Academic journal article Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship

Chandler and Technological Determinism in the Histories of Management

Academic journal article Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship

Chandler and Technological Determinism in the Histories of Management

Article excerpt

Executive Summary

In this article we examine the distinctions between Chandler's philosophical view of the impact of technology on organizations in society (i.e., technological determinism) and his underdeterministic view of the role played by managerial coordination, control, and resource allocation. Specifically, we analyzed Chandler's The Visible Hand within the classifying continuum proposed by Tucker (2001). Our findings support John's (1997) implied claim that Chandler held a technological determinist, evolutionary view of the advancement of technology followed by management in modern American business. We provide initial recognition of Chandler's differentiated philosophy of historiography relative to the role and evolution of technological and managerial capabilities in corporations that dominated the business landscape of the 20th century.


At the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, large American mass-production plants grew in size, contributing to considerable concentration of their industries (Chandler, 1969). The profuse study of this phenomenon (i.e., the emergence, evolution, and management of these industries) brought great recognition and acclaim to Alfred Chandler, Jr., as a prominent founder of the discipline of business history (Novicevic, Humphreys, & Zhao, 2009; Iversen, 2008; Wilkins, 2008). Even those somewhat critical of his historical scholarship (e.g., Lamoreaux, 1991; Maier, 1993; Marens, 2005) have regarded his work to be the "gold standard" with regards to business history research (Madansky, 2008, p. 556).

Assuming efficiency of market outcomes and the capacity of firms to shape their environment, Chandler conducted numerous historical studies attempting to identify and explicate the factors that likely led to such industrial convergence (Chandler, 1990 - for a thorough review of Chandler's work, see Langlois, 2007; McCraw, 2008). Chandler asserted that the large companies that dominated the business landscape grew primarily to take advantage of the productive and distributive efficiencies associated with vertical integration, corporate control, and internal innovation. In his historical explanation for organizational evolution, technology was viewed as the determining catalyst for, and mechanism of, growth (Misa, 1994) in which the visible hand of managing, coordination, monitoring, and resource allocation replaced, or at least exceeded, the significance of the invisible hand of the market (Chandler, 1977).

The point of view supporting Chandler's technological determinism stems from a historiographie movement which came to be known as 'contextualism' or 'constructivism' and now focuses on the "dialectic between technology and society..." (Sicilia, 1993, p. 68). This movement was institutionalized in 1957 through the formation of SHOT (The Society for the History of Technology), whose view was that technology was "inextricably embedded in society, a view embodied in the title of SHOT'S journal, Technology and Culture" (Sicilia, 1993, p. 67). This perspective has rarely been challenged by historians (Sicilia, 1993). An alternative to the constructivist premise espoused by SHOT is the notion positing that technology does not determine society, but is more deterministic in particular expressions and contexts than in others. As the main proponent of this surrogate viewpoint, based upon an assessment of Chandler's Scale and Scope, Sicilia (1993, p. 69) argued "...technological determinism is antithetical to human freedom" and offered three propositions: 1) "the greater a technology's efficiency, the greater generally its deterministic nature" (p. 73); 2) "Technology is more deterministic when employed within the context of the firm than when not" (p. 74), and; 3) "In the long run, large technological systems tend toward rigidity, but also evolve by accommodating the needs of both system advocates and system users" (p. …

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