Manufacturing Rationality: The Engineering Foundations of the Managerial Revolution

By Yehouda Shenhav | Go to book overview

automatic pilot, gradually expanded its territory during 1882-1932, covering and depoliticizing such separate fields as accountancy, production, and wages. Systems of all kinds, however, were not applied without struggle. The engineers had to steer the boat of management in stormy water. These struggles are described in the next chapter.


Notes
.1
I do not mean to argue that engineers invented the notion of 'mechanical system'. Metaphors of the world as a machine emerged in Europe as early as the 17th century, and brought revolutionary changes in physics and astronomy. During the 19th century scientists continued to elaborate the mechanistic model of the universe in physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, and the social sciences ( Capra 1982; see also Mumford 1970). However, as I argued in the introductory chapter, I refrain from equating the term 'ideology' with a scheme of abstract ideas. Rather I define ideology as practice and trace the manner in which ideas are invoked in the everyday practical life of engineers. This methodological and theoretical strategy suggests that abstract systems theory itself did not lead to the creation of American management discourse; only the peculiar application and interpretation of mechanical engineers did.
.2
See Latour and Woolgar 1979; Callon 1980; Knorr-Cetina 1983; Latour 1987 for the essentials of the Constructivist approach developed here. For useful applications see Breslau 1998; Yonay 1998.
.3
To distinguish between individuals and social entities organizational theorists use concepts such as organizational fields ( DiMaggio and Powell 1983), interorganizational fields ( Benson 1975), sectors ( Scott and Meyer 1994), industrial systems ( Hirsch 1972), and business systems ( Whitely 1992). The concept of 'field' is used here to mean a configuration of objective relations between positions ( Bourdieu 1992) that 'delimit a socially constructed space in which agents struggle, depending on the position they occupy in that space, either to change or to preserve its boundaries and form' ( Wacquant 1992: 17; quoted in Kjir 1998). The concept is useful as it situates social entities as part of a decentralized relational structure that shapes and gives meaning to them ( Kjir 1998).
.4
It is not denied that industrialists and professional engineers operated in environments rife with uncertainty and technical problems. This book, however, is concerned with understanding the parameters that cultivated the discourse regarding systems, which enabled it to grow and eventually become legitimized and pivotal in management and organization theory.
5.
One of the reasons that the railroad staff were involved with systematization was the need to coordinate it in light of safety violations. As early as 1841, a series of collisions on the Western Railroad promoted the initiation of administrative rules and structural changes. Managers were required to keep records about operation and report to superiors periodically -- see Yates 1989: 5. One of the very first conceptualizations of organizations in the USA can be traced back to Daniel McCallum's report to the president of the New York Railroad Company in 1856. McCallum referred to 'a system perfect in its details, properly adapted and vigilantly

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