Manufacturing Rationality: The Engineering Foundations of the Managerial Revolution

By Yehouda Shenhav | Go to book overview

against America and thus, to mount an argument that immediately disqualifies itself from serious consideration as a relevant argument at all' ( Hawthorn 1987: 195).

The editors of both magazines, as well as other professional engineers in industry, attempted to avoid taking a stand in the conflict between capital and labor. This 'neutrality' was a platform for becoming a legitimate speaker in the prospering industrial world. The engineers saw and presented themselves as applying neutral tools and reason rather than interfering with existing conflictual gives and takes. Such conflicts, however, were later also used to enhance the dependence of employers on objective professionals who could offer rational solutions and impartial positions to the conflict. This is how they sold engineering-based managerial systems to reluctant employers.


Notes
1
This argument challenges conventional wisdom that attributes the emergence of systems, in both theory and practice, to functional and economic necessity. Nobel ( 1977), for example, attributes the rise of system to safety considerations. He argues that a series of boiler explosions in the 1850s accelerated the attempt to standardize boiler specifications which also resulted in organizational standardization. Chandler ( 1977) argues that the systematization of operations in the railroad industry was a response to a series of train accidents in the 1840s and 1850s. Additional explanations attribute the rise of systems to firm growth, advances in technology, or geographical dispersion. Most of these explanations are instrumental in nature. They suggest that the rise of systems was a response to increase efficiency or reduce uncertainty of employers and managers. From the discourse analysis presented here it is apparent that the functional necessity rhetoric was also used by the systernatizers to justify systematization. To be sure, I do not deny that industrialists and engineers operated in environments rife with technical and economic uncertainty. This study, however, is concerned with the sociological processes that cultivated the discourse about systems and enabled it to become pivotal in organization thought.
2
In Michel Foucault's genealogical analysis (e.g. Foucault 1975, 1977, 1979) the 'will to know' -- which symbolizes 'reason' and 'rationality' in the ideology of Enlightenment -- masks a form of political power which needs to be deconstructed.
3
In the late nineteenth century, the term 'labor unrest' referred to the struggle between labor and capital. The way it was defined represented the employers' point of view. At the turn of the century it was replaced by the term 'labor problems' extending the definition to issues such as 'turnover' or 'soldiering' (loafing) from the employers' point of view and issues such as 'stable employment', 'child labor', and 'working conditions' from the employees' point of view. See Kaufman 1993: 4.

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