-scientific “Cold War Knowledge.” This is especially true for the field of Eastern European area studies which – next to Sovietology – quickly rose to prominence in early US Cold War academia and substantially shaped the bipolar rhetoric of the Cold War. Here, also media institutions played a major part.

The Soviet Satellites were quickly identified as focal points of Cold War psychological warfare, as embodied most prominently by RFE. Trying to win over the “hearts and minds” of the people, RFE provided in six languages full “surrogate radio” programs that sought to establish free access to information and open a marketplace of pluralistic opinions in the East European ether. To underpin the program contents, RFE established its own, multi-national Research and Analysis Department where up to 100 researchers with diverse social and national backgrounds conducted academic-style research on the target areas. Thus, RFE developed into a major Western social-scientific research institution on Eastern Europe, highly esteemed e.g. by scholars, intelligence services, or media practitioners despite its more or less covert CIA-ties.

As this research was also made available to such external recipients and thus found global circulation, RFE as a media institution became a major contributor to academic East European area studies. Hence, RFE serves as a prime example for the potentials of widening our historicization of Cold War Social Sciences beyond the academic realm.