SCIENTISM IN THE HISTORY OF MANAGEMENT THEORY
Robert M. Young
In addressing scientism, I want to make a philosophical, that is, an ideological, that is, a political point. It is a point I would wish to make about the social or human sciences in general. Moreover and more controversially, I would wish to make the same point about the natural sciences. It is this: the modes of reasoning codified in the Scientific Revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and extended from the physical to the chemical to the biological and human sciences in successive periods, set out to banish final causes - explanations in terms of purposes, goals, use values, teleology - from scientific explanations. In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries these movements embraced the Idéologues, Auguste Comte, phrenology and the ideas of Frederic Harrison, Herbert Spencer and their associates in Great Britain. This movement, which persists in our own time in various versions, came to be known as positivism and, later, logical positivism. It carried the basic motive of the epistemology of modern science a giant step further and argued that not only does science banish final causes, but that a value system can be generated from science. The movement was from the separation of facts from values to the proposition that facts generate and validate values. It was claimed that you must find and follow 'nature's way', whether that leads us to Comte's Religion of Humanity, to social Darwinism or to Frederick Taylor or Frank Gilbreth's 'one best way'.
What I want to say about this mode of reasoning is that it is simply not the case that final causes or purposive explanations were successfully banished. Rather, they were taken from an explicit role in the general framework of Aristotelian explanation to an implicit or tacit one; they were obscured or removed from polite company. Indeed, an eminent continental physiologist said in the nineteenth century that final causes were a woman without whom no scientist could live, but no respectable scientist could afford to be seen with her in public.
If I am right about this very broad development in modern consciousness about our deepest assumptions with respect to knowledge and nature and human nature and society - then the progressive 'edge of objectivity' of scientific progress can be redescribed as the 'naturalization of value systems'. By this I mean that various values were projected into conceptions of nature and then, as it appeared, 'discovered' and put forward as inevitable and carrying the authority of nature itself.
What has all this to do with the so-called management sciences - by which I mean all sorts of disciplines, including scientific management, operational research, systems theory, socio-technical systems theory, group relations work and more? It means that their claims to objectivity or scientificity are ersatz - a thin fig-leaf consisting of concepts like efficiency, optimization, quality circles, functionalism, 'one best way'. These concepts obscure a set of exploitative, alienated power relations of formal and real subordination. But they do so in such a way as to make the real relations of power and exploitation obscure and (this is a real plus) not amenable to debate or contestation. In the precise Gramscian sense, science becomes an important part of hegemony in that a rationalization is offered so that the real relations of power are obscured and internalized in people's consciousness, thereby enforcing the existing order of society without the use of physical coercion.
I have begun with my point in a philosophical and ideological guise. Now I want to substantiate it historically. My locus classicus is the following text from Marx's Capital, vol. 1, with respect to the earliest phase of the industrial revolution:
It would be possible to write a whole history of the inventions made since 1830 for the sole purpose of providing capital with weapons against working-class revolt. We would mention, above all, the self-acting mule, because it opened up a new epoch in the automatic system.
Nasmyth, the inventor of the steam-hammer, gave the following evidence before the Commission on Trades Unions, with regard to the improvements in machinery he himself introduced as a result of the wide-spread and long-lasting strikes of the engineers in 1851. 'The characteristic feature of our modern mechanical improvements, is the introduction of self-acting tool machinery. What every mechanical workman has now to do, and what every boy can do, is not to work himself but to super-intend the beautiful labour of the machine. The whole class of workmen that depend exclusively on their skill, is now done away with. Formerly, I employed four boys to every mechanic. Thanks to these new mechanical combinations, I have reduced the number of grown-up men from 1,500 to 750. The result was a considerable increase in my profits.'
