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


  • Ion Matei Costinescu University of Bucharest



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


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 ?tefan 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.

Author Biography

Ion Matei Costinescu, University of Bucharest

Ion Matei Costinescu is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Sociology and Social Work, University of Bucharest. His research interests include the modern history of Southeastern Europe, questions of modernity/ modernization, and nationalism in a comparative perspective. He is currently completing a dissertation that investigates nation-building, coloniality, and socio-economic modernization in interwar Romania through the perspective afforded by the Bucharest Sociological and its interventionist policies in the rural world.


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How to Cite

Costinescu, I. M. (2018). Interwar Romania and the Greening of the Iron Cage: The Biopolitics of Dimitrie Gusti, Virgil Madgearu, Mihail Manoilescu, and ?tefan Zeletin. Journal of World-Systems Research, 24(1), 151–187.