Post Fordism Essay

For nearly a century, Taylorism and Fordism combined to construct the predominant rules of production and manufacturing employment in America. This formula created not only affordable products for the American market but also the consumer class that these products needed to be profitable. This article gives an overview of Taylorism, Fordism, and Post-Fordism. Each is presented in chronological order and contrasted with the preceding ideologies. The scientific approach of Taylor, Ford's division of labor, and the global marketplace of Post-Fordism appear to be enduring influences of these movements. An understanding of all three is essential in understanding the modern economy and the changes and ideologies that lie ahead.

Keywords Assembly Line; Contradictions of Capitalism; Mass Production; Piecemeal; Post-Industrialism; Scientific Management; Specialization; Vertical Engineering

Taylorism, Fordism,


In 1878, a young American engineer named Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856–1915) moved his apprenticeship to the Midvale steelworks on the industrial fringes of Philadelphia. The Midvale workers were paid piecemeal. Ideally, this meant that the more a worker produced, the more they got paid. In practice, this meant that each time a worker earned too much, in the eyes of the employer, the piecemeal rate would be cut for all workers (Donkin, 2001). The result was that workers began to harmonize their efforts to limit production and produce only enough to prevent further cuts and stay out of trouble. Taylor was amazed at the level of creativity, expertise, and labor that went into achieving this golden mean of un-productivity. At first he began to address the problems at Midvale in a traditional manner: he fired unproductive employees. When the new employees were equally unproductive, he cut the piecemeal rate. This only entrenched the Midvale workers deeper into the behaviors Taylor was attempting to break down. When Taylor turned to management for support, he found he could not convince them that his new ideas would work (Donkin, 2001).

If Taylor was going to change the behavior of the workforce, he had to better understand the work processes in order to sway management. With the approval of the owners, he began a series of scientific experiments in which he broke down the processes of the plant into smaller, simple tasks and used a stopwatch (the latest technology) to record the time necessary to perform each task in various ways. These experiments, though not the first of their kind, would become the basis of new work practices at Midvale, two books of scientific management, and the beginning of modern business management.

Henry Ford (1863–1947) was the founder of Ford Motor Company. His big idea was that work, previously conceived of as only a sustenance act, could be improved with technology to become the mechanism that set people free to live their own lives (Donkin, 2001; Ford & Crowther, 2005). At the core of this thinking was the idea that manufacturing should be efficient enough and workers paid enough that a worker could afford to purchase the products they produce. Ford believed a degree of prosperity should come from a worker’s "honest effort" (Ford & Crowther, 2005). How Ford developed the practice of mass production did make it possible for a Ford assembly line worker to purchase a Ford automobile. It also changed how products were produced, how workers were trained and worked, and how management functioned.

For nearly a century, Taylorism and Fordism combined to construct the predominant rules of production and manufacturing employment in America. Large companies used well-paid employees performing repetitive, fairly simple tasks on assembly lines to produce complex, though largely standard, products. This formula created not only affordable products for the American market but also the consumer class that these products needed to be profitable. American prosperity, previously isolated to the industrial barons of the late nineteenth century, was extended to more people than ever before, and the American middle class expanded rapidly.

Unfortunately, capitalism and the Taylorism/Fordism paradigm did have its shortcomings. As Marx predicted, capitalism has its periods of crisis. Some of these crises are recessions and depressions. The American Great Depression was devastating to manufacturers and workers. It really is not surprising that the Depression was followed by an era of regulation. American employers and workers wanted some assurance that such a total collapse would not happen again. Another crisis emerged when large manufacturing companies started to back-track on Ford's idea that workers should be paid well. The response to this crisis was the rise of the American worker's unions. Unions helped workers ensure a living wage and job stability. However, with the demise of unions in the late part of the twentieth century and the interchangeability of low-paid unskilled workers, the American economy faced another crisis, one of the contradictions of capitalism that Marx warned of. As companies cut back on workers' wages in order to make greater profits, workers became less capable of purchasing the products they produced. This meant the market for the goods being produced would shrink. The response to this crisis has been to globalize production. In this way, lower wages are moved to another consumer market, one in which the wages are relatively high.

In turn, America and other Western postindustrial countries have developed new service industries, including the enormous financial industry, to provide new jobs and strengthen the consumer pool. In a very real sense, this is just a way of deferring the contradiction of capitalism until a time when the rest of the world's labor markets mature. Today, regulation, the rise of globalism, and the rising service sector in Western economies are all part of a prevailing economic system known as Post-Fordism.