Ure says this of the colouring machines used in calico printing: 'At length capitalists sought deliverance from this intolerable bondage' (namely the terms of their contracts with the workers, which they saw as burdensome) 'in the resources of science, and were speedily re-instated in their legitimate rule, that of the head over the inferior members.' Then, speaking of an invention for dressing warps, whose immediate occasion was a strike, he says: 'The combined malcontents, who fancied themselves impregnably intrenched behind the old lines of division of labour, found their flanks turned and their defences rendered useless by the new mechanical tactics, and were obliged to surrender at discretion.' Of the invention of the self-acting mule, he says: 'A creation destined to restore order among the industrious classes ... This invention confirms the great doctrine already propounded, that when capital enlists science into her service, the refractory hand of labour will always be taught docility. (Marx, 1976, vol. 1, pp. 563-4)
The paths by which I can exemplify my thesis from the factory system and the self-acting mule to the present are embarrassingly rich and overlapping, for example: phrenology as a form of vocational counselling; Herbert Spencer's industrial sociology; British and American social Darwinism; functionalism in psychology, anthropology, sociology, architecture, town planning and all over the place; systems theory and systems thinking in biology, social theory, psychology, marital and family therapy; the massive history of patronage by the Rockefeller charities throughout the social sciences and including the Harvard Business School, medical education, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the London School of Oriental and African Studies, the Institute of Human Relations at Yale and the institution of the same name in London. I will return to some of these examples. I want for the present to focus on Taylorism, Fordism, post-Fordism and a path from scientific management to socio-technical systems theory, leading to recent group relations work.
Now to Taylorism. It is an oft-quoted remark that the greatest economic event of the nineteenth century was Taylor's holding a stop-watch on a group of shovellers at Midvale Steel in 1880 (Haber, 1964, p. 167). It was Frederick Taylor's fervent belief that scientific management was a panacea which would solve what he called 'the labour problem', i.e. anarcho-syndicalism in the industrial sector in the early decades of the twentieth century. He says in his book, Principles of Scientific Management, that he decided to make 'a determined effort to in some way change the system of management, so that the interests of the workmen and the management should become the same, instead of antagonistic' (Taylor, 1911, pp. 52-3). All industrial conflict was to be replaced by 'scientific determination' (Haber, 1964, p. 33). As the historian Samuel Haber put it,
Those aspects of management to which the laws of science did not as yet apply were to be subject to collective bargaining. Where science did apply, a union representative might serve as a watch-dog to make sure that it was the laws of science and not class interest which was obeyed. That the laws of science might serve class interests did not seem to be a possibility. (p. 96)
This point was stressed by Louis Brandeis in his testimony to the US Commission on Industrial Relations before the Sixty-fourth Congress.
It supports my thesis that even though he increased efficiency many times, Taylor was hated by the unions, laws were passed to keep his methods out of the military arsenals and he was unceremoniously sacked by the employer for which he did his most important work, Bethlehem Steel. It might be worth dwelling a moment on some of his achievements. He raised the productivity of shovellers from 16 to 59 tons per day - i.e. four-fold - while reducing the number of yard labourers from about 500 to 140. He revolutionized the art of cutting metals and doubled the speed at which such fine steelwork was done. On increasing production in one instance by 369 per cent, he increased wages 60 per cent. The difference, of course, is extra profits. (This figure is somewhat misleading since he also increased the number of non-production workers. Making allowance for this, the unit cost for production was lowered by 218 per cent..) (Andrew, 1981, p. 87.)
Something similar can be said if we move on from Taylor to Henry Ford - from embodying the subordination in the planning department to embodying it in the arrangement of the factory and the moving, electrically controlled and paced, assembly line. The fights over Fordism, the five-day week, and his notorious 'Social Department' were among the most violent in the history of labour relations in America.
Why? Consider the move from handloom weavers who worked at home to people working in factories, to the separation of mental from manual work which characterized Taylorism, to pacing, surveillance and control of the moving assembly line and on to the automated factory and micro-processor control of shop-floor, office, Macdonalds and other fast service retail shops, and the lorry, train and plane cabin. This move is one of embodying values inside the labour process. The purpose is in the little black box which paces and watches and measures, and the wider purpose is, of course, profit.
Indeed in modern computing, people work in programs and sub-programs without any idea of what the eventual use of them may be. This is as true of industrial computing as it is of the military.
