Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 3.3 (2002) 563-568
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Joseph S. Berliner, 1921-2001
The death of Joseph Scholom Berliner in September 2001, two days shy of his 80th birthday, deprives the profession of one its most active scholars and citizens. Trained as an economist but at home across the social sciences, Berliner made significant contributions to Western understandings of the Soviet economy as well as to the smooth functioning of Soviet Studies in the United States. Though his arrival at Harvard College in 1946 predated the establishment of that institution's Russian Research Center (now the Davis Center for Russian Studies), Berliner spent the bulk of his career in the center's orbit. He earned his B.A. magna cum laude from Harvard in 1947, and his Ph.D. in 1954, serving as the Center's assistant director in his last year of graduate school. After two years in Washington, Berliner took a post at Syracuse University in 1956, remaining until 1963; alone or with his family, Berliner frequently made the five-hour trek to Cambridge for one or another Center event. After winning a faculty appointment at Brandeis University in 1963, his commute was reduced significantly. From that year until his retirement in 1985, Berliner served with distinction in Brandeis's Department of Economics, including two terms as chairman. His gentle and friendly manner so calmed the department's tensions (exacerbated by the conflicts of the late 1960s) that one colleague termed his influence the "Berliner Effect." It was hard to fight fierce battles over anything when Berliner was in the room, said fellow economist Anne Carter. This effect operated not only within the department, but also during his many university commitments, including a brief stint as Dean of the Faculty.
Berliner's service ethic carried well beyond his home institution. Early in his career, Berliner participated in most of the major institutional projects of early Sovietology, from Harvard's Refugee Interview Project to the Council of Foreign Relations. In addition to being honored with elections to the presidencies of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (AAASS) in 1963 and the Association for Comparative Economic Studies in 1975, Berliner took on more taxing and less public roles at these and other groups. He served intermittently on the Russian Research Center's Executive Committee, and on a variety of committees for the major institutions that supported Slavic Studies in the United States: IREX, the Kennan Institute, Fulbright, and the ACLS-SSRC [End Page 563] Joint Committee on Slavic Studies. At the time of his death, Berliner was a member of the AAASS's Executive Committee as well as its Treasurer.
Berliner's interdisciplinary approach to the study of the Soviet Union marked the best of what Soviet Studies aimed to achieve in the 1950s: to bring the insights of the various social-scientific disciplines to bear on the major intellectual problems of the day. Yet this social-scientific sophistication hardly made his work dry or, when writing for a general audience, overly technical. Peppering his prose with references to literature (his field of study when he entered college) as well as formulas and graphs, Berliner offered the field an impressive example of what interdisciplinary work could be.
Nowhere is this more evident than in his first book, Factory and Manager in the USSR (1957). 1 Berliner's research for this book came mainly from the Refugee Interview Project, which sent Berliner for two years' work among displaced Soviet citizens in Germany. Factory and Manager offered new insights into Soviet economic life by studying the individual enterprise and its manager ethnographically. To gain maximum leverage from his interviews with 41 former managers, Berliner made exhaustive use of Soviet printed materials ranging from ministerial publications (Chernaia metallurgiia), to academic journals (Planovoe khoziaistvo), to humor magazines (Krokodil). The end result was a masterpiece of descriptive economics. Prior works on Soviet management, by David Granick and a team at the New School for Social Research, focused exclusively on public commentary about management. Through the lengthy personal interviews...