Interwar Romania and the Greening of the Iron Cage: The Biopolitics of Dimitrie Gusti, Virgil Madgearu, Mihail Manoilescu, and Ştefan Zeletin

Ion Matei Costinescu


This study examines the reconfiguration of the colonial matrix of power along biopolitical lines in interwar Romania. I reconstruct a shifting field of human sciences and governmentality whose cognitive interest resided in identifying the proper template for national subject-making and social modernization. This undertaking was predicated on diagnosing economic, political, and cultural blockages hindering the transformation of Romanian peasants into active political subjects. Building human capacity in the full, renewable, and open-ended sense implied by the term “bios” was seen as essential to overcoming what world-systems scholars would later characterize as conditions of dependency. But the empowerment/ knowledge inherent in the biopoliticization of national development was simultaneously circumscribed and enabled by its transformation into power/knowledge mechanisms. I thus show the strong linkages between economics, sociology, and biopolitical theorizing during that era. Drawing on Weberian notions of the iron cage, Foucauldian approaches, decolonial thought, and the concept of alternative modernities, I examine several important projects of national development. These are exemplified by Dimitrie Gusti, Virgil Madgearu, Mihail Manoilescu, and Ştefan Zeletin. Said projects were based on analyses that reveal how Romania’s domestic status quo, peripheral characteristics, and role in the international political economy were conceptualized at the time. Furthermore, the biopolitical visions and alternative modernity programs advanced by these thinkers were imagined as upgraded variations of the Weberian iron cage. These variants were geared towards creating subjects capable of reproducing their distinctive internal economic, social, and political logics. In this way, these competing modernity projects, which were connected with well-defined organizational actors, helped crystallize the broader interwar colonial matrix within Romania.


interwar Romania, coloniality, biopolitics, nation-building, modernization

Full Text:



Agamben, Giorgio. 1998. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Translated by Daniel Hellen-Roazen. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.

Asociaţia pentru Studiul şi reforma socială (ASPRS). 1919. Arhiva Pentru Ştiinţa Şi Reforma Socială I (1): 289.

Berend, Ivan T. Decades of Crisis: Central and Eastern Europe Before World War II . Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Ban, Cornel. 2014. Dependenţă şi dezvoltare. Economia politică a capitalismului românesc. Cluj-Napoca: Editura Tact.

Bădescu, Ilie. “Şcoala Gusti: universalitatea paradigmei gustiene a sociologiei rurale.” Pp. 55-61 in Tratat de sociologie rurală, coordinated by Ilie Bădescu, Ozana Cucu-Oancea, and

Gheorghe Şişeştean. Bucureşti: Editura Mica Valahie, 2009.

Berman, Morris. 1989. The Reenchantment of the World. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Boatcă, Manuela. 2006. “Semiperipheries in the World-System: Reflecting Eastern European and Latin American Experiences.” Journal of World-Systems Research XII (II): 321-346.

_________. 2007. “The Eastern margins of empire: coloniality in 19th century Romania.”

Cultural Studies 21(2 -3): 368 -384.

Bucur, Maria. 2002. Eugenics and Modernization in Interwar Romania. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Butoi, Ionuţ. 2011. The Interwar Romanian Village, a ‘Terra Incognita’,” ACUM 5 (1): 27-46. Accessed on May 10, 2016 (


Chirot, Daniel. 1976. Social Change in a Peripheral Society: The Creation of a Balkan Colony. New York: Academic Press.

Chirot, Daniel, ed. 1989. The Origins of Backwardness in Eastern Europe, Economics and Politics from the Middle Ages until the Early Twentieth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press


Eisenstadt, Shmuel. 2000. “Multiple Modernities.” Daedalus 129(1): 1-29.

________. 2010. “Modernity and modernization”. Sociopedia.isa. Accessed on March 6,2016 ( resources/pdf/Modernity.pdf).

Foucault, Michel. “Governmentality.” Pp. 87-104 in The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality, edited by Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon, and Peter Miller. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

________. 2008. The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978–1979. Edited by Michel Senellart, translated by Graham Burchell. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Georgescu, Tudor. 2016. The Eugenic Fortress: The Transylvanian Saxon Experiment in Interwar Romania. Budapest: CEU Press.

Golopenţia, Anton. 1938. “Rolul Ştiinţelor Sociale În Noua Tehnică Administrativă”. Sociologie Romȃnească III (4-6): 246-248.

________. 2002. “Rostul Actual al Sociologiei.” Pp.68-81 in Anton Golopenţia – Opere

Complete, Vol. I. Sociologie, edited by Sanda Golopenţia. Bucureşti: Editura Enciclopedică.

Golopenţia, Sanda. 2014. “Şcoala sociologică de la Bucureşti între apogeu şi suprimare,” Revista Transilvania, no. 1: 1-12.

Griffin, Roger. 1991. The Nature of Fascism .New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Gusti, Dimitrie. 1937a. “Paralelismul Sociologic,” Sociologie Românească II (9-10): 370-385.