Taylorism, also called scientific management, was an approach to management that replaced management-worker conflict and low worker productivity with a scientific redesign of supervision and work. Taylorism was the beginning of the systematic study of work in industry. Taylor championed the role of the engineer, who could study processes by breaking them down into smaller tasks, observing them, and timing them, then reengineer work in order to develop the single best way to accomplish a task. Since the process was arrived at through a scientific approach, Taylor believed it would reduce friction between management and workers (Marshall, 1998). Taylor successfully implemented scientific management in a number of places. Perhaps his most famous successes came at Bethlehem Steel, where he reengineered the process for shoveling coal and loading steel. Not only did Taylor strive for better productivity, he also argued that workers should be given periodic rests in order to keep productivity high and that workers should be paid better (Donkin, 2001). Ultimately, Taylorism is direct control of production labor through incentive pay, controlled movements, time studies, and standard setting (Krier, 2006).

The basic elements of Taylorism are:

• Performing scientific analysis of tasks in order to develop a standard process and standard level of performance for each task

• Hiring and training the employee with the right abilities for the job

• Enabling workers to be successful by planning, training them, and providing them with the rests and tools needed to do their jobs

• Providing wage incentives for increased productivity

• Putting engineers in charge of the processes that managers supervise and workers perform


Standardization includes rules, job descriptions, chain of command, work processes, documentation of processes, and expected levels of production. Taylor believed that written documentation of each task helped created a "joint effort" between management and worker (Taylor, 1911). The written instructions also included time limits and incentive pay to be received when time goals were met. Taylor was careful to state that the time limits should not be unreasonable and that the instructions were only to prepare the worker to succeed so he or she could enjoy long, productive, and prosperous years of not being overworked. Taylor also was concerned about jobs being passed from one employee to another. He described how a "green employee" could come into a business and pick up the essentials of a new job with the guidance of management because of the history and memory that good work documentation supplied.

The practice of documentation has remained in place in business. In addition to enabling the standardization, productivity, and memory that Taylor envisioned, documentation also provides standards for treating employees fairly and a degree of legal protection.

Hiring the Right Worker for the Job

Taylor believed that scientific management provided an unequaled structure for training and supporting...

Post-Fordism is the dominant system of economic production, consumption and associated socio-economic phenomena, in most industrialized countries since the late 20th century. It is contrasted with Fordism, the system formulated in Henry Ford's automotive factories, in which workers work on a production line, performing specialized tasks repetitively, and in which his workers could afford the products they built. Definitions of the nature and scope of post-Fordism vary considerably and are a matter of debate among scholars.

Post-Fordism is characterized by the following attributes:[1]


Post-Fordism can be applied in a wider context to describe a whole system of modern social processes. Because post-Fordism describes the world as it is today, various thinkers have different views of its form and implications. As the theory continues to evolve, it is commonly divided into three schools of thought: the Regulation School, Flexible Specialization, and Neo-Schumpeterianism.

Regulation School[edit]

The Regulation approach (also called the neo-Marxist or French Regulation School), was designed to address the paradox of how capitalism has both a tendency towards crisis, change and instability as well as an ability to stabilize institutions, rules and norms. The theory is based on two key concepts. "Regimes of Accumulation" refer to systems of production and consumption, such as Fordism and post-Fordism. "Modes of Regulation" refer to the written and unwritten laws of society which control the Regime of Accumulation and determine its form.

According to Regulation theory, every Regime of Accumulation will reach a crisis point at which the Mode of Regulation will no longer support it, and society will be forced to find new rules and norms, forming a new Mode of Regulation. This will begin a new Regime of Accumulation, which will eventually reach a crisis, and so forth. Proponents of Regulation theory include Michel Aglietta, Robert Boyer, Bob Jessop, and Alain Lipietz.[2]

Flexible Specialization[edit]

Proponents of the Flexible Specialization approach (also known as the neo-Smithian approach) to post-Fordism believe that fundamental changes in the international economy, especially in the early 1970s, forced firms to switch from mass production to a new tactic known as Flexible Specialization. Factors such as the oil shocks of 1973, increased competition from foreign markets (especially Southeast Asia) due to globalization, the end of the post-World War II boom, and increasing privatization made the old system of mass-producing identical, cheap goods through division of labor uncompetitive.

Instead of producing generic goods, firms now found it more profitable to produce diverse product lines targeted at different groups of consumers, appealing to their sense of taste and fashion. Instead of investing huge amounts of money on the mass production of a single product, firms now needed to build intelligent systems of labor and machines that were flexible and could quickly respond to the whims of the market. The technology originally associated with flexible production was the numerical control technology, which was developed in the United States in the 1950s; however, the CNC, developed in Japan, later replaced it. The development of the computer was very important to the technology of flexible specialization. Not only could the computer change characteristics of the goods being produced, but it could also analyze data to order supplies and produce goods in accordance with current demand. These types of technology made adjustments simple and inexpensive, making smaller specialized production runs economically feasible. Flexibility and skill in the labor was also important. The workforce was now divided into a skill-flexible core and a time-flexible periphery. Flexibility and variety in the skills and knowledge of the core workers and the machines used for production allowed for the specialized production of goods. Modern just in time manufacturing is one example of a flexible approach to production.

