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Scientific management practice in Britain : a history

By Kevin Whitston

Abstract

This study traces the influence of scientific management on the development of\ud modem management methods in Britain from the end of the 19th century to the\ud outbreak of the second world war. It is concerned with both the organisation of\ud work and the management of the worker, with employers' labour strategies and\ud worker and trade union responses. The Introduction discusses key concepts like\ud Taylorism, Fordism and mass production; chapter one identifies technical and\ud managerial changes taking place at the turn of the century and the reception\ud Taylorism received in Britain; chapter 2 is mainly concerned with premium bonus\ud schemes and the impact of the first world war; chapter 3 analyses the growth of\ud new management functions and roles, particularly production engineering between\ud the wars; chapter 4 discusses the impact of mechanisation and deskilling on\ud workers in the engineering industry; chapter 5 traces the growth of piecework\ud schemes and time study, the significance of the Bedaux system, and the impact of\ud worker resistance. A postscript and a conclusion relate these themes to the post\ud second world war history of work study and to contemporary debates about\ud flexible specialisation and post-Fordism.\ud Three key issues are addressed the meaning of scientific management, the extent\ud to which employers adopted scientific management practices, its impact on\ud workers and the effect of worker resistance.\ud It is argued that, if scientific management is located historically, it is seen to be\ud concerned with the management of production as well as the management of the\ud worker; with production engineering, progress and planning departments, as well\ud as time and motion study and incentive payment schemes. As such it is not\ud reducible to any particular form of Taylorist practice.\ud Employers were slow to develop the new management methods. Slow adaptation\ud to change was part of the more general problem of relative economic decline. But\ud both were uneven. British employers were reluctant to abandon tools and\ud techniques which still made money but some did, and more followed. Taylorism\ud was more positively received in Britain than has been suggested and was widely\ud accepted by the end of the first world war. Its impact on managerial practice can be\ud traced in the inter-war period in the development of production engineering and\ud more rigorous payment systems, including those inspired by Bedaux.\ud A 'deskilling dynamic', centred on a new split between mental and manual labour,\ud was fatally undermining both craftsman and foreman in the engineering industry,\ud though it owed more to the jig and tool designer, and more broadly, the\ud management of mechanisation than the efficiency engineer. But changes in the\ud labour process also affected women and semi and unskilled men and they were\ud centrally involved in shop floor resistance to 'speed-up'. Resistance modified but\ud could not prevent the restructuring of the labour process consequent upon\ud scientific management

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OAI identifier: oai:wrap.warwick.ac.uk:3981

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