Taylorism Transformed: Scientific Management Theory since 1945

Taylorism Transformed: Scientific Management Theory since 1945

Taylorism Transformed: Scientific Management Theory since 1945

Taylorism Transformed: Scientific Management Theory since 1945


This intellectual history interprets recent American business management ideas as political theory, describing their underlying assumptions about power and value. According to Stephen Waring, most business management theory descends from either Frederick Taylor's 'bureaucratic' theory of scientific management or Elton Mayo's 'corporatist' idea of human relations. Waring discusses the subsequent evolution of several management theories and techniques, including organization theory, computer simulation, management by objectives, sensitivity training, job enrichment, and innovations usually attributed to the Japanese, such as quality control circles.


If books grow from the lives of authors, then this book stemmed from my upbringing on the Nebraska prairie. From populist roots, it voices the suspicion of centralized power, concern for social responsibility, desire for individual autonomy, and hope for democracy that can still flourish in farms and country towns.

And like any book that grew from a dissertation, this one emerged from listening to teachers and reading other books. Although I am primarily interested in the social history of ideas, this book was especially influenced by "institutional" and "new labor" historians. Institutional scholars like Robert Wiebe and my advisor Ellis Hawley taught me to look for political issues in technical debates, to study professions as power centers, and to respect the diversity and complexity of contemporary America. And labor historians like David Montgomery and my teacher Shel Stromquist offered instruction in the struggles in the American workplace. For better and for worse, however, my scholarship has partly turned from the paths of my mentors and has moved in a different direction, tracing the ideas that guide economic institutions.

Indeed this book was shaped by the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue (Notre Dame, 1981). MacIntyre was especially convincing in refuting the scientific pretensions of managerial experts. He used game theory as his example, analyzing its very abstract concepts in a very abstract way and describing its technocratic premises as moral claims. I did not, however, accept all of MacIntyre's arguments. His Aristotelian criticism of liberalism was entirely too "liberal" (liberal readers might be happier replacing "liberal" with "conservative"). It tended to presume the morality of existing social structures, and so his notion of "virtue" could be used to integrate people into corrupt practices. And MacIntyre wrongly disregarded the radical tradition originating in the Enlightenment, slighting particularly Rousseau's conception of virtue.

Even so, MacIntyre helped inspire me to plunge into research on recent management theory. Like him, my purpose was to describe management ideas . . .

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