Manufacturing Rationality: The Engineering Foundations of the Managerial Revolution

By Yehouda Shenhav | Go to book overview

the narrative of nation-building, and to fit with its symbols, institutions, and practices.

Similarly in Spain, Suanzes, one of the supporters of Scientific Management, was an extreme nationalist who advanced Taylorism as an instrument for developing national economic forces ( Guillen 1994). Spanish industrialists were exposed to Taylorism only in the 1910s and Guillen argues that 'had it not been for labor unrest, scientific management would have passed unnoticed before 1939' (ibid.: 152). Thus, it can be safely summarized that the effect of engineering techniques on the emergence of management in industry is mainly an American phenomenon that was later diffused -- with the help of local engineering communities -- to other European countries.

The singularity of the American case is therefore a combination of factors: the weak regulations of government over capitalism, the relative strength of the engineering-based 'managerial rationality', the magnitude of the labor struggle, the enormous economic and industrial growth, and the significant transition from nineteenth-century political culture to the spirit of Progressivism. It was the combination of these factors that constituted the uniqueness of the American case, of which the doctrine of American Exceptionalism was part and parcel. Paradoxically the outcome of this uniqueness was the birth of a worldwide, engineering-based project of industrial management.


Notes
1.
For example, Tomlinson argued that British employers were resistant to engineering bodies that had roles in initiating standards or enforcing them ( 1994: 177).
2.
Known in modern philosophy as 'representing and intervening' ( Hacking 1983/ 1992).
3.
I invoke here Weber ( 1921/ 1968; 1949), when he said that instrumental rationality should be considered against its non-instrumental consequences and vis-à-vis its political and ideological context. Choosing one side of Weber's dualistic epistemological equation, as organization theorists have done, elevates instrumental rationality to a supreme position that gainsays attempts at critical assessment. This is exactly why Weber decided to keep the epistemological contradictions of 'instrumental' and 'substantial' rationality alive.
4.
James Thompson paradigmatically links 'rationality' and 'uncertainty' as binary opposites: 'Uncertainty appears as the fundamental problem for complex organisations, and coping with uncertainty, as the essence of the administrative process. Just as complete uncertainty and randomness is the antithesis of purpose and of organisation, complete certainty is a figment of the imagination; but the tighter the norms of rationality, the more energy the organization will devote to moving toward certainty' ( Thompson 1967: 159).
5.
Oliver Williamson, a leading contemporary organizational economist, most explicitly elaborated the theoretical framework that adopted this ideological position.

-210-

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