_________. 1937b. “Ştiinţa Naţiunii.” Sociologie Românească II (1-2): 49-59.

_________. 1942. “Ştiinţa şi Pedagogia Naţiunii,” Sociologie Românească IV (11-12): 359-374.

_________. 1979. Opere – Vol. III. Edited by Ovidu Bădina and Octavian Neamţu. Bucureşti: Academia RSR.

Hunyadi, Attila Gábor. 2012. “National Economic Self-Organization Models in Transylvania.” Pp. 27-59 in State and Minority in Transylvania, 1918-1989. Studies on the History of the

Hungarian Community, edited by Attila Gábor Hunyadi, translated by M. Caples .New York: Columbia University Press.

Janos, Andrew. 1978. “Modernization and Decay in Historical Perspective: The Case of Romania.” Pp. 72-116 in Social Change in Romania, 1860-1940, edited by Kenneth Jowitt. Berkeley: Institute of International Studies.

________. 2000. East Central Europe in the Modern World: The Politics of the Borderlands from Pre- to Post-Communism. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Jowitt, Kenneth. “Sociocultural Bases of National Dependency.” Pp. 1-30 in Social Change in Romania, 1860-1940.

Juravle, Alina. 2014. “Henri H. Stahl şi obştile agricole – pagini puţin cunoscute ale istoriei sociologiei Româneşti,” Sociologie Românească XII (1-2): 39-56.

Kalberg, Stephen. “The Modern World as a Monolithic Iron Cage? Utilizing Max Weber to Define the Internal Dynamics of the American Political Culture Today.” Max Weber Studies. 1(2): 178-195.

Larionescu, Maria. 2013. “Economia Socială şi Cooperaţia în România. O Perspectivă Istorică Comparată,” Revista Calitatea Vieţii XXIV: (2): 109-136.

Madgearu Virgil. 1924. “Doctrina Ţărănistă,” Pp. 65-8 in Doctrinele Partidelor Politice. 19 Prelegeri Publice Organizate De Institutul Social Român, compiled by Institutul Social Român. Bucureşti: Tiparul Cultura Naţională.

_________. 1936. Agrarianism, Capitalism, Imperialism. Contribuţii La Studiul Evoluţiei Sociale Româneşti. Bucureşti: Editura Economistul.

_________. 1940. Evoluţia Economiei Româneşti După Războiul Mondial. Bucureşti: Editura Independenţa Economică.

Manoilescu, Mihail. 1922. Ţărănism şi Democraţie. Bucureşti: Atelierele “Poporul”.

_________. 1924. “Neoliberalismul.” Pp. 141-162 in Doctrinele Partidelor Politice

_________. 1934. Filozofia şi Doctrina Corporatistă. Bucureşti: Tipografia ziarului Universul.

_________. 1936. “Partidul Unic,” Lumea Nouă 5 (7): 319-323.

_________. 1937a. “Partidul Unic – Instituţia politică a regimurilor noi. (Bucureşti: Editura Cartea Românească.

_________. 1937b. “Doctrinele Şi Teoriile Noastre În Lumina Criticei (Răspuns D-lui Prof. Gh. Taşcă),” Analele Eonomice Şi Statistice 20 (3-5): 26-92.

_________. 1938a. Încercări În Filosofia Ştiinţelor Economice. Prelegeri Anuale De Deschidere A Cursului De Economie La Şcoala Politehnică Din Bucureşti . Bucureşti: Imprimeria Naţională.

_________. 1938b. “Lupta între două veacuri. Un ultim răspuns D-lui George Taşcă,” Analele Economice Şi Statistice XXI (4-6):11-101

Marx, Karl. 1978. “Manifesto of the Communist Party.” Pp. 469-500 in The Marx Engels – Reader, edited by Robert C. Tucker. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1978.

_______. 1976. Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. 1. Translated by Ben Fowkes. London: Penguin Classics.

Momoc, Antonio. 2012. Capcanele politice ale sociologiei interbelice. Şcoala gustiană între carlism şi legionarism . Bucureşti: Editura Curtea Veche.

Mignolo, Walter D. 2000. Local Histories Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Mignolo, Walter D. and Madina V. Tlostanova. 2009. “Global Coloniality and the Decolonial Option”. Kult 6 (Special Issue): 130-147.

Mungiu-Pippidi, Alina. 2007. “Hijacked Modernization: Romanian Political Culture in the Twentieth Century,” Southeast Europe. Journal of Politics and Society 55(1): 118-144.

Murgescu, Bogdan. 2010. Romȃnia Şi Europa. Acumularea decalajelor economice (1500-2010).Iaşi: Editura Polirom.

Muşat, Raluca. 2013a “‘To Cure, Uplift and Ennoble the Village’: Militant Sociology in the Romanian Countryside, 1934-1938,” East European Politics and Societies and Cultures 27 (3): 353-375.

