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Completing the triangle: Taylorism and the paradigms

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Abstract:

Taylorism and scientific management, as significant components of productive relations in the USA during the early twentieth century, have been examined by accounting historians representing the major paradigms that hold sway in contemporary historiography - the Foucauldian, the Marxist (labour process), and the economic rationalist (Neoclassical). The great bulk of this work has assumed that the major tenets of scientific management, such as time study, incentive wage schemes, standard costing, and variance analysis, were in common usage during the first two decades of the current century. This paper intends to set the record straight by demonstrating that theory was running far ahead of practice in that the number of actual adoptions of the new methods were not concomitant with the prevalence of scientific management literature. Subsequently, the paper will endeavour to show how the three major paradigms combine to enhance our understanding of Taylorism. Much of what Taylor wrote can be interpreted within a Foucauldian framework; the negative reaction of organised labour was much in the Marxist tradition; and, finally, the lack of applications in practice reflected economically rational action on the part of entrepreneurs (thereby completing the triangle).
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