Manufacturing Rationality: The Engineering Foundations of the Managerial Revolution

By Yehouda Shenhav | Go to book overview

3
Colonizing the Mind: The Translation of Systematization to the Management of Organizations

' America,' said a witty foreigner, 'is God's own country -- for any man who has a new system.'

( Engineering Magazine, August 1916: 678)

The previous chapter examined the technical project of systematization, advanced by engineers in the world of industry. In this chapter I add another layer to the meaning of 'system' as it was originally propagated by mechanical engineers. 1 I describe how engineers took this project one step forward, creating a grand vision of society, promoting it as a remedy for 'social problems', and inventing a new language. This new language became the backbone of American managerial ideology. I explore how it emerged out of this technical project to become a symbolic configuration for a political campaign in the public sphere. The icons of systems and efficiency -- central to mechanical standardization -- were now translated to social, political, and moral domains. Engineers disseminated their newly emerging vision through magazines and professional associations. In essence, engineers universalized their particularistic and peculiar agenda to claim it was of interest to humanity. By the 1920s, the power and legitimization. of this newly emerging language was undeniable.

Theoretically, the analysis rests on the sociological-Constructivist stance that the human mind is a social one. I therefore assume that knowledge, science, and professional constructs are produced and shaped by human communities in institutionalized fields of knowledge. 2 Sociologists of knowledge argue that the very definition of a situation is the outcome of social negotiations within a particular field. 3 To define a condition as a 'social problem' it is first necessary to show that the situation is undesirable and that there are solutions available to remedy it, that the outcomes may be bettered. This approach to the development of knowledge emphasizes the diversity of choices inherent in any sphere of action and the socially constructed nature of empirical objects. Hence the question the Constructivist approach deals with is the selection of the course of action actually chosen and institutionalized. Accordingly, the authority of professionals, respected practitioners, and examples from neighboring fields can become part

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