Taylorism 4947

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Taylorism

Harland Prechel

Taylorism was developed by Frederick Taylor
in the 1880s. By the 1920s, together with other
forms of scientific management, Taylorism was
widely adopted in the US and other indus
trial societies. Taylor was raised in a prominent
Philadelphia family, but rejected his parents
plans for a Harvard education and became an
apprentice in a metal working plant. Later, he
obtained a technical degree. Despite his career
focus, Taylor retained the ideological bias of
his upper class background that incorporated
dimensions of socio Darwinism and utilitar
ianism. This doctrine provided the ideological
context for Taylors system of scientific man
agement, which emphasized the idea that eco
nomic success is caused by superior abilities and
those abilities can be learned.
Changes in the political legal arrangements
in which business enterprises were embedded
and the emergence of the modern corporation
established the social structural context for
implementing Taylorism. In the 1880s and
1890s, New Jersey and other states passed laws
that made it easier for industrial firms to use
the joint stock holding company. The embedd
edness of industrial firms in these institutional
arrangements permitted corporate consolida
tion, which created giant corporations by mer
ging firms and incorporating them as subsidiary
corporations (Prechel 2000). Attempts by capi
talists to exercise more control over the labor
process in these corporations resulted in labor
unrest, which was manifested as high rates
of absenteeism, labor turnover, and strikes.
In response to these historical contingencies,
Taylor (1967) claimed there was a need for
greater national efficiency and efficiency is
best achieved through systematic management
of people. He argued his system would reduce
costs, increase efficiency, and appeal to work
ers economic self interest. Taylor claimed that
the increased efficiency from scientific manage
ment would result in high profits, which would
permit capitalists to increase wages, thereby
eliminating labor unrest and workers desire to
join unions.
The technical dimensions of Taylorism
focused on the one best way to perform
work. Taylor (1967) maintained that workers
(1) retained knowledge over the production pro
cess, and (2) incorporated rest breaks into the
production process (i.e., soldiering) that were so
sophisticated and complex that capitalists and
their foremen could not detect them. To
increase control over the labor process, Taylor
collected information from workers and located
it in a centralized planning department where
engineers used this information to establish
rules to control the execution of each task by
specifying how to complete it and the amount of
required time to do it.
Drawing from the Marxian Hegelian concep
tion of alienation, Braverman (1974) maintained
that the separation of conception from execu
tion in Taylorism dehumanizes the worker
because it limits the opportunities for indivi
duals to use their creative capacities. This
separation occurs when engineers transform
craft knowledge into work rules (i.e., bureau
cratic controls) and machines (i.e., technical
controls) (Edwards 1979). Although the centra
lization of knowledge also subordinated operat
ing managers to centralized control, these
managers retained a substantial degree of con
trol over the managerial process during this
historical period. Taylor also developed a reim
bursement system that rewarded managers in
relationship to their position in the hierarchical
division of managerial labor.
There are several long term effects of Taylor
ism on class relations. First, the adoption of
Taylorist ideology, which assumes that workers
are inferior to managers, has been the source of