________. 2103b. “Cultural Politics in the Hart of the Village: The Institutionalization of the Cămin Cultural in Interwar Romania,” New Europe College Ştefan Odobleja Program Yearbook 2012-2013: 149-180. Accessed on March 14, 2016 (https://smuc.

Pinto, António Costa. 2014. “Fascism, Corporatism and the Crafting of Authoritarian Institutions in Interwar European Dictatorships.” Pp. 87-117 in Rethinking Fascism and Dictatorship in Europe, edited by António Costa Pinto and Aristotle Kallis. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Quijano, Anibal. 2000. “Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism, and Latin America.” Nepantla: Views from the South 1(3): 533-580.

________. 2007. “Coloniality and Modernity/Rationality.” Cultural Studies 21 (2-3): 168 –178.

Rizescu, Victor. 2013. Ideology, Nation and Modernization: Romanian Developments in Theoretical Frameworks . Bucureşti: Editura Universităţii din Bucureşti

Rostás, Zoltán. 2009. Strada Latină Nr. 8. Bucureşti: Editura Curtea Veche, 2009.

________. 2013. “Criză și/sau tranziţie la școala gustiană – 1932-1934. Din perspectiva corespondenţei lui Anton Golopenţia,” Sfera Politicii XX (175): 3-12.

________. 2014. “A fost Dimitrie Gusti (doar) tehnician în guvernul ţărănist?,” Sociologie Românească XII (1-2): 7-17.

Sdrobiş, Dragoş. 2014. “Originile sociale, legislative şi ideologice ale Legii Serviciului Social,” Sociologie Românească XII (1-2): 57-73

_________. 2015. Limitele Meritocraţiei Într-o Societate Agrară. Şomaj intelectual şi radicalizare politică în Romȃnia interbelică. Iaşi: Editura Polirom.

Smith, Woodruff. 1991. Politics and the Sciences of Culture in Germany, 1840-1920. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Tabără, Neculai, Mihaela Ungureanu, and Carmen Nistor. 2014. “Ion Ionescu from Brad –precursor of agricultural economy, statistics and accounting.” Revista Romȃnă de Statistică Supliment 62 (9):15-26. Accessed on January 8, 2017 (

Trencsényi, Balázs. 2011. “History and Character: Visions of National Peculiarity in the RomanianPolitical Discourse of the 19th century”, Center for Advanced Studies Sofia Working Paper Series 3: 8-10. Accessed on June 6, 2016 ( uploads/files/We %20the%20People/ Tr.%20Balazs.pdf)

Turda, Marius. 2007a. “The Nation as Object: Race, Blood, and Biopolitics in Interwar Romania,” Slavic Review 66(3): 413-441.

________. 2007b. “Context” to “Nicolae Bălcescu: The Course of Revolution in the History of the Romanians.” Pp. 464-467 in Discourses of Collective Identity in Central and Southeast Europe (1770–1945): Texts and Commentaries. Volume II: National

Romanticism – The Formation of National Movements, edited by Balázs Trencsényi and Michal Kopeček. Budapest and New York: CEU Press. Accessed on April 20, 2015 ( files/ID-Reader-vol2-National-Romanticism.pdf)

________. 2010. Modernism and Eugenics. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Turda, Marius and Paul J. Weindling, eds., 2007. Blood and Homeland: Eugenics and Racial Nationalism in Central and Southeastern Europe. Budapest and New York: CEU Press.

Văcărescu, Theodora-Eliza. 2012. “Trei în unu sau Despre cum încap drapta, stânga şi centrul în aceaşi oală. O abordare comparată de istorie orală a Şcolii sociologice de la Bucureşti,”

Sociologie Românească X (2): 21-41.

Văeţişi, Şerban. 2014. “O revizitare a oraşului interbelic: teme urbane la sociologii gustieni,” Sociologie Românească XII (1-2): 74-90.

Verdery, Katherine. 1995. “National Ideology and National Character in Interwar Romania.” Pp. 103-134 in National Character and National Ideology in Interwar Eastern Europe, edited by Ivo Banac and Katherine Verdery. New Haven: Yale Center for International and Area Studies.

Vrȃnceanu, Mircea. 1939. “Între disciplină şi ţinută sătească,” Curentul No. 4106, Accessed on May 5, 2016 (

Wallerstein, Immanuel. The Modern World System IV: Centrist Liberalism Triumphant. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011.

Zeletin, Ştefan. 1922. “Revoluţia Burgheză În România. Revoluţia Agrară Şi Prefacerile Clasei Ţărăneşti,” Arhiva Pentru Ştiinţa Şi Reforma Socială IV (1): 35-67

Zeletin, Ştefan. 1927. Neoliberalismul. Studii asupra istoriei şi politicei burgheziei române. Bucureşti: Editura “Pagini Agrare Şi Sociale”.

Zeletin, Ştefan. 2008. Burghezia Română. Originea şi rolul ei istoric. Bucureşti: Editura Minerva.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2018 Ion Matei Costinescu

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.