Having said all of this, there is a version of subordination which is even more insidious and subtle. Taylor set out to get his results by bribery of people with, as he put it, the mentality of an ox. He sought dumb subordination. He says to the benighted pig-iron handler, Schmidt,
You know just as well as I do that a high-priced man has to do exactly as he is told from morning till night . . And what's more no back-talk. A high-priced man does just what he's told to do and no back-talk. Do you understand that? When this man tells you to walk, you walks; when he tells you to sit down, you sit down, and you don't talk back at him. (Taylor, 1911, pp. 45-6)
The attempt to humanize management theory in the work of Elton Mayo and his followers, in the Hawthorne studies of Western Electric in Chicago, focused on the environment of work and reached the conclusion that environmental conditions and morale were as important as the behaviourist categories on which Taylor had concentrated.
It is sometimes said that in the period of the Hawthorne studies and Mayo's influence, the job itself was completely lost sight of. The point of the next generations of management theory - socio-technical systems theory and group relations research - was to get willing co-operation, followed by getting control by deliberate manipulation of unconscious processes. In more recent developments elements are mixed in a new combination. All of the factors of the past remain in play, but new and intense pressures are added. I am thinking of the so-called post-Fordist developments recently highlighted and, to my astonishment, advocated by Robin Murray and other people writing for Marxism Today. These include flexible specialization, 'just-in-time' supply of raw materials, so-called 'management-by-stress', blaming and ostracism, individual negotiation of wages and the creation of an environment in which an identification with management's goals and the goodwill of the corporation add up to an attempt to take over the whole worker - bodily movement, soul and commitment. This has been seen as the Japanization of industry, but it has ramifications throughout society.
I now want to look in some greater detail at some chapters in the history of management theory, using certain key texts. Ford was very clear about what he was doing. He writes in his autobiography that he was not in the business of deskilling and immediately reveals the opposite:
I have heard it said, in fact I believe it is quite a current thought, that we have taken skill out of work. We have not. We have put in skill. We have put a higher skill into planning, management and tool building, and the results of that skill are enjoyed by the man who is not skilled..... The rank and file of men come to us unskilled; and they learn their jobs within a few hours or a few days. If they do not learn within that time they will never be of any use to us. (Ford, 1923, pp. 78-9)
Ford describes the history of the assembly line:
The first step forward in assembly came when we began taking the work to the men instead of the men to the work. We now have two general principles in all operations - that a man shall never have to take more than one step, if possibly it can be avoided, and that no man need ever stoop over.
The principles of assembly are these:
1 Place the tools and the men in the sequence of the operation so that each component part shall travel the least possible distance in the process of finishing.
2 Use work slides or some other form of carrier so that when a workman completes his operation, he drops the part always in the same place - which place must always be the most convenient place to his hand - and if possible have gravity carry the part to the next workman for his operation.
3 Use sliding assembly lines by which the parts to be assembled are delivered at convenient distances.
The net result of these principles is the reduction of the necessity for thought on the part of the worker and the reduction of his movements to a minimum. He does as nearly as possible only one thing with only one movement. (p. 80)
Along about April 1 1913, we first tried the experiment of an assembly line. We tried it on assembling the fly-wheel magneto ... I believe this was the first moving line ever installed. The idea came in a general way from the overhead trolley that the Chicago packers used in dressing beef. We have previously assembled the fly-wheel magneto in the usual methods. With one workman doing a complete job he could turn out from thirty-five to forty pieces in a nine-hour day, or about twenty minutes to an assembly. What he did alone was then spread into twenty-nine operations; that cut down the assembly time to thirteen minutes, ten seconds. Then we raised the height of the line eight inches - this was in 1914 - and cut the time to seven minutes. Further experimenting with the speed that the work should move at cut the time down to five minutes. In short, the result is this: by the aid of scientific study one man is now able to do somewhat more than four did only a comparatively few years ago. That line established the efficiency of the method and we now use it everywhere. The assembling of the motor, formerly done by one man, is now divided into eighty-four operations - those men do the work that three times their number formerly did. (p. 8 1)