Likewise, the production structure began to change on the sector level. Instead of a single firm manning the assembly line from raw materials to finished product, the production process became fragmented as individual firms specialized on their areas of expertise. As evidence for this theory of specialization, proponents claim that Marshallian "industrial districts," or clusters of integrated firms, have developed in places like Silicon Valley, Jutland, Småland, and several parts of Italy.


The Neo-Schumpeterian approach to post-Fordism is based upon the theory of Kondratiev waves (also known as long waves). The theory holds that a "techno-economic paradigm" (Perez) characterizes each long wave. Fordism was the techno-economic paradigm of the fourth Kondratiev wave, and post-Fordism is thus the techno-economic paradigm of the fifth, which is dominated by information and communication technology.

Notable Neo-Schumpeterian thinkers comprise Carlota Perez and Christopher Freeman, as well as Michael Storper and Richard Walker.

Post-Fordist theory in Italy[edit]

In Italy, post-Fordism has been theorised by the long wave of workerism or autonomia. Major thinkers of this tendency include the Swiss-Italian economist Christian Marazzi (fr), Antonio Negri, Paolo Virno, Carlo Vercellone, Maurizio Lazzarato. Marazzi's Capital and Language takes as its starting point the fact that the extreme volatility of financial markets is generally attributed to the discrepancy between the "real economy" (that of material goods produced and sold) and the more speculative monetary-financial economy. But this distinction has long ceased to apply in the post-Fordist New Economy, in which both spheres are structurally affected by language and communication. In Capital and Language Marazzi argues that the changes in financial markets and the transformation of labor into immaterial labor (that is, its reliance on abstract knowledge, general intellect, and social cooperation) are two sides of a new development paradigm: financialization through and thanks to the rise of the new economy. Marazzi offers a radical new understanding of the current international economic stage and crucial post-Marxist guidance for confronting capitalism in its newest form. Capital and Language also provides a warning call to a Left still nostalgic for a Fordist construct—a time before factory turned into office (and office into home), and before labor became linguistic. [1]

In terms of the development of the 'technical and political class-composition', in the post-Fordist era the crisis explains at the same time 'high points of the capitalist development' and how new technological tools develop and work altogether (money form, linguistic conventions, capital and language). [Zanini, A. 2010, 'On the Philosophical Foundations of Italian Workerism: A Conceptual Approach', Historical Materialism, 18, 4: 39-63.]

Changes from Fordism to post-Fordism[edit]

Post-Fordism brought on new ways of looking at consumption and production. The saturation of key markets brought on a turn against mass consumption and a pursuit of higher living standards.[3] This shift brought a change in how the market was viewed from a production standpoint. Rather than being viewed as a mass market to be served by mass production, the consumers began to be viewed as different groups pursuing different goals who could be better served with small batches of specialized goods[4] Mass markets became less important while markets for luxury, custom, or positional good became more significant.[5] Production became less homogeneous and standardized and more diverse and differentiated as organizations and economies of scale were replaced with organizations and economies of scope.[6]

The changes in production with the shift from Fordism to post-Fordism were accompanied by changes in the economy, politics, and prominent ideologies. In the economic realm, post-Fordism brought the decline of regulation and production by the nation-state and the rise of global markets and corporations. Mass marketing was replaced by flexible specialization, and organizations began to emphasize communication more than command. The workforce changed with an increase in internal marketing, franchising, and subcontracting and a rise in part-time, temp, self-employed, and home workers. Politically, class-based political parties declined and social movements based on region, gender, or race increased. Mass unions began to vanish and were instead replaced by localized plant-based bargaining. Cultural and ideological changes included the rise in individualist modes of thought and behavior and a culture of entrepreneurialism. Following the shift in production and acknowledging the need for more knowledge-based workers, education became less standardized and more specialized. Prominent ideologies that arose included fragmentation and pluralism in values, post-modern eclecticism, and populist approaches to culture.[7]



One of the primary examples of specialized post-Fordist production took place in a region known as the Third Italy. The First Italy included the areas of large-scale mass production, such as Turin, Milan, and Genoa, and the Second Italy described the undeveloped South. The Third Italy, however, was where clusters of small firms and workshops developed in the 1970s and 1980s in the central and northeast regions of the country. Regions of the Third Italy included Tuscany, Umbria, Marche, Emilia-Romagna, Veneto, Friuli, and Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol. Each region specialized in a range of loosely related products and each workshop usually had five to fifty workers and often less than ten. The range of products in each region reflected the post-Fordist shift to economies of scope. Additionally, these workshops were known for producing high quality products and employing highly skilled, well-paid workers. The workshops were very design-oriented and multidisciplinary, involving collaboration between entrepreneurs, designers, engineers and workers.[8]


