Republic of Drivers: A Cultural History of Automobility in America

By Cotten Seiler | Go to book overview

chapter one
Individualism, Taylorization,
and the Crisis of Republican
Selfhood

As much recent work in cultural history has shown, the turn of the century—the time of automobility's emergence—produced a discourse of anxiety and uncertainty surrounding the perceived loss of a subjectivity, described as “sovereign selfhood” or “autonomous individuality,” ideologically crucial to the legitimacy of American political economy. This discourse responded to a shift in the mode of capitalist production and organization that threatened to undermine the credibility and the compulsory force of the ideology of individualism.

The regime of “scientific management” developed by Frederick Winslow Taylor and his disciples plays prominently in my reading of the rise of automobility, though not as the former has been typically cast, as the intellectual blueprint for the productive revolution of Fordism. While Taylor's theories were essential to developing the modern assembly line and thereby accelerating productivity, my interest here is the ways in which, as the sociologist Mark Bahnisch puts it, “the minute division of labor characteristic of Taylorism, and the alienated work which is its consequence, have become a floating signifier written into central narratives

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