He then goes on to describe the same process with respect to the motor and concludes:
In October 1913, it required nine hours and fifty-four minutes of labour time to assemble one motor and six months later, by the moving assembly method, this time had been reduced to five hours and fifty-six minutes. Every piece of work in the shop moves; it may move on hooks or on overhead chains going to assembly in the exact order in which the parts are required; it may travel on the moving.platform, or it may go by gravity, but the point is there is no lifting or trucking of anything other than materials. (p. 83)
Ford had no doubt about what was required for his operations to be efficient. He says:
We expect the men to do what they are told. The organization is so highly specialized and one part is so dependent on another that we could not for a moment consider allowing men to have their own way. Without the most rigid discipline we would have the utmost confusion. I think it should not be otherwise in industry. The men are there to get the greatest possible amount of work done and to receive the highest possible pay. If each man were permitted to act in his own way, production would suffer and therefore pay would suffer. Anyone who does not like to work in our way may always leave. (p. 111)
The pay-off of all of this is provided in a chart in which he shows that during the period 1909-21 the price fell from $950 to $355 and production rose from 18,000 cars to 1,250,000 (p. 145). So the price went down to a third of the original one while production was multiplied about sixty-seven times. So we have deskilling, real subordination and control over private lives - giving rise to real efficiency and cars cheap enough for Ford workers to buy. When I worked in a Ford plant in 1953 and 1954, most line workers had a new Ford in their sights and many could tell tales about lost union struggles. Revolt gets domesticated into style. Work discipline is endured for the sake of consumption.
Between Fordism and socio-technical systems theory, there lie the Hawthorne experiments. I shall not say much about them, but I do want to give you the flavour of the scientism involved. In his book, The Human Problems of an Industrial Civilization (1933), scientistic language abounds. Mayo's colleague, F. J. Roethlisberger, Professor of Human Relations at the Harvard Business School, reflected both the anti-political and the biologistic themes to which I am drawing attention. In his Introduction to Mayo's books Roethlisberger writes:
Although Mayo was for the opportunity for growth for everybody, everywhere, he recognised the possibility of lopsided growth. He saw that many things, both desirable ones and undesirable ones, can be both functional and disfunctional. Restriction of output among workers, for instance, although functional for the solidarity of the group and the emotional security of its members, is disfunctional for the group's identity with the economic objectives of the enterprise. (Mayo, 1933, p. xiii)
But frozen states of equilibrium are not inevitable; they are man-made and new ways of thinking can liquidate them.
In The Human Problems, Mayo was giving birth to such a new way of thinking. Let the new reader concentrate on this agony of birth and he will be reading this book from the 'growth' end up. What Mayo is saying is: 'Let's study organisations as natural organic wholes or systems striving to survive and maintain their equilibrium in different environments. Let's see if this way of looking at them will allow us to specify better the many factors in a complex situation and 'wherever the general effect is unsatisfactory to the worker and to industry, to discover the nature of the disequilibrium and the source of the interference'. (p. xiv)
Mayo's argument is couched in the same biologistic, depoliticized rhetoric. He writes as a biologist about fatigue and monotony. Having sketched the problem of fatigue in an industrial society, he triumphantly says, 'At this point biology intervenes undramatically yet with dramatic effects . . .' (p. 34). We are fully into the biological rhetoric: 'Living organism is best conceived as a number of variables in equilibrium with each other in such a fashion that a change in any one will introduce changes throughout the whole organisation' (p. 11).
Moving on to systems theory, I see it as a metafunctionalism, using analogies drawn from physiology, thermodynamics and even natural theology, to bring about distributive justice without acknowledging the contradictions in society. All problems are problems of adjustment or adaptation. Walter Cannon was one of the forerunners of systems theory, a profound influence on L. J. Henderson (who was himself a profound influence on Mayo). Cannon's The Wisdom of the Body (1932) is a classic text throughout the functionalist and meta-functionalist movements.