There were several post-World War II changes in production in Japan that caused post-Fordist conditions to develop. First, there were changes to company structure, including the replacement of independent trade unions with pro-management, company-based unions; the development of a core of permanent male multi-skilled workers; and the development of a periphery of untrained temporary and part-time employees, who were mostly female. Second, after World War II, Japan was somewhat isolated because of import barriers and foreign investment restrictions, and as a result, Japan began to experiment with production techniques. Third, as imported technologies became more available, Japan began to replicate, absorb, and improve them, with many improvements deriving from modifications for local conditions. Fourth, Japan began to concentrate on the need for small-batch production and quick changeover of product lines to serve the demand for a wide range of products in a relatively small market. Because of informal price-fixing, competition was based not on price but rather on product differentiation. As a result, production became less standardized and more specialized, particularly across different companies. Fifth, Japan began to build long-term supply and subcontracting networks, which contrasted with the vertically integrated, Fordist American corporations. Sixth, because small and medium-size manufacturers produced a wide range of products, there was a need for affordable multipurpose equipment as opposed to the specialized, costly production machinery in Fordist industries in the United States. Technology for flexible production was significant in Japan and particularly necessary for smaller producers. The smaller producers also found it necessary to reduce costs. As a result, Japan became one of the main users of robots and CNC.[9] Over time, these six changes in production in Japan were institutionalized.


The main criticism of post-Fordism asserts that post-Fordism mistakes the nature of the Fordist revolution and that Fordism was not in crisis, but was simply evolving and will continue to evolve.[10] Other critics believe that post-Fordism does exist, but coexists with Fordism. The automobile industry has combined Fordist and post-Fordist strategies,[11] using both mass production and flexible specialization. Ford introduced flexibility into mass production, so that Fordism could continue to evolve. Those who advocate post-Fordism, however, note that criticism that focuses primarily on flexible specialization ignores post-Fordist changes in other areas of life and that flexible specialization cannot be looked at alone when examining post-Fordism. Another criticism is that post-Fordism relies too heavily on the examples of the Third Italy and Japan. Some believe that Japan is neither Fordist nor post-Fordist and that vertical disintegration and mass production go hand in hand.[12] Others argue that the new, smaller firms in Italy didn’t develop autonomously, but are a product of the vertical disintegration of the large Fordist firms who contracted lower value-added work to smaller enterprises.[13] Other criticisms argue that flexible specialization is not happening on any great scale, and smaller firms have always existed alongside mass production. Another main criticism is that we are too much in the midst to judge whether or not there really is a new system of production.[14]

The term "post-Fordism" is gradually giving way in the literature to a series of alternative terms such as the knowledge economy, cognitive capitalism, the cognitive-cultural economy and so on. This change of vocabulary is also associated with a number of important conceptual shifts (see sections above).

See also[edit]



  • Amin, Ash (1994). Post-fordism: A Reader. Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0-631-18857-6. 
  • Baca, George (2004) "Legends of Fordism: Between Myth, History, and Foregone Conclusions," Social Analysis,48(3): 169-178.
  • Jessop, Bob (1995). The Regulation Approach, Governance and Post-fordism, Economy and Society. Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0-631-18857-6. 
  • Alain Lipietz (Spring 1997). "The Post Fordist World: Labor Relations, International Hierarchy and Global Ecology". Review of International Political Economy: 1–41. 
  • Kumar, Krishan (1995). N. From Post-Industrial to Post-Modern Society: New Theories of the Contemporary World. Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0-631-18559-3. 
  • Ray Kiely (Spring 1998). "Globalization, Post-Fordism and the Contemporary Context of Development". International Sociology. 13 (1): 95–111. doi:10.1177/026858098013001008. 
  • Milani, Brian (2000). Designing the Green Economy: The Postindustrial Alternative to Corporate Globalization. Rowman and Littlefield. ISBN 0-8476-9190-X. 
  • Bernard, Mitchell (2000). "Post-Fordism and Global Restructuring". In Stubbs, Richard; Geoffrey R.D. Underhill. Political Economy and the Changing Global Order. Oxford University Press Canada. 
  • Nilges, Mathias (2008). "The Anti-Anti-Oedipus: Representing Post-Fordist Subjectivity". Mediations Journal. 
  • Gielen, Pascal (2015 - 3rd ed.), The Murmuring of the Artistic Multitude. Global Art, Politics and Post-Fordism. Valiz: Amsterdam, ISBN 9789492095046


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