Cannon wrote, 'Are there not general principles of stabilization? May not the devices developed in the organism for preserving steady states illustrate methods which are used or could be used elsewhere? Would not a comparative study of stabilizing processes be suggestive? Might it not be useful to examine other forms of organization - industrial, domestic or social - in the light of the organization of the body?' (Cannon, 1932, p. 305, which perfectly echoes Herbert Spencer, 1969, p. 206). He goes on to write about 'analogies between the body physiologic and the body politic' (p. 305), 'social homeostasis' (pp. 312, 323), 'the fluid matrix of society' (p. 314). There is a family of theories involved here. A critic of the movement, Robert Lilienfeld, lists them as follows:
1 The biological philosophy of Ludwig von Bertalanffy, and his concept of the 'open system'.
2 Norbert Wiener's formulation of cybernetics and W. Ross Ashby's related work on machines that are claimed to think and to learn and, stemming from this work, the concepts of feedback and automation.
3 Information and communications theory based on the work of Shannony Weaver, Cherry and others on the theoretical, mathematical and linguistic problems involved in the transmission of messages over message-carrying circuits. [Free Association Books will soon be publishing the important critiques of this point of view by Donna Haraway.]
4 Operations research, which first emerged fullyfledged in England during the War of 1939-45 under the leadership of E. C. Williams, and has since been institutionalised by the founding of the Opera tions Research Society of America and the Operational Research Society in Great Britain.
5 The games theory of von Neumann and Morgenstein.
6 The techniques for simulating social and environmental processes by computers, advocated by J. Forrester and many others. (Lilienfeld, 1978, p. 1)
Lilienfeld is scathing in his critique of this approach and suggests that the 'systems thinkers are highly abstract and repetitiously programmatic in the sense of announcing great new insights that they expect to emerge once systems thinking becomes widely adopted'. He adds, 'The image of the world offered by the systems theorists is shown to be philosophically and scientifically meretricious and unable to stand on its own merits' (p. 3). Indeed, one of the most enthusiastic systems theorists, Kenneth E. Boulding, has written a book modestly titled The World as a Total System (1985). These thinkers draw on biological analogies in the work of the French physiologist, Claude Bernard, the reactionary Italian sociologist, Wilfredo Pareto, and the eminent American thermodynamicist, Josiah Willard Gibbs. Among the scientistic concepts which they employ are those of homeostasis, organismic thinking, holism, integration, equilibrium, ultra-stability, negative feedback. The net effect of all of these extrapolations from science to society is the familiar one of the naturalization of values systems and the adoption of politics disguised as science as a guide to all of life. Indeed, Lilienfeld points out that systems theory echoes Auguste Comte's positivism with a decoration of formal and mathematical terminology (p. 3).
Now some remarks on socio-technical systems theory. According to Eric Trist, socio-technical systems theory has two principles:
1 'In any purposive organisation in which men are required to perform the organisation's activities, there is a joint system operating, a socio-technical system' - a social and technological system requiring joint optimization of both.
2 Socio-technical systems are embedded in an environment influenced by culture - an environment influenced by generally accepted practices and one which permits certain roles for the organisms in it (Trist, n.d., p. 15). Trist saw the problem as 'neither that of simply "adjusting people to tech nology nor technology to people" but organising the interface so that the best match could be obtained between both' (Trist, 1973, p. 103). He, like Taylor, naively saw his work as a positive alternative to trade union struggles and politics. He began working for the Norwegian Confederation of Employers and the Norwegian Confederation of Labour. He said, 'What is remarkable is that the two confederations (later joined by the government) should have requested the assistance of social scientists in order to gain a better understanding of what ordinarily would have been treated as a political problem' (p. 109). The result was equally palliative and naive: 'No longer is there "a split at the bottom of the executive chain" which separates managers and managed. Everyone is now on the same side of the "great divide" and whatever fences there may still be on the common side would seem best kept low' (pp. 112-13).
A whole vocabulary has grown up around this consensual approach. It is one which, like some of the quotations above, draws on quasi-biological concepts such as adaptation and organism. Unexceptionable homilies abound: 'By autonomy is meant that the structure and organisation of jobs has meant that individuals or groups performing the jobs can plan, regulate and control their worlds' (Trist, n.d., p. 23). He concludes,
A number of studies have indicated that, apart from developing a participative social system, conditions will have to be developed which will bring about internalisation of organisational goals if spontaneous and innovative behaviour are to result. Such internalisation does exist at the upper levels of organisations and except in the Norwegian experiments is found in the lower levels only in voluntary organisations. The fact that this was accomplished at the lower levels in the Norwegian industrial social experiments can be taken as a harbinger of what is to come. (p. 27)
The work on socio-technical systems theory, like much of the work in the Hawthorne experiments, was done within a general framework which had been fostered by the Rockefeller charities, casting a very broad umbrella over activities which resulted in 'managing' (I mean this word in an ambiguous sense) conflict. They supported functionalist notions which reduced contradiction to conflict, palliated conflict, and funded research which would bring this about. The same Rockefeller organizations offered that framework of ideas at a higher level in their support of the Trilateral Commission, an international organization for putting forward the more benign and manipulative aspects of business, government and multinational capitalism as opposed to the right-wing one which has been brought forward in the era of Reagan and Thatcher. Trilateralists included Jimmy Carter and Nelson Rockefeller, along with Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski.
Another - and deeper - dimension of the palliation of industrial conflict is the history of the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, the story of which has just been written by Eric Trist. Much of this research occurred, in the first instance, during the Second World War when there were consensual goals of mental health and better group relations in order to confront a universally acknowledged common enemy. However, as Peter Barham has pointed out, these same techniques were carried over and refined in an entirely different post-war context, where the uncertain funding of research from state and charitable sources meant that such studies became 'guns for hire', as the Tavistock researchers became industrial consultants.
One of the finest studies in the history of group relations has been that of Isabel Menzies Lyth on institutional structures in hospitals. Such institutional structures are used by nurses for the control of anxiety. Her study was part of an evolution of ideas which eventually led to annual 'group relations' conferences in the United States and in Europe, but especially in England at Leicester. There commercial corporations can send their managers to learn more effectively to manage the unconsciouses of their workers and to make themselves more effective leaders. The question of 'Leadership for what?' is difficult to raise in the context of such research.
At this year's Leicester Conference there were two people from a firm transporting cars from factory to retailer, two junior executives from the Sally Line, a number of clerics, a nun, a head of a cardiology department in Canada, a Fiat management consultant (female), a head of an Australian ladies' college (male), an administrator at an AIDs hospice, an American professor who heads a department for training business leaders, several psychoanalysts, a group of white marriage counsellers from South Afrcia (including a volunteer who does not believe in one man one vote), a priest from an Afrikaner church which has not renounced apartheid, and one black woman counsellor (who was in an impossible position since she could not speak freely). Think of the cacophony of goals of this very mixed bag of 'managers'. Explicit discussion of ends falls foul of the mixture, while means and techniques can be discussed without the likelihood of chaos.
Let me spell out something of what happens at the Leicester group relations conferences. The main themes are leadership, authority and learning to be effectual in groups. The conference is residential and lasts two weeks with a one-and-a-half-day break in the middle. Each day consists of four one-and-a-half-hour sessions with breaks for tea, coffee and meals. There are the following types of sessions:
1 Small groups with a consultant who interprets the individual and group dynamics. This meets practically every morning.
2 A large group of about seventy people with four consultants who interpret the large group dynamics - which can be fierce, persecuting, and sad - but everything touches the role of the individual in the group.
3 An 'inter-group event' over several days, which is concerned with the formation of small groups, with or without consultants, definition of group identity and the relations between groups. Delegates can go from one group to another and groups can meet together in defined spaces.
4 An 'institutional event' which also involves the formation of small groups, but this time in the context of a staff group called 'management'. Consultants are also available. What one eventually and painfully learns about management is that they are there to be observed and to provoke via inaction. Any group can send delegates or plenipotentiary negotiators to meet with them, but they never manage, never budge, only denigrate and interpret. I cannot sufficiently convey how distressing this becomes and how crazily groups and individuals behave - no matter how clear it is that the management is in no constructive hierarchical relationship with the conference members.
There is another extra element in this exercise. The conference as a whole has, in addition to small groups and the large group, a separate training group with whom the large group does not meet until the institutional event. This group has separate activities and a separate common room. To be in the training group you must have attended one or more - usually two - previous Leicester Conferences. They are experienced as 'middle management'. Like non-commissioned officers, the members of the training group will not share their previous experience with neophytes and behave just as badly and madly as the inexperienced members.
One learns a lot about keeping one's cool and about the profoundly regressed unconscious forces at work in group relations. Extreme reactions usually occur, including invasions, kidnapping, bodily assault. Attempts to join the management group with 'worker directors' don't work, and when I was there there was a forcible invasion of management's territory, including shouts of 'fascist gauleiter' with tears and shock. The very idea of management - no matter what they do or don't do - evokes such responses. What one learns is containment and self-reliance, since groups regress and behave very badly indeed.
After this harrowing exercise there are a number of meetings of the large group - members plus training group - to evaluate the institutional event. There are then evaluation sessions in which individuals reflect on their personal experiences, followed by reflections on the potential applications of their experiences of the conference to their work settings.
I feel profoundly ambivalent about the Leicester Conference and the wider group relations movement for three seasons. First, it is still too near. I went two months before writing this paper, and the person who persuaded me to go said it took him five years to digest his experience, which he has written up in a book, What Happens in Groups (Hinshelwood, 1987). Second, I believe that the role of unconscious forces in group processes is very important, and I am glad to have had a chance to learn so much about them, including the empowerment of learning to contain and act - to think under fire, as Wilfrid Bion would put it. But third, it is extraordinarily hard to hold on to outside values under this fire. In the conference I attended, the issue of racism was very prominent, because there was an Indian in the training group, one of the consultants was an Indian, and there was also a very vocal and impressive black American woman. (Interestingly, two Indian men in the conference did not seem effectual in the dynamics.) Yet the issue of racism was extraordinarily hard to confront and discuss. The same was true of large-scale social and political issues - class, politics, gender, world affairs. We were somehow under a spell which bracketed out values, purposes, issues, politics and ideology. One could grasp dynamics of unconscious processes, but they remained, as it were, intra-familial. One could speak of power, but only within the group process. We all found it hard to break out into the external world. We were caught up in the system then and there. Of course, the applications groups were designed to help us to break out of this, but I felt they did so in a technocratic way - the use of what one had learned in order to be a more effective manager.
As I have said, the Leicester Conference is not an easy experience from which to draw conclusions just now, but I feel it fits my broader concern about scientism - the bracketing out of purposes and goals in the real world.
This issue takes us all the way back to the original one about the banishment of teleology from scientific explanations. My argument has washed up on the shore of managerial manipulation of workers' unconsciouses, having passed through various stages of Taylorism, Fordism, the introduction of the human factor in the Hawthorne studies, automation, micro-processor control and the direct manipulation of unconscious processes.
These developments in the broader culture connect to the heightened ambitions of Taylor and his colleagues as well as those of Henry Ford. Ford set up his Social Department to monitor and control the non-work behaviour of his employees, and he describes it at length in his autobiography. He conceived a 'sort of prosperity-sharing plan. But on condition the man and his home had to come up to certain standards of cleanliness and citizenship' (Ford, 1923, p. 128).
We had about fifty investigators in the Social Department and the standard of commonsense among them was very high indeed, but it is impossible to assemble fifty men equally endowed with commonsense. They erred at times - one always hears about the errors. It was expected that in order to receive a bonus married men should live with and take proper care of their families. We had to break up the evil custom among many of the foreign workers of taking in boarders - regarding a home as something to make money out of rather than a place to live. Boys under eighteen received a bonus if they supported the next of kin. Single men who lived wholesomely shared. The best evidence that the plan was essentially beneficial is the record. When the plan went into effect sixty per cent of the workers immediately qualified to share; at the end of six months seventy-eight per cent were sharing, at the end of one year eighty-seven per cent. Within a year and a half only a fraction of one per cent failed to share. (p. 129)
Taylor's philosophy was also extended more broadly. A colleague, M. L. Cooke, studied the administration of universities and the efficiency of importing knowledge in various universities' departments. Cooke's study, Academic and Industrial Efficiency, was published in 1910. Taylor and Gilbreth were concerned to apply time-and-motion studies to the practice of medicine, and the latter even conducted mico-motion studies on the vocal cords of opera singers in order to produce a higher standard of vocal quality. In fact Taylor's friend spoke of his dreams of the ultimate applicability of scientific management principles and ideas, not only in every industrial activity but to every conceivable human activity.
Taylor's introduction to the Principles of Scientific Management (1911) announces that he intended to 'to show that the fundamental principles of scientific management are applicable to all kinds of human activities, from our simplest individual acts to the work of our great corporations'. Taylor predicted:
The determination of the best method of performing all of our daily acts will, in the future' be the work of experts who first analyse and then accurately time while they watch the various ways of doing each piece of work and who finally know from exact knowledge - and not from anyone's opinion - which method will accomplish the results with the least effort and in the quickest time. The exact facts will have in this way been developed and they will constitute a series of laws which are destined to control the vast multitude of our daily personal acts which, at present, are the subjects of individual opinion. (Andrew, 1981, pp. 93-4)
By 1922 the Bulletin of the Taylor Society told of Taylor's dreams of the ultimate applicability of scientific management principles and ideas not only to industrial activity but to every conceivable human activity. This way of thinking carried over into the film Cheaper by the Dozen, starring Clifton Webb as Frank Gilbreth and Myrna Loy as his wife Lillian, who carried on his work after his death (Haber, 1964, pp. 37-44). In this popular film efficiency was brought into teeth-brushing, having the children's tonsils out, and other domestic activities. All very jolly.
Taylor's message has not been carried forward in the way that he thought but rather has been built into the structure of activities. I have in mind, in particular, theme parks, of which I have done a film study concerned with the Taylorization of leisure. When I interviewed the owner of Britain's Alton Towers, John Brome, he pointed out that he could determine the labour content in every single hamburger, monitor the activities of each of his workers minute by minute and exercise the same monitoring control (though surreptitiously) on the movements and activities of all people at the park. In doing this, he, like many others in the theme park industry, has availed himself of the advice of the leading authorities in this area, Leisure and Recreation Consultants of Dallas, Texas, who will take a green-field site, plan out the whole activity, give advice on capitalization and rides, and so arrange things that the visitor to the park will be completely unaware that he or she is under constant surveillance and being subtly controlled, such that their leisure and the paying out of their money will be extremely pleasurable and relaxing. As someone who has taken his children to several theme parks in America and Britain, I can tell you that Taylorized leisure is good clean fun.
I suppose you may think that I have reached a point of paranoia, but be assured that the management of consumption and leisure is done in a highly researched manner which is concerned both with the control of movements and with the manipulation of pleasure and unconscious images. While we believe ourselves to live in a free market in which the consumer is sovereign, it can equally be argued that we are the objects of a mode of production in which values are in the hands of those who create the labour process of both production and consumption. If this is the case, it is extremely difficult to achieve a point of view from which to mount a critique of such activities and to subject them to public scrutiny.
In conclusion, I want to return to the link between scientism, positivism and the suppression of values with which I began, that is, the concept of the naturalization of value systems. I said at the beginning that I wanted to make a philosophical, that is, an ideological, that is, a political point. In saying this, I am deliberately eliding three domains which are conventionally separated in how we speak of life and the world. But there were three revolutions in the seventeenth century - the Scientific Revolution, the Protestant revolution and the capitalist revolution. It is my argument that these three revolutions all had the same thrust. They all took values and individualism out of the public sphere; they then conducted the public sphere through the sale of labour power, through a redefinition of what counts as knowledge, how knowledge is made into theories, therapies and things. Somehow what it is all about got sieved out. The essential unity of philosophy, ideology and politics got obscured.
Generations of management theorists have attempted to speak in terms of science - both the rhetoric of adaptation, organism, equilibrium, etc., and the belief that there can be natural laws of how to do things. Such attempts seem to be the leading edge of displacing purposes into supposedly neutral techniques, most recently taking the ultimate step into the innermost recesses of the human heart. How we fight this, I cannot say here. But I think it is important to realize that it is well and truly the case. Knowing what lies deeply beneath and behind apparently practical theories is surely an important first step.
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The Human Nature Review © Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM