Fordism and Post-Fordism: a Critical Reformulation

By: Bob Jessop

This on-line version is the pre-copyedited, preprint version. The published version can be found here:

‘Fordism and post-Fordism: a critical reformulation’, in A.J. Scott and M.J. Storper, eds, Pathways to Regionalism and Industrial Development, London: Routledge, 43-65, 1992.

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The language of Fordism and post-Fordism has entered lay discussion about the social and economic changes occurring in advanced capitalist societies­.[1] As it has become more widespread, however, this language has also been vulgarized. This reduces its utility for theoretical understanding and empirical analysis and generates many confusions and controversies. In this chapter I criticize and reformulate the conventional terminology of Fordism and post-Fordism in order to enhance its usefulness in the critique of political economy. In doing so I make the best case I can for both sets of concepts before proceeding to criticize them.[2] I distinguish four different levels on which Fordism and post-Fordism have been analyzed and also contrast their structural and strategic moments. I also argue that there is a fundamental asymmetry between Fordism and post-Fordism as analytical tools and call for more cautious and critical use of terms such as post-Fordism. The owl of Minerva, Hegel once noted, takes flight at dusk. If so, we are now well placed to understand Fordism: how soon we will know about post-Fordism remains to be seen.

 

I – The Four Levels of Fordism

 

The concept of Fordism was popularized in the USA by Henry Ford himself and was already part of social scientific and popular consciousness in North America and Europe in the 1920s. Even then it had different nuances and these have since become disturbingly diverse. It could refer in narrow terms to the employment of semi-skilled labour on a moving assembly line or in broad terms to the spread of the American way of life under the impact of mass production and mass consumption. It could be used to distinguish Fordism from Taylorism in the labour process or Fordism from Sloanism in corporate structure and strategy. So we must be careful to specify what Fordism means. Even a cursory review suggests that there are at least four different levels on which it has been analyzed: the labour process, the regime of accumulation, and its modes of regulation and societalization. For ease of presentation I will identify the first three with terms drawn from Parisian regulation theory and label the fourth with a term from West German social theory. Similar distinctions occur in several other approaches.[3]

1. As a distinct type of capitalist labour process, Fordism refers to a particular configuration of the technical and social division of labour involved in making long runs of standardized goods. Fordist ‘mass production’ is typically based on a technical division of labour that is organized along Taylorist lines, subject in its immediate production phase to mechanical pacing by moving assembly-line techniques, and organized overall on the supply-driven principle that production must be unbroken and in long runs to secure economies of scale. The assembly-line itself mainly exploits the semi-skilled labour of the ‘mass worker’ but other types of worker (craft or unskilled manual workers, foremen, engineers, designers, etc.) are employed elsewhere. In addition Fordism ideally involves systematic control by the same firm of all stages of accumulation from producing raw materials through to marketing (cf. Siegel 1988: 5). This complex technical division of labour is sometimes related to a complex regional division within or across national economic spaces: in late Fordism, for example, one might find ‘engineering and conception in region I, skilled production in region II, unskilled production in region III’ (Lipietz 1982: 37).

Note that the dominance of mass production in a given enterprise or sector does not exclude other labour processes or types of worker. Instead it subjects them to its own logic. For the dominance of mass production means that, by virtue of its impact on productivity and productivity growth, it is the main source of dynamism in a firm or sector; and that other processes and activities will be organized to support, enhance, or complement it.[4] This level of analysis is basically micro-economic and is often considered without reference to the macro-economic.

2. As an accumulation regime, i.e., a macro-economic regime sustaining expanded reproduction, Fordism involves a virtuous circle of growth based on mass production and mass consumption. Many studies assume that the Fordist regime and its reproduction are autocentric, i.e., that the circuit of capital is primarily confined in national boundaries. On these assumptions Fordism’s virtuous circle involves: rising productivity based on economies of scale in mass production, rising incomes linked to productivity, increased mass demand due to rising wages, increased profits based on full utilization of capacity, increased investment in improved mass production equipment and techniques, and a further rise in productivity. The apparent harmony among the steps in this virtuous circle does not guarantee its realization. Thus some analysts note the role of various margins of flexibility[5] and/or ‘built-in stabilizers’ that help to keep the circle virtuous despite the inevitable tendencies towards instabilities and disproportions (e.g., Boyer and Coriat 1986). Others note that these virtues themselves require at least two key proportionalities to be met. These are that: a) increased productivity in Department I (the capital goods sector) offsets the rising technical composition of capital[6] if the capital/output ratio is not to increase and thereby depress profits; and b) the growth rates in wage-earner consumption and in productivity in Department II (the consumer goods sector) move in a similar range – countering tendencies toward a crisis of underconsumption due to insufficient demand and toward a wage-induced profits squeeze (e.g., Lipietz 1982, 1985).

Not every firm or branch of production must be dominated by Fordist techniques for this mode of growth to occur as long as the leading sectors are Fordist. Indeed, if mass production is to find a mass market, there must be matching growth in output of other types of goods (such as steel, oil, roads, family housing, and electricity) and services (such as retailing, consumer credit, and the servicing of consumer durables). Thus some authors note the dominance of an ‘auto-industrial complex’ under Fordism to highlight how other production sectors complement mass production in the vehicle sector (cf. Perez 1983: 369). Even with such refinements, however, work on the Fordist accumulation regime is firmly rooted in economic analysis. To consider its institutional and organizational supports we move to a third analytic level.

3. Fordism can also be examined as a social mode of economic regulation,[7] i.e., as an ensemble of norms, institutions, organizational forms, social networks, and patterns of conduct that sustain and ‘guide’ the Fordist accumulation regime and promote compatibility among the decentralized decisions of economic agents despite the conflictual character of capitalist social relations (cf. Lipietz 1985: 121). Fordism can be specified through the forms assumed by different moments in the circuit of capital, the ways in which these forms get reproduced, and their articulation with each other. Thus one could explore the distinctive features of the Fordist wage relation (the skill profile of the collective labourer, the organization of labour markets and wage-effort bargaining, the nature of the wage form, and the balance between the private and collective reproduction of labour power); the Fordist enterprise (its internal organisation, the source of profits of enterprise, forms of competition, other ties among enterprises, links to banking capital); the nature of money (its dominant form and its emission, the banking and credit system, the allocation of money capital to production); the nature of commercial capital (especially in mass consumption and distribution); and the links between the circuit of capital and the state (the forms of state intervention in different moments of the circuit of capital). This third level of analysis entails a meso-economic, institutionally-focused analysis of the circuit of capital. It gives a middle-range link between the labour process and the basic features of macro-economic reproduction and must be carefully defined for each moment in Fordism:

  • The wage relation is organized around the key role of semi-skilled labour in large plants or concerns;[8] management recognizes unions for collective bargaining, unions in turn concede management’s right to organize the labour process and define corporate strategy; wages are indexed to productivity growth and prices and are downwardly sticky despite fluctuations in demand for labour; connective bargaining and/or minimum wage legislation spread rising wages to employees in non-Fordist sectors and thereby maintain relativities and demand; and indexed welfare benefits financed from progressive taxation generalize mass consumption norms to the economically inactive. Even in a largely autocentric Fordist regime this pattern is compatible with dual labour markets and/or non-unionized firms or sectors – as long as there is adequate overall social demand for mass produced goods.
  • The ideal-typical Fordist enterprise is a large concern in which ownership and control are separated. It has a distinctive multi-divisional, decentralized, market-oriented organization overseen by a central board that engages in long-range planning. This pattern was pioneered at General Motors under Alfred Sloan rather than at Ford Motors – hence its designation as ‘Sloanism’. For Sloan ‘extended control of production from the factory though his distributors and dealers to the consumer himself – toward the ideal that literally no automobile would be built unless a customer had already agreed to buy it’ (Beniger 1986: 311; cf. Chandler 1962 and Drucker 1972). Sloanism became the model for other large industrial enterprises in the USA in the 1920s and 1930s. Elsewhere mass production was often coupled with trusts and cartels. The main source of profits of enterprise in Fordism is relative surplus-value based on continual improvements in productivity and economies of scale. Those firms at the forefront of Fordist process and product innovation can also earn ‘technological rents’.[9] In both cases the main form of capitalist competition is monopolistic rather than liberal. Rather than participating in a flexi-price system in which prices vary with demand, firms engage in cost-plus pricing, price leadership behaviour, and competition through advertising.
  • Money is fiduciary and national in character rather than an international commodity money; private credit is supplied by a hierarchically organized banking system overseen by a central bank; corporate expansion depends on access to private credit as well as reinvestment of profits of enterprise; consumer credit is a major factor in households’ ability to purchase housing and major consumer durables and thus sustain demand; and state credit policies are targetted on aggregate demand and full employment.
  • Commercial capital has a key role in organizing mass consumption. Since the mass production of standardized goods is oriented to an anonymous and homogeneous public rather than to a specific customer or clearly demarcated market, specific channels and feedback links must be established between mass producers and mass demand. These are organized through mass advertising, mass retailing (multi-branch retailing, supermarkets, mail order), mass credit (hire purchase, mortgage finance), consumer research, etc.. The mass media have acquired a crucial role in diffusing mass consumption norms (Beniger 1986). Marketing needs also feed back into design (even at the expense of strict pursuit of the logic of mechanized mass production) to encourage marginal product differentiation, annual style changes, etc.. Thus design becomes a key factor in linking mass production and mass consumption (Sparke 1986: xxi).
  • The Fordist state is a Keynesian welfare state that has two key functions in promoting the virtuous circle of Fordism. It manages aggregate demand so that the relatively rigid, capital-intensive investments of Fordist firms are worked close to capacity and firms have enough confidence to undertake the extended and expensive R&D as well as the subsequent heavy capital investment involved in complex mass production;[10] and it generalizes mass consumption norms so that most citizens can share in the prosperity generated by rising economies of scale. Where the latter function involves only limited state provision for collective consumption, the state must ensure adequate levels of demand through the transfer of incomes. The primacy of its Keynesian and welfare functions in relation to the accumulation regime does not exclude other functions in relation to other aspects of the social formation. Nor does it rule out more interventionist roles during the transition to the dominance of Fordism or during the crisis-ridden years of Fordist decline (cf. Jessop 1989a).
  •  Analysis of the social mode of economic regulation is concerned with the economy in its integral sense, i.e., the social context in which expanded economic reproduction occurs.[11] It specifies the institutional and organizational conditions that secure Fordism as a national accumulation regime and is especially helpful in defining the peculiarities of different Fordist regimes. But it should not be divorced from work on the more general dynamics of capitalism. For the latter defines the basic tendencies and counter-tendencies, structural contradictions, strategic dilemmas, and overall constraints that inevitably shape modes of regulation, which find a provisional, partial, and unstable resolution in the latter, and whose continued presence and uneven development eventually undermine any given institutional and organizational solutions. In short, while this level is distinct from Fordism as an accumulation regime, it cannot be properly understood without considering how modes of regulation modify and yet remain subject to the generic laws of capital accumulation.

Other analysts approach Fordism in terms of its overall social impact.  They go beyond its micro-economic base, its meso-level institutional preconditions, and its macro-economic effects to explore its general repercussions on other institutional orders (such as the political system or cultural life) and/or other axes of societal organization (such as its spatial patterning). Such concerns involve not only the direct impact of Fordism but also its indirect effects. Among the latter one could explore measures adopted to deal, for example, with its adverse effects on social cohesion and institutional integration. The recursive pursuit of these effects and their further repercussions has no inherent limits. Thus one could study the impact of growing social welfare expenditures on the labour process and employment, the structure of demand, the dynamic of central-local government relations, or the rise of social movements oriented to welfare issues. With these direct and indirect effects we reach the fourth level of analysis.

4. Considered as a generic mode of ‘societalization’, i.e., pattern of institutional integration and social cohesion, Fordism moves social relations further towards a mass ‘société salariale’ (Aglietta and Brender 1984). The organization of social life is more and more premised on the fact that the vast majority of the population depend on an individual and/or social wage to satisfy their needs from cradle to grave. This contrasts with the pre-Fordist period when workers were involved in capitalism primarily as producers and met their consumption needs mainly from petty commodity and/or subsistence channels. Fordism itself promotes two complementary trends in consumption: first, growing private consumption of standardized, mass-produced commodities in nuclear family households and, second, provision of standardized, collective goods and services by a bureaucratic state. The first trend is tied to the strategic marketing of ‘ideological commodities’ (such as cars, televisions, washing machines, refrigerators, or mass tourism) whose individualized consumption becomes a mechanism of permanent self-normalization as consumers adopt the ‘American way of life’ (Haug 1986; Luescher 1986; Wolf 1987). The second trend reflects the growing socialization of the social reproduction of labour-power as well as efforts to manage the individual and social costs of the Fordist model (cf. Jessop 1986).

Thus, in addition to the state’s role in such activities as general education and vocational training, unemployment and retirement insurance, health care, or housing provision, it often deals with such side-effects of Fordism (or Fordist forms of modernization) as drastic falls in the rural population, destruction of traditional working class milieux, the privatization of family life, the depopulation of inner cities, or the environmental and social impact of the motor car. One major effect of Fordism here was to expand  the local state as the vehicle for socializing consumption, coping with the side-effects of the Fordist mode of growth, and managing its local crises – regardless of whether local accumulation itself was mainly Fordist or not. Closely related to this was the growth of the new middle classes (including state employees) who serve Fordist expansion and/or deal with some of its social repercussions. In turn this growth prompted crisis to the extent that such services were less amenable to productivity boosting Fordist techniques.

Another dimension of societalization is its spatial patterning. Indeed Scott has written of geographical outcomes that are ‘proper to each regime of accumulation’ (Scott 1988: 171). Fordism involved the growth of core industrial regions comprising large metropolitan areas surrounded by networks of smaller industrial cities. These regions were dominated by the leading Fordist firms and their suppliers; drew in raw materials and, on a growing scale, migrant or foreign labour, from the rest of the world; and churned out mass-produced goods for global markets (Harvey 1989: 132; Storper and Scott 1988: 10). As the Fordist regime developed, firms allocated activities, sourced supplies, and sought markets on an increasingly global scale. Perhaps the ultimate expression of this was the concept of the ‘world car’. Closely related to the organization of production was the nature of urban life in the Fordist era. Although national differences existed regarding their relative weight, Fordism was associated with suburbanization (especially in the USA) and high density urban renewal based on industrial construction techniques (especially in Europe) (Feldman and Florida 1987; Harvey 1989). There was also a Fordist ‘politics of place’ centered on ‘a consumerist representation of urban life as manifest in ideals about the nuclear family, suburban residence, and private car ownership’ (Storper and Scott 1988: 30).

Somewhat further removed from its economic logic are the specific forms of political life associated with Fordism. State intervention was reorganized to facilitate the Fordist mode of regulation through economic and social programming and increased administrative discretion as well as an expanding role for the local state in collective consumption and social welfare. Forms of representation and the social bases of the state were also modified. Thus trade unions and business associations had a key role in economic management and political bargaining over social welfare; and, as the parties of government accepted the Fordist compromise between capital and labour, they tended to become ‘catch-all’, people’s parties. In north-west Europe this pattern was closely linked to the dominance of social democratic or labour parties but similar policies were pursued elsewhere by regimes with more conservative governing parties (cf. Hirsch and Roth 1986; Roobeek 1987).

Overall, Fordism has been associated with continuing commodification, bureaucratization, social homogenization and individualization. This is reflected not only in economic and political life but also in the cultural sphere. Indeed, since mass production meant standardization of product as well as mass consumption, it was associated with a whole new aesthetic and a commodification of culture (Harvey 1989: 135-6). This produced a triumphant ‘high modernism’ in art, architecture, literature, and design as they came to express ‘a corporate capitalist version of the Enlightenment project of development for progress and human emancipation’ (Harvey 1989: 35).

So far we have not questioned the common assumption that the Fordist accumulation regime, whether or not it is autochthonous, is at least essentially autocentric in character. But small, open economies (such as Denmark, Sweden, Austria, or Canada)[12] actually moved towards a mass consumption society after 1945 by occupying growing non-Fordist niches in an emerging supranational productive system. In short, under global Fordism not all economies had to be Fordist in all respects. Rather, in a global division of labour whose dynamic was mainly determined by the leading Fordist sectors in the leading economies, economic success could occur in at least two ways. First, national economies could themselves assume a mainly Fordist dynamic, with growth being largely based on an expanding home market; or, second, they could occupy one or more niches that allowed them to enjoy rising standards of mass consumption based on growing export demand and profits in non-Fordist sectors (small batch capital goods, luxury consumer goods, agricultural goods, shipping or financial services, and/or raw materials). Where an economy is not itself primarily Fordist, however, its mode of growth must complement the dominant Fordist logic. In this way it can still be involved in the Fordist growth dynamic rather than being (increasingly) excluded from it.

 

II – Structure and Strategy in the Analysis of Fordism

 

Besides these different levels of Fordism we can distinguish their structural and strategic moments. The former refer to the actual organization of the level in question, the latter to the strategic perspectives and discourses that are currently dominant on that level. It is common for each of these moments to be internally incoherent and for the principal structural features and dominant strategic perspectives to be incongruent. Structure is the legacy of a complex historical process and often embodies major structural contradictions, strategy could well be short-term or ephemeral and involve irrational means and objectives. Indeed, structures rarely have a simple, unequivocal relation to a single strategy and they often prove recalcitrant in the short-term to attempts to recompose them. Conversely, even when strategies are long-term and organic in character, they may not yet have been institutionally embedded in structures nor have constituted new ‘worlds of work’ in practical consciousness.[13] New ‘technological styles’ (Perez 1983), ‘new production concepts’ (Kern and Schumann 1983), ‘visions of efficient production’ (Piore and Sabel 1984), ‘production strategies and paradigms’ (Badham and Mathews 1989), and so forth, usually emerge ahead of their time and become hegemonic and embedded in common sense practices only through complex historical practices. The same holds for accumulation regimes and modes of regulation. In addition, of course, many strategies are ‘irrational, arbitrary, and willed’ and so will sooner or later fail if they remain unmodified (for good illustrative studies of these points, see Elam and Borjeson 1989; Jenson 1990; Kristensen 1990; and Williams, Haslam, Wardlow, and Williams 1986).

These points are well illustrated in research on Fordism. Kristensen has eloquently described the contrast between the successful but ‘concealed organization’ of the Danish labour process, accumulation regime, and mode of regulation and the prevalence of Taylorist and Fordist strategic perspectives among Danish managers and production engineers. The latter’s plans were almost invariably undermined by the strength of craft workers who were naturally opposed to these perspectives and by the vitality of the small-scale, flexible local production networks and/or the flexibly specialized niche markets in which Danish firms operated (Kristenson 1990).[14] A less happy outcome occurred under the modernization plans of the UK’s nationalised steel, coal, and car industries in the 1970s. In each case, it has been argued, the strategic plan was based on a dogmatic commitment to ‘the Western model of mass production’ (sc. Fordism) and an obsessive belief that modernization along these lines would give ‘a productive opportunity to move down a long run average cost curve by embracing large-scale capital investment techniques’ (Williams, Haslam, Wardlow, and Williams 1986: 171). But the planners overestimated the likely returns to scale and ignored the problem of product range and markets. Thus ‘ritual modernization’ thrice produced over-capacity in large-scale plants and so failed to boost productivity significantly (1986: 185, 190). A third example can be drawn from the relatively successful process of Fordist modernization in France pursued under the aegis of a centralized state and eventually accepted as legitimate by other social forces in the 1960s (see Petit 1984 and Jenson 1990). Indeed, as Elam and Borjeson argue, ‘although technological innovations and market conditions (i.e. larger forces) favouring flexible production may appear, the realisation and pervasive diffusion of flexible production will depend on simultaneous cultural and political change both within and beyond the workplace’ (Elam and Borjeson 1989: 6).

Thus, in talking about the Fordist era, we must be careful not only to distinguish­ the levels on which Fordism occurred; but also to establish whether it did so through the real predominance of Fordist structures and/or through the hegemony or dominance of Fordist strategies. It is in this regard that Walker has bemoaned the fact that ‘the Fordist-dominated era bequeathed not only a productive basis but a powerful ideology (which Piore and Sabel collapse into a single technological paradigm) that led capitalists and scholars alike to see production in a remarkably narrow way’ (1989: 11). In certain respects this ideology may have given coherence and direction to what would otherwise have remained rather inchoate and disconnected economic, political, and social changes. But even this has not made it easier to disentangle Fordist myth from Fordist reality. This suggests that we must establish whether the Fordist era really involved the predominance of Fordist structures. Or was it just marked by the hegemony or dominance of Fordist strategies that lent coherence and direction to what would otherwise have remained rather inchoate and disconnected economic, political, and social changes?

It is indeed problematic that Fordist concepts were often hegemonic even when national economies were less often clearly Fordist in their organization and dynamic. The history of many national economies both before and after the Second World War could well be written in terms of successive attempts to impose Fordist principles on non-Fordist economies. This led to some interesting hybrid economies that have placed national economies in very different positions to exploit post-Fordist opportunities. The vitality of the ‘Third Italy’ is often cited here – although both its reality and relevance are often contested too. There are also many more general questions about the heuristic value of the whole debate about Fordism and post-Fordism. Indeed, as the ensuing remarks might suggest, there is a risk of getting bogged down in mainly taxonomic discussion.[15] Whilst this might help in clarifying some of the issues at stake in disputes over Fordism, it does not as such advance our understanding of the dynamics of postwar growth, the origins or nature of the crises that emerged in the mid- to late 1960s, or the way out of the crisis. For this we must move beyond taxonomy to consider the causal mechanisms and connections implied in different approaches to Fordism.

 

I – Problems with the Concept of Fordism[16]

 

1 The Labour Process: Fordism à la Henry Ford was actually quite limited in diffusion and was never fully realized even in Ford’s own plants in North America – let alone those in Europe. Indeed two common criticisms are that only a small part of manufacturing output is produced in Fordist conditions and only a small proportion of the labour force is employed in Fordist manufacturing. Both charges hold even for the supposed golden years of Fordism. In part this reflects basic technical limits of assembly line techniques for automated and continuous flow processes, jobbing or small batch production, or even potentially high volume goods whose composition and level of demand are too varied to justify using product-specific techniques. This means the potential for Fordism depends on the weight of specific sectors and the nature of their products. Thus, before judging the utility of ‘Fordism’ for understanding the labour process in a given economy, we should examine both its industrial profile and its competitive performance. Its explanatory force would be cast in doubt where an economy managed to compete successfully in supposedly Fordist sectors without itself being Fordist. Its utility would be confirmed where a failure to adopt Fordist techniques is linked to manufacturing decline in open competition. Britain’s combination of ‘flawed Fordism’ and continuing economic decline would seem to fit the Fordist model. This is certainly not to argue that every economy[17] develops the technically optimal labour process profile to match its pattern of industrial specialization. Whether and how new technologies are introduced is far from being exclusively determined by technical considerations. But a failure to adopt Fordist techniques where they are technically most appropriate could lead to competitive disadvantages. For some products are best made by mass production methods. Thus, whilst Williams, Cutler, Williams, and Haslam stress the impossibility of ‘a real national economy where all production is undertaken on a mass production basis’, they also note that, in areas such as complex consumer durables that sell on price, Fordist mass production had ‘an overwhelming advantage over the craft methods of production … used hitherto’ (1987: 407, 420). This superiority does not exclude other methods being adopted, of course, but it does imply that non-Fordist producers will need protecting from the full force of competition to survive. This suggests that, before judging the utility of ‘Fordism’ as a general concept for understanding the dynamics of the labour process, we should examine not only the industrial profile of an economy but also its competitive performance.

 

To take just five stylized examples we could contrast:

(a) the West German economy with its broad international specialization in complex mechanical and electrical engineering capital goods, chemicals and pharmaceutical production, and high-tech and capital-intensive consumer goods – whose production depends to a significant extent on skilled Facharbeiter

(b) the Canadian economy with its prairy agriculture, export-oriented raw materials and extractive industries, and branch plant assembly manufacturing;

(c) Denmark’s intensive dairy and pork farming, agro-industrial complex, shipping services, and export-oriented, design-intensive, quality-based craft production;

(d) the Italian economy, with its relative specialization in fashion goods facing volatile demand, advanced machine tools and capital equipment, tourism, and agricultural goods as well as mass produced vehicles; and

(e) the archetypal autocentric US-American economy with its dominant mass production based consumer goods industries as well as the capital goods sectors serving them – combined with Fordist agriculture, a partly mass production-based and partly small batch, flexibly specialized military-industrial complex,[18] and a key role for business and financial services.

If an economy whose industrial profile indicates that it should be mainly Fordist has failed to adopt Fordist methods and nonetheless competes successfully in supposedly Fordist sectors, this would indicate problems with the explanatory force of Fordism. But its utility would be confirmed where failure to adopt Fordist techniques is linked to manufacturing decline in open competition. In this context the British case, which combines ‘flawed Fordism’ and continuing economic decline, would seem to support the Fordist model. So would the West German case, which translates a strong capital goods sector as well as high value-added Fordist sectors into continuing export success. But Japan, as ever, poses problems. Indeed they have recently prompted Sayer to claim that ‘while Japan has forms of organization not unlike those described as “flexible specialization”, it also has other characteristics that cannot usefully be subsumed under western versions of fordism or postfordism’ (Sayer 1989: 667).

The limited spread of Fordism also reflects certain social limits making it impractical or unacceptable even where it is applicable. For existing labour market institutions and social traditions could well prevent or block penetration of Fordism even for that ‘classic’ Fordist sector – cars. Several recent studies demonstrate how Fordist mass production has been blocked here  by such factors as skill structure, managerial capacities, market size, labour market conditions, and union organization (e.g., Altshuler et al., 1984; Marsden et al., 1985; Tolliday and Zeitlin 1987). Ford plants in Britain were slow to develop Fordism, for example, because of inadequate management, craft traditions, the limited markets for cars, and union resistance (Tolliday 1987).

We might also ask whether studies of the Fordist labour process have been too concerned with manufacturing or, indeed, in this sector, with mass consumer durables generally or even cars and trucks alone.[19] For this diverts attention from the growth generated since 1945 by other sectors (such as aerospace, petrochemicals, or synthetic materials) and biases studies of mass production itself towards some, possibly atypical, manufacturing sectors. A less restrictive definition of Fordist mass production helps us find it elsewhere. Defined as the production of standardized goods or services through a Taylorized technical division of labour, the use of dedicated machinery, and a focus on economies of scale,[20] for example, Fordism occurs in sectors ranging from battery farming to tax collection, mass retailing to mass incineration, multiple choice testing for the mind to mass screening for the body, fast food to mass transit (on US agriculture, see Kenney et al., 1988; on agriculture in general, Kamppeter 1986; on office work, Beniger 1986: 432f).

Kenney et al., make a persuasive case for the extension of Fordism into American agriculture from the New Deal to the 1960s with the emphasis on producing bulk commodities to uniform standards through the intensive application of chemical inputs and farm machinery. This generated massive economies of scale, high and secure incomes for farmers, and provided a basis for cheapening the food of urban workers (Kenney et al. 1988: 5; cf. more generally, Kamppeter 1986: 114-18). One could recall here that it was the ‘disassembly line’ animal slaughter and butchery process that inspired Ford to introduce the assembly line[21] and that battery farming and animal husbandry have increasingly been subject to Fordist techniques.

In another area too, that of office work, a case for Fordism can be made. Taylorism, mass production, and mechanization began in the high volume life insurance business as well as government bureaucracies and has been considerably extended since. Beniger describes how office work can be Taylorized, subject to assembly line techniques, and made open to surveillance and monitoring. His study of the control revolution shows how control innovation first began in distribution and then spread to production and consumption (1986: 432ff). Many of the strategies associated with Fordism can be found outside production proper before they penetrate there.

Regarded as a labour process, then, Fordism can be variously defined. Descriptively this does no harm as long as each definition is relatively precise and different definitions are clearly distinguished.[22] But problems occur in causal explanation because more inclusive definitions entail different chains of argument and/or causation from less inclusive definitions. Here too clarity is essential. For each definition, given certain assumptions about the capital-labour relation and forms of capitalist competition, one could generate arguments about the dynamics of class conflict in the enterprise and/or the course of capital accumulation. We also need a more complex set of distinctions that does not residualize all but a small subset of labour process relations. Even the dichotomy between ‘flexible specialization’ and ‘mass production’ with its two positive terms is not much better. But it would be quite wrong to work with a simple Brave New World distinction between ‘before Ford’ and ‘after Ford’ – as implied, for example, in Piore and Sabel’s account of the first industrial divide (1984). We need a more complex set of distinctions that does not residualize all but a small subset of labour process relations. Unfortunately the dichotomy between ‘flexible specialization’ and ‘mass production’ is not much better – even if it does have two seemingly positive terms rather than one.[23] Instead of these one- or two-valued perspectives we need a multi-valued typology that can be used to produce both rich descriptions and to generate dynamic propositions or explanations.[24]

2. Regime of Accumulation: to put the historical cart before the conceptual horse, we can ask whether there was ever a Fordist regime of accumulation and how one might identify it? Emphasizing the virtuous circle of mass production and mass consumption in an autocentric national economy means that few national economies could be described as Fordist. Only the American economy had the continental scope and range of resources to be virtually self-sufficient and develop something like a true Fordist accumulation regime. The French state tried to pursue a similar strategy and was particularly concerned about ‘le defi americain’ and its threats to autocentrism. Given that the regulation approach originated in France with Aglietta’s work on US Fordism, this contrast between American structure and French strategy is especially interesting.[25]  More generally this involves the problem of the spatial reach of Fordism. In these terms it might be better to argue that Fordism occurs mainly on a local or regional scale in the form of Fordist industrial districts or else pan-regionally or supra-nationally in the form of Fordist circuits of capital.[26] Fordist regional economies, pockets of flexible specialisation, and other local regimes can all be found inside national boundaries. This poses problems about their role in the national mode of growth and their insertion into the dominant mode of regulation. A further complication arises because advanced capitalist economies were significantly involved in foreign trade from the formation of Fordism through its heyday into its declining years. This holds above all for small, open economies. Thus, whatever the virtues of an ideal-typical, autocentric Fordist regime, ideal and reality were often far apart.

The idea of a Fordist accumulation regime could be rescued if one agreed that its virtuous circle need not actually occur through a close coupling of mass production and mass consumption within national economies but could be secured instead where a national economy has the following features. Its dynamism would be based on intensive accumulation in one or more leading sectors, rising productivity due to economies of scale and/or other sources of relative surplus value, rising wages indexed to rising productivity and profitability, a corresponding growth in mass consumption, rapid domestic expansion in the production of mass consumer goods and/or the various complementary goods and services needed to enjoy them, and, to close the circuit, sufficient export earnings to finance the import of mass consumer goods and other inputs needed to keep the virtuous circle in operation. Thus a given national economy need not itself produce complex mass consumer durables as long as it generates enough export earnings to finance their importation and has a mode of regulation that generalizes both mass consumption norms and effective demand. Even so the overall economic dynamic would differ from that in other regime types: for example, from those based on extensive accumulation and competitive regulation or intensive accumulation without mass consumption. For mass consumption would still require a supporting infrastructure and complementary service sectors and this would modify occupational and sectoral patterns.

Treating Fordist accumulation regimes in this way involves some complex theoretical manoeuvres with somewhat ambivalent implications for the utility of Fordism as a concept. Positively it eschews analyzing national or regional economies in isolation and brings into focus the complementarities among different national accumulation regimes. It bans assuming that Fordism emerged through the simple diffusion of the US model and requires closer attention to its different modes of regulation. It also highlights the need to examine how international regimes (or modes of international regulation) served to block further exploitation of dependent peripheries and encourage trade among the metropolitan economies. Negatively we are led to ask whether work on Fordism involves anything more than putting old growth models into a new terminological bottle. Sometimes it seems that a Kaldor-Verdoorn type of explanation (stressing the virtuous effects of a shift from low productivity agriculture to high productivity manufacturing and/or the potentially self-reinforcing effects of rapid growth in productivity and output) has been re-packaged and sold (in some cases misleadingly) as Fordism.[27] If this type of explanation holds, the key to growth in mass consumption would be rising mass incomes from rapid economic expansion rather than mass production as such. In turn this would direct attention to the general conditions of postwar economic growth. Perhaps Fordism could then be brought back as an accumulation strategy or organizing myth giving shape and coherence to economic growth. But this would be to emphasize strategic issues rather than merely describe the actual growth dynamic. The origin and spread of Fordist ideas, projects, and strategies would still be important fields of enquiry but should not be mistaken for actual modes of growth in different postwar economies. Equally important would be studies of the real driving forces behind growth – contrasting the roles of military spending,[28] Keynesian welfare spending, and so forth.

A longer historical perspective is valuable here as it shows the experimental, accidental development of the dominant Fordist paradigm. For, if Fordism’s history is limited to the domestic consolidation of Americanism and its diffusion, one ignores attempts to develop alternative models of Fordism in the interwar period. Taylorist and Fordist paradigms were significant in the Soviet Union, for example; and, voiced in various productivist, technocratic, and futurist projects, they also enjoyed wide cultural and political appeal in Western Europe – especially ‘where representative government was deemed to be working badly’ (Maier 1970: 29). Nazism and Fascism gave Taylorism and Fordism a distinctive political gloss. They proposed state-sponsored ‘rationalization’ of all economic and social life as a prelude to winning mass markets elsewhere through bilateral trading agreements and/or force of arms.[29] As a resource-rich, continent-wide, and still expanding economy, the US could plausibly adopt an isolationist stance and aim for autocentric growth: German and Italian policy-makers felt their economies had to look abroad to secure the potential of Fordist rationalization (cf. Siegel 1988). European fascination with Americanism and Fordism was undermined by the Great Depression, however, reviving only after Allied victory in its turn undermined faith in block policies such as the Nazi Grossraumwirtschaft or Japan’s ‘Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere’. This helped the US to hegemonize postwar reconstruction and assert the virtues of Fordism and the American way of life. In promoting its own model of Fordism the US was advantaged, of course, by its economic and military dominance. This enabled it to influence institutional reform in West Germany and Japan and establish international regimes that encouraged Fordist accumulation – most notably through installing an international oil regime that secured increasingly cheap and plentiful supplies of an energy resource essential to Fordist expansion (Bromley 1990). Thus, even accepting that early postwar growth regime was mainly autocentric, various favourable international conditions were needed for this domestic take-off to occur.

3. Social Mode of Economic Regulation: the key problem here is the wide variation in the modes of regulation compatible with Fordism considered as an accumulation regime. Metropolitan Fordism has occurred with the most varied labour market institutions. The mass Fordist worker and the mass union were not always the pivotal forces in industrial relations and collective bargaining. The M-form (or Sloanist divisional company) mostly took root in Europe in the late 1960s rather than in the take-off to Fordism (Franko 1974); and Japanese company forms are far from Sloanist (Sayer 1989). Many European economies as well as Japan have retained a sizeable and politically significant petty bourgeoisie in the commercial sector long after a Fordist model would have seen a shift to mass retailing. Conversely mass consumption emerged in the late nineteenth century in both Britain and the United States (Beniger 1986; Tedlow 1990). In addition metropolitan Fordism is associated with liberal, corporatist, and dirigiste forms of political regime. Keynesian demand management developed rather late in most countries and was applied rather ineffectively in almost all economies. Likewise the timing and pattern of welfare state developments assumed very different forms across all the advanced capitalist economies.

Thus, rather than insist on one particular institutional configuration as comprising the Fordist mode of regulation, we should search for family resemblances. Some common patterns can be discerned: a linkage between wages and productivity; the spread of connective bargaining; monopolistic competition; the growing role of state credit in investment and consumption; state involvement in generalizing mass consumption norms to significant groups – peasants in Japan, farmers in Europe and the USA, the growing army of state employees, and welfare recipients. There was also a growing strategic concern with economies of scale, productivity, planning, ‘growthmanship’, etc., that affected social and political life as well as forms of economic activity.

4. Mode of Societalization: the Fordist mode of regulation, if such there is or was, has proved so varied that its consequences for societalization also vary massively. Moreover, since the starting points for Fordist expansion differed and socio-political and institutional structures are hard to transfer across societies, we can find quite different ‘national Fordisms’. But it is often unclear how far these differences are due to a generic Fordist logic working in different circumstances or to pre-existing structural differences fundamentally modifying the generic logic to produce different modes of growth. Thus we turn to another issue, namely, periodization.

5. Periodization. Since each of the elements in Fordism has its own pre-history and many elements will survive beyond the Fordist epoch, crucial questions arise about the exact timing of this epoch. If there is no discontinuity or rupture as the labour process, accumulation regimes, modes of regulation, or social structures of accumulation evolve, are we justified in talking about a Fordist epoch? Even if we concede that mass production makes a difference, it might not be the key innovation in explaining postwar growth. Research on long waves reveals that more periods of economic expansion have occurred than is implied in the simple contrast between pre-Fordist and Fordist regimes. It also suggests that postwar growth was based as much on abundant cheap energy, petro-chemicals, synthetic materials, other process industries, and aircraft as on mass production of consumer durables. Likewise, we could ask whether the crucial divide in the transition to post-Fordism is the demise of the Fordist assembly line (or even mass production as a whole) or the penetration of micro-electronics into an ever-growing range of economic activities (including mass production). Without satisfactory answers to such questions, discussions about Fordism and post-Fordism have little point.

Nor can satisfactory answers be found in the genesis of individual elements of Fordism (however this is defined) but only in discontinuities in their overall articulation. Thus we should try to identify new configurations that have acquired a distinctive and emergent dynamic as a result of this articulation. At least two problems arise here. First, a great deal of effort must go into tracing the long gestation of a rather short-lived phenomenon – since Fordism’s heyday did not even cover the full thirty-year postwar boom.[30] Second, the take-off into Fordist growth seems to depend on a long series of chance events with the end of the Second World War providing only a convenient but stereotypical reference point for later periodizations.

My own conclusion is that any serious discussion of Fordism as a distinct phase in capitalist expansion must proceed from a focus on the mode of regulation. Analyses of the labour process are too limited – especially since there are real problems in assessing the significance of the Fordist labour process in its strict meaning. Emphasising the Fordist regime of accumulation is undermined by the problematic character of the claims about auto-centrism and the virtuous circle of balanced growth generated by mass production and mass consumption. But stressing societalization, i.e., the ramifications and repercussions of Fordism on the pattern of institutional integration and social cohesion, assumes the unassumable – that we already agree how to define Fordism. By a process of elimination we must either define it in terms of a specific mode of regulation or else reject Fordism as a useless concept. Many critics would welcome the second alternative but a reasonable case can be made for the first. Thus I recommend that Fordism be defined in terms of a core mode of regulation whose minimum features comprise: a wage relation in which wages are indexed to productivity growth and inflation, the state has a key role in managing demand, and state policies help to generalize mass consumption norms. Working with this basic definition we can examine the economic preconditions of the Fordist mode of regulation in specific modes of growth (or national accumulation regimes and their insertion into the world economy) and forms of organization of the labour process; we can examine the crisis of Fordism in terms of changes in the circuit of capital and/or the modalities of class struggle that help undermine the effectiveness of the Fordist mode of regulation as well as in terms of the distinctive, sui generis dynamic of this mode of regulation itself; we can examine the attempts to maintain this mode of regulation in the face of its crises and their eventual failure; and we can examine its broader preconditions and effects in the organization of state, economy, and civil society. In each case we must be sensitive to national variations among different modes of growth and regulation as well as to the changing pattern of complementarities and tensions among them.

 

IV – The Transition to Post-Fordism

 

What conclusions follow from this concerning post-Fordism?  An adequate account must treat it like Fordism – distinguishing its different levels and adopting the same critical spirit. During the current economic turbulence, however, even its generic features are uncertain. The asymmetry between Fordism and post-Fordism in this regard is even suggested by the simple chronological prefix in the latter term. So let us be wary. If such prefixes really conveyed much information, terms like ‘post-liberalism’ or even ‘pre-post-Fordism’ would tell us much about Fordism.[31] Yet even a detailed specification of the latter’s different dimensions leaves a lot unanswered. Thus a minimum condition for mentioning post-Fordism would be to show why it emerged after the Fordist era. Otherwise we should talk of a variant of non-Fordism.[32]

If the prefix is to convey real meaning rather than just provide a chronological marker akin to the initial French usage of ‘apres-fordisme’ (literally, ‘after fordism’), further arguments must be adduced. A case might be made along one or both of the following lines. Either one could show how post-Fordism has emerged from tendencies originating within Fordism but marks a break with it; and/or one could indicate how the ensemble of old and new elements in post-Fordism resolves or displaces one or more of the contradictions and crises that decisively weakened Fordism.[33] If post-Fordism is said to emerge from Fordism, major discontinuities must also be demonstrated: otherwise it would be better to talk of high Fordism, late Fordism, or neo-Fordism.[34] Alternatively one could justify the concept by showing how post-Fordism resolves or displaces the distinctive contradictions and crisis-tendencies of Fordism. This does not imply that post-Fordism would lack its own contradictions and crisis tendencies. These can be taken for granted. But it would still make sense to ‘post’ this new regime if it somehow overcomes (or is widely held to do so) the problems typical of the Fordist era.[35]

Serious analysis of post-Fordism must go beyond noting that it occurs after Fordism and show how it relates to specific developmental tendencies and crises of Fordism. Doing so would not as such prove that ‘post-Fordism’ is the best rubric for exploring and explaining current changes in advanced capitalist economies and/or the capitalist world economy as a whole. The merits in this regard of a post-Fordist approach as opposed to other lines of analysis poses a set of questions that cannot, unfortunately, be addressed here. Yet the advocates of a post-Fordist perspective frequently imply that post-Fordism is the master concept for analyzing both current changes and future developments. It is all too rare for them to offer any convincing reasons for ignoring other bases of periodization (cf. Bromley 1988: 4).

Apart from these basic conceptual problems, there are some sound empirical reasons for casting doubt on post-Fordism. Thus a recent study of trends in the organization of automobile production notes the problems emerging from ‘the contradictoriness of the empirical phenomena of change and the mutual oppositions in developmental trends, that are often observable in one and the same factory… To describe this situation properly seems even more complicated when the different starting points in different firms and countries and the phenomenon of uneven development are considered’ (Jürgens et al., 1988: 12). There are clearly many different starting points and trajectories en route to post-Fordism and most evidence is contradictory, incomplete, or provisional – especially in relation to post-Fordist accumulation regimes, mode of regulation, or societalization. Even assessing whether the American, Japanese, or German model will be the new hegemonic paradigm risks marginalizing other possibilities. These include an emergent pax trilateralis based on a complementary, tripolar global division of labour or a variety of paradigms based on elements drawn from each model and adapted to local circumstances.[36] Moreover, since it is doubtful whether West Germany or postwar Japan are best seen as Fordist, it might prove misleading to treat the eventual dominance of a ‘Fujitsuist’ paradigm and/or a recharged Modell Deutschland as post-Fordist.

Faced with these difficulties, prudence might well be the better part of valour. But, as Marx reminds us, ‘hic Rhodus, hic salta!’. Having written elsewhere on post-Fordism and having just spent some time here looking about me, I might just as well leap. Taking as my springboard the basic assumption that a post-Fordist accumulation regime will be based on the dominance of flexible production in combination with differentiated, non-standardized consumption, I will specify the various levels of post-Fordism.

1. As a labour process, post-Fordism can be defined as a flexible production process based on flexible machines or systems and an appropriately flexible workforce. Its crucial hardware is micro-electronics based information and communications technologies. These are relevant to ‘manual and non-manual work, to small, medium and large businesses, at corporate, divisional and workplace level, to managements and unions, and so on’ (Clark 1989: 6). This permits the spread of post-Fordism well beyond flexible mass production of complex consumer durables in large factories. They can also be used ‘to steer, control and provide immediate feedback on a wide range of human and machine operations. When linked into electronics-based telecommunications systems, these ‘real time’ technologies can also effect enhanced information links and flows across space, integrating activities across departments and sites, and between individuals and organizations in different countries’ (Clark 1989: 6). This would allow new or enhanced flexible specialization by small firms or producer networks even in small-batch production and, indeed, outside manufacturing, could promote flexibility in the production of many types of services in the private, public, and so-called ‘third’ sectors. Hence the scope for the post-Fordist labour process to shape the dynamic of the emerging economic system is far greater than was true of Fordism. In some areas post-Fordism will see a further extension of Taylorism (e.g., lower grade clerical work and some aspects of design) or its further intensification (e.g., sweated manufacturing or assembly work). Elsewhere there may be a bilateral convergence towards diversified quality production from both mass production and handcraft production (Streeck 1987). This suggests that there could be a polarization of skills between polyvalent skilled workers and unskilled under a post-Fordist regime rather than the archetypal Fordist pattern of homogenization around the semi-skilled worker.

This pattern could properly be labelled post-Fordist in so far as it emerges from the Fordist labour process itself and/or is seen as responding to the crisis of Fordism. Whilst not denying the partial validity of the former link, it is easier to defend the latter. Stressing how post-Fordism emerged from the Fordist labour process makes it hard to distinguish it from neo-Fordism. And, since post-Fordism can be applied to branches that were not previously organized along Fordist lines, further doubts are raised over the validity of the prefix. By looking at how post-Fordism evolves in response to crises of Fordism, however, we can include process and product innovations that emerged outside any immediate Fordist context. Flexible specialization complexes that have long co-existed with Fordist mass production and now seem to have won a new lease of life in both material and ideological terms could be included here; so could the key role of new technologies (such as micro-electronics, biotechnology, and new materials) in overcoming some of the problems of Fordist control. In seizing on these new or recharged sources of flexibility, capitalists hope to overcome the alienation and resistance of the mass worker, the declining quality of products, the relative stagnation of Taylorism and mass production, the competitive threat from low-cost ‘peripheral Fordist’ or ‘bloody Taylorist’ producers in the Third World, and the relative saturation of the markets for standardized mass produced goods; and/or to meet the growing demand for more differentiated products, for measures to break the rising costs of non-Fordist service sectors (especially in the public sector), and to boost productivity in other manufacturing sectors. The new technologies may also help resolve more general problems in Fordism such as its excessive use of fuel, energy, and raw materials and its damage to the natural and built environment (cf. Roobeek 1987).

2. As a stable mode of macro-economic growth, any virtuous post-Fordist circle would reflect the newly dominant form of labour process as well as changes in international economic relations. An ideal typical national post-Fordist accumulation regime would have the following dynamic. It would be based on flexible production, growing productivity based on economies of scope, rising incomes for polyvalent skilled workers and the service class, an increased demand for differentiated goods and services favoured by the growing discretionary element in these incomes, increased profits based on technological rents and the full utilization of flexible capacity, reinvestment in more flexible production equipment and techniques and/or new sets of products, and a further boost to economies of scope. Compared with the ideal typical Fordist accumulation regime, post-Fordist growth need not involve generalizing core workers’ rising incomes to other workers and/or the economically inactive. Moreover, as Fordist expansion is said to have been largely based on a growing home market and post-Fordist modes of growth will be more oriented to worldwide demand, global competition could further limit the scope for general prosperity and encourage a market-led polarization of incomes.

One possible solution to this latter problem would be international Keynesianism to manage global demand and generalize high consumption norms together with more local supply-side policies to enhance the structural competitiveness of the productive systems engaged in the race for post-Fordist modernization. Another solution would be more ‘extensive’ in kind: re-integrating the Soviet Bloc and Communist China into a single world market to generate demand through the decomposition of the crisis-ridden relations of state socialist production and new forms of East-West trade (but see chapter ** below).

Besides its emergence from and organization around genuinely post-Fordist labour processes, this new accumulation regime could be treated as post-Fordist in so far as it resolves (or is held to do so) crisis-tendencies in its Fordist predecessor. These were the relative exhaustion of the growth potential that came from extending mass production, the relative saturation of markets for mass consumer durables, and the disruption of the virtuous circle of Fordist accumulation due to internationalization and the problems this created for national regulation. In these respects post-Fordism transforms mass production and goes beyond it, segments old markets and opens new ones, and is less constrained by national demand conditions.

3. As a social mode of economic regulation, post-Fordism would involve commitment to supply-side innovation and flexibility in each of the main areas of regulation. Given current uncertainties about this aspect, I offer only a brief and tentative account of some possible features.

  • The post-Fordist wage relation could involve a basic recomposition of the collective labourer (with a tendency towards polarization between polyvalent skilled workers and the unskilled as compared to the Fordist tendency towards homogenization around  semi-skilled ‘mass’ labour); the organization of internal and external labour markets around different forms of flexibility (functions and skills, duration and form of labour contract, wage package, etc.); a shift towards enterprise- or plant-level collective bargaining; and new forms of social wage. Industrial relations strategies could focus on integrating core workers into the enterprise and on mobilizing the production intelligence of workers by dissolving the Taylorist distinction between conception and execution. There may also be more intensification, marginalization, and insecurity for peripheral workers. They will often be poorly paid, unorganized, and recruited from politically marginalized social groups such as ethnic minorities, rural-urban migrants, and illegal immigrants.
  • The post-Fordist enterprise system could see a shift from the primacy of the hierarchical, well-staffed, bureaucratic ‘Sloanist’ form of corporate structure towards flatter, leaner, more flexible forms of organization. New forms of organization between hierarchy and market will become more important in managing strategic interdependencies both within and among firms and in responding quickly to changing demands. More use will be made of outside consultants, specialists, and subcontractors as well as revolving teamwork and greater internal competition; firms will also turn to joint ventures, licensing or contracting of technology, strategic alliances, collaborative R&D, design partnerships, and so on. Profits of (industrial) enterprise will depend on: the capacity to engineer flexible production systems and to accelerate process and product innovation; the search for technological rents based on continuous innovation in products and processes; and economies of scope. In this context engineering innovation and improved productivity in setting up manufacturing systems rather than manufacturing productivity within any given system will be crucial within industry (cf. Jaikumar 1989: 129-33). Competition will turn on non-price factors such as improved quality and performance for individual products, responsiveness to customers and customization, and rapid response to changing market conditions. Some commentators also expect a polarization between giant transnational firms offering a full range of goods and/or services in generic and multi-faceted fields of technological competence and a multiplicity of smaller (but often transnational) firms aiming at specific niches within global or other markets. Others predict a new hierarchy of industrial-financial relations with its peak occupied by global players in high value-added and expanding product markets and international banks oriented to the needs of transnational firms (cf. Grou 1984; Amin and Robins 1990).
  • On current trends the money form will be dominated by private, rootless bank credit that circulates internationally; more flexible forms of credit will be developed linked to a growing range of financial instruments; state credit will be subject to limits set by the logic of international money and currency markets. Whether these trends are sustainable is hotly debated.
  • With the increased emphasis on differentiated forms of consumption, commercial capital will be reorganized to create and serve increasingly segmented markets. The hypermarket, the shopping mall, and the boutique are often cited as archetypal post-Fordist forms of consumption and contrasted with the supermarket and department store.
  • State intervention will shift from a Fordist concern with managing national demand through Keynesian and welfare state measures. For the irreversibly international character of post-Fordism has the paradoxical consequence of reinforcing the state’s role in promoting competition – not just of individual firms or national champions but of the overall productive system and its socio-political supports. If this marginalizes the state’s role in managing national demand, it increases its role in the constant and continuous restructuring of the supply-side (Kundig 1984: 60). Welfare policy will also be closely integrated into this restructuring process. Moreover, as individual nation states may well lack the means to organize competition, this implies an enhanced role for continental or pan-regional states (such as the European Community). During the transition to post-Fordism this will not only involve rolling back the frontiers of the Fordist type of state but also rolling forward those of a new type of state. The post-Fordist world will be structured through the interaction of national or regional rivalries in the race for societal modernization and the dynamic of a global production system.
  • Taken together these forms comprise a distinctive ensemble of regulatory practices. They also seem to emerge out of tendencies inherent within Fordism and to resolve at least some of its crisis-tendencies. Some of these new structural forms and regulatory practices developed from attempts to manage the crisis of Fordism, others from attempts to escape it; some are primarily defensive, others offensive. Among the problems they help solve are: the collapse of Fordist incomes policies and the crisis of Fordist labour market institutions, the contradiction between Fordist wage forms and the post-Fordist need to promote responsible autonomy, rising R&D costs, rapidly changing and shortening product life cycles, greater risks of market failure, the availability of technologies permitting greater task integration and easier communication between divisions, and so on. Politically, the new forms of state intervention respond to Keynesian stagflation, the fiscal crisis of the state, slower productivity growth in the welfare state compared to the private sector, the rigidities and dysfunctions of bureaucratic administration and planning, the growing resistance shown by class forces and new social movements toward the forms and effects of the Fordist state, and so forth.

4. The post-Fordist ‘mode of societalization‘ is especially uncertain because, in contrast to the postwar dominance of the American model, there is now strong competition between Japanese, West German, and American models. At best we can describe the societalization effects of the uneven transition toward post-Fordism. There are already clear signs of reorganization in the spatial division of labour in and across national systems. For flexible production seems to be avoiding the old Fordist production centres and is typically located in the suburban extensions of Fordist metropolitan areas, in relatively non-industrialized hinterland areas, and, at least in services, in central business districts (Storper and Scott 1988). These new sites of production are re-articulated into the global circuit of capital and only its central nodes (the primary milieux of innovation) can function as locally integrated, agglomerated, self-generating growth poles; other sites are becoming more fragmented and are being inserted at various lower points in the global hierarchy (Amin and Robins 1990).­­

A crucial point to recognize in any general discussion of post-Fordism is that the post-Fordist economy is an open economy. If the stability of Fordist economies was greatest when growth was primarily autocentric (within national or regional productive systems), post-Fordist growth will be irreversibly international. This has the paradoxical consequence of reinforcing the state’s role in promoting competition – not merely of individual firms or national champions but of productive systems and their various socio-political supports. In many cases this will require an enhanced role for continental or pan-regional states (such as the European Community) since even individual nation states will lack the means to organize competition. The post-Fordist world is one structured through national or regional rivalries in a race for societal modernization as well as through a global production system. If this marginalizes the state’s role in national-level demand management, it increases its role in the constant and continuous restructuring of the supply-side (cf. Kundig 1984: 60).

 

V – Problems with Post-Fordism

 

There is a risk that building a model or paradigm of post-Fordism might encourage teleological and/or functionalist analysis. At worst this involves assuming that an inevitable, pre-ordained transition is under way from Fordism to post-Fordism – impelled by the changing logic of the productive forces and/or competitive pressures imposed by the strongest capitalist forces. The theoretical fallacies here are well known since there is much scope for social forces to resist and/or shape the technical and social innovations. Even if we avoid teleology, functionalism may yet ensnare us. The risk here is that, having constructed a paradigm of post-Fordism, we then assess everything in terms of its role in advancing (or else blocking) the transition to post-Fordism. There is a clear tendency towards such dysfunctionalist arguments in my own earlier work on the Thatcher regime in so far as I have suggested that it is presiding over a transition to ‘flawed post-Fordism’ (e.g. Jessop 1989a, 1989b; Jessop et al. 1990). But, if we cannot yet tell what the final form(s) of a post-Fordist labour process, accumulation regime, or mode of regulation will be, it is both foolhardy and fallacious to argue that specific structures or strategies must prove functional or dysfunctional in the transition. This helps explain the fundamental asymmetry between the concepts of Fordism and post-Fordism.

 

1. The Post-Fordist Labour Process: let us ignore the many scientific, technical, and financial limits making the fully automated factory impractical and examine the more general shift towards flexibility in manufacturing.[37] This can take two main forms: static and dynamic (Coriat 1990; Klein 1986). The former depends on a firm’s ability to adjust its product mix ‘instantly’ to demand fluctuations and thereby operate at or near to full capacity. The resulting economies of scope would enable even a small or medium sized firm to rival a larger firm organized along Fordist lines to produce a standardized product and whose profits came from economies of scale. This is only effective where the goods produced have a short life or will soon become obsolete so that economies of scale are limited: otherwise a larger firm equipped with flexible machinery would outperform small or medium firms (Coriat 1990: 157-9, 163). By contrast dynamic flexibility operates on a longer time horizon and involves ‘production lines able to evolve rapidly, in response to changes in engineering of products or of processes’ (Klein 1986, cited by Coriat 1990: 167). It is ideal for new products with growing demand and/or products with stable volumes of demand but periodic shifts in the features offered or demanded (Coriat 1990: 169; cf. Elam 1989 on the potential for flexible mass production). In both cases a declining demand would make it hard to introduce flexible manufacturing technology and valorize the necessary investment. More generally there are also financial limits on such investment due to the greater capital intensity of flexible machinery and plant that put it beyond the capacity of many firms to introduce profitably. This point is reinforced when the increasing velocity of the circuit of capital and the associated pressures to amortize investments quickly are taken into account. Lying even further beyond the reach of flexible specialisation is the production of large, lumpy investment goods such as public telecommunications switching systems (Sayer 1989: 675). These may benefit from computer-integration of different stages in production but their actual manufacture will be beyond the scope of small or medium firms even when organized flexibly in industrial districts. Nonetheless the changes occurring in the labour process, even if limited in scope and often realized only partially, do seem to involve significant departures from Fordist practice. Even if one is not justified in talking about a novel post-Fordist accumulation regime or mode of regulation, the evidence does indicate certain genuine post-Fordist trends in the labour process. The real problem is to assess their significance in relation to other trends and alternative accounts.

But let us now examine the limits to the more general shift towards flexibility in manufacturing even in sectors where it could prove beneficial.[38] In focusing on flexible manufacturing one could understate the significance of flexibility for the post-Fordist labour process. For several commentators argue that the shift to post-Fordism is associated with a shift in the leading sectors from manufacturing to financial and producer services. The benefits of electronic and optic technologies is especially marked for these sectors and is reflected in their continued expansion. Moreover, even if there is still great uncertainty about the true extent of flexibility in the labour process, there is little doubt about the general strategic thrust and the overall direction of recent changes. Whilst it may be premature to speak about a post-Fordist accumulation regime or mode of regulation, then, it does appear justified to talk about post-Fordist labour processes. But we should do so with due caution regarding their overall importance.

 

2. The Accumulation Regime: it is still too soon to define the regime of accumulation other than in abstract terms. This is especially true given the complex and still uncertain changes occurring in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union as well as the continued development of the European Community and its associates (on which see Jessop 1995). Coupled with the rapid changes occurring under the aegis of transnational companies and their strategic alliances, this makes it easy to forecast that there will be no return to the Fordist status quo ante and hard to anticipate the precise forms of any new regime. At most we can claim that the general direction of these changes is clear, viz., towards a greatly enhanced flexibility in the organization and articulation of production and consumption (cf. Schoenberger 1988: 101, 105-6).

 

3. Social Mode of Economic Regulation: since objects and modes of regulation are mutually related, it would be foolish to forecast the main outlines of any future post-Fordist modes of regulation. Objects of regulation are not fully constituted prior to struggles over their regulation but are partially constituted in and through such struggles (Jessop 1990a). Chance discoveries and trial and error experimentation also play a major role in consolidating modes of regulation. Given the uncertainty about the elements of post-Fordist accumulation regimes, their articulation into durable moments of a stable post-Fordist mode of regulation is doubly uncertain. This explains the conflicts over key aspects of post-Fordism such as flexibilization of the wage relation; the meaning, scope and importance of flexible specialisation; the nature and significance of industrial districts; and the relevance of small, flexible firms in many still crucial areas of production. It is also much debated whether the international monetary system has become too flexible for its own good – let alone that of productive capital. Niche marketing strategies often end up entombing their protagonists. And, while there seems to be a ‘hollowing out’ of nation-states as functions are transferred upwards to supra- or transnational bodies and/or downwards to new forms of local and regional state, the forms of the state and state intervention in promoting and managing the transition to an uncertain post-Fordist future are too many and varied to allow easy prediction. Nor is it clear how far current changes in state forms and functions are due to the transition to post-Fordism and how far they result from other trends, dilemmas, and contradictions.

Regarding the changing forms of money and credit, there is considerable debate as to whether the international monetary system has become too flexible for its own good – let alone that of productive capital. The volatility of niche retailing has been demonstrated recently in Britain and several commentators are now warning that `a niche could become a tomb’. And, while there is clear evidence for the `hollowing out’ of the nation-state as its various functions are either transferred upwards to supranational or transnational bodies and/or downwards to new forms of local and regional state, the forms of the state and state intervention in promoting and managing the transition to an uncertain post-Fordist future are too many and varied to allow easy prediction. In part this also reflects the variety of starting points as well as the wide range of paths being pursued during the transition. But it is also far from clear how far the changes currently occurring in state forms and functions are readily attributed to the transition to post-Fordism and how much could be explained in terms of other trends, dilemmas, and contradictions.

Given my previous argument that, if Fordism does have a real conceptual and historical solidity, it is mainly in its guise as a mode of regulation, the uncertainties and ambiguities about any post-Fordist mode of regulation are particularly unfortunate. For this complicates the debate about post-Fordism if one looks for symmetry in the analysis of Fordism and post-Fordism. This might explain the tendency to displace the argument to specific aspects of the mode of regulation where trends seem clearer and/or to focus on the other levels of analysis. This tendency is most obvious for the labour process, the wage relation, and corporate organization and the controversies over the nature and relevance of attempts to make them more flexible. It can also be seen in debates over the emerging spatial division of labour and the role of industrial districts. Since there are real issues at stake here, of course, it would be wrong to ignore them. Indeed, in the face of the current uncertainties, decomposing the argument about post-Fordism in this way might well prove the better part of intellectual valour. For it is hardly reasonable to organize the whole debate in terms of a putative, as yet unrealized, and perhaps unrealizable, mode of regulation. Even if we cannot yet define post-Fordism on this level, however, we can explore the many and varied attempts to manage the crisis of Fordism and to guide the transition to the capitalist expansion that might come after Fordism.

4. Societalization: neither a viable post-Fordist accumulation regime nor a coherent post-Fordist mode of regulation has yet arrived – if they ever will. This suggests that discussion of post-Fordist societalization must be restricted to three areas of enquiry: a) how shifts in the labour process affect class, gender, and other social relations; b) the social problems due to Fordism’s crisis and the search for alternatives; and c) the political processes involved in this search process. At most we can describe some of the social forms involved in the transition to post-Fordism but equally in the transition to other structural forms. It is too soon to talk of a post-Fordist mode of societalization. Perhaps the hardest issue to resolve on this level of analysis is the sixty-four thousand dollar question: can we talk about a transition to a new mode of societalization and, if so, is this transition one towards post-Fordism? On balance it seems highly premature to talk of an established post-Fordist mode of societalization. We would be much better advised simply to explore the uneven development of modern social formations.

5. Periodization: regarding the labour process we can raise similar doubts on periodization to those involved in accounts of Fordism. The question naturally arises whether the computer-integration of production from design to marketing really marks a crucial break in industrial organization or whether other shifts are more important. Thus Gertler has argued that ‘it is more reasonable to view the present generation of flexible technologies as the outcome of a long, unbroken (though not unproblematic) chain of innovations rather than a “clean break” with the past’ (Gertler 1988: 429). To take a specific example, Coriat cites three waves of postwar innovation that contributed to the rise of post-Fordism: a) the fragmented automation of the 1950s based on a shift from universal machine tools operated by skilled workers to the automated production of very long runs of standardized components using a dedicated, automated, and parcellized transfer line (e.g., making engine blocks) as well as the adoption of numerically controlled machine tools for smaller batches (e.g. aircraft components); b) the informatization of processing commands in continuous flow production, e.g., steel, rubber, petrochemicals, electro-nuclear; and c) the flexible linking in the 1980s of manufacturing and control innovations via micro-electronics so that production is computer-integrated from design to marketing (Coriat 1990: 37-67). The question naturally arises whether it really is the third wave of innovations that makes the decisive difference or whether earlier (or, indeed, later) waves will prove more significant. This is especially significant in so far as there is clearly a continuing role for mass production in many product areas. Likewise, as Andrew Sayer notes, many of the Japanese solutions now adopted in the West (such as JIT production) actually originated in the 1940s and 1950s – before the crisis of Fordism (Sayer 1989: 670). This is especially problematic since there is clearly a continuing role for mass production in many product areas. Conversely, many Japanese solutions now adopted in the West (such as JIT production) actually originated in the 1940s and 1950s – before the crisis of Fordism (cf. Sayer 1989: 670). This does not rule out inserting them into a distinctive post-Fordist system but it does require a more nuanced and balanced analysis to show exactly what is new and/or ‘post’ about this system.

Such arguments are likely to continue and to generate as much heat as light. For any discussion of post-Fordism is bound to revolve around two problematic issues: the quantitative and qualitative significance of continuities and discontinuities in capitalist development on any one level of analysis and, just as important, the relative weight to be given to different levels of analysis. This does not rule out their insertion into a distinctive post-Fordist system but it does require a more nuanced and balanced analysis that shows exactly what is new and what is ‘post’ about this system.

 

VI – Concluding Remarks

 

But few positive substantive results have emerged from this review. This is mainly due to the intellectual raw material on which we have been working: the distinction between Fordism and post-Fordism. Thus my conclusions largely consist in methodological reflections and involve few substantive comments. In particular I have suggested that there are three main sources of confusion involved in this distinction: a) a failure to differentiate among possible sites where Fordism and post-Fordism may develop; b) a failure to distinguish between the strategic or rhetorical affirmation of one or another aspect of Fordism (or post-Fordism) and its actual instantiation in specific structural features of a social formation; and c) a failure to recognize the basic asymmetry between the concepts of Fordism and post-Fordism that is due to the closing of the Fordist era and the uncertain future of post-Fordism.

This said, if one or other concept is to be used, I prefer Fordism. In part this reflects the opportunity the passing of the Fordist era gives to study both the transition to Fordism and the regularities in and across different areas of consolidated Fordism. `Fordism’ serves both as a heuristic concept when establishing the historical specificity for particular formations and, in its guise as an accumulation regime, it is useful in defining the basic tendencies, counter-tendencies, and crisis forms of postwar capitalism. Even here it has been necessary significantly to qualify the nature and meaning of Fordism, however, by giving rather loose definitions of its instantiation on different levels and/or by admitting a multitude of sub-types or hybrid forms. This is what prompts complaints about taxonomic fury overwhelming both detailed histories and dynamic causal analysis of tendencies and counter-tendencies. However justified these complaints may be in some cases, I it still seems worthwhile to deploy the notion of Fordism as part of a broader conceptual system.

These problems are reinforced in dealing with post-Fordism. It is hard to define a coherent post-Fordist accumulation regime or mode of societalization as an ideal type or as a heuristic construct. There are also real doubts as to whether the path of capitalist development leads to a `post-Fordist’ future. Quite specific theoretical and empirical conditions must be satisfied before we can reasonably talk of `post‘-Fordism. Moreover, even if this particular concept were abandoned in favour of one lacking a chronological prefix (such as flexible accumulation, Fujitsuism or ‘Späthkapitalismus’),[39] good grounds would still remain for doubting that it adequately describes the future of capitalism. For this will be determined by the class struggle and capitalist competition in all their manifold forms as well as by forces rooted in other institutional orders; it will also depend increasingly on global forces rather than those confined to particular nation-states or pluri-national productive systems. This inevitably introduces problems both for those trying to find solutions to the problems of Fordism and those trying to study them. The debate has only just begun and I have tried to present some conceptual guidelines and some more substantive reflections to help it along.

 

Endnotes


[1] In writing this paper I have benefitted from discussions with Simon Bromley, Simon Clarke, Benjamin Coriat, Richard Hyman, Klaus Nielsen, Ove Kai Pedersen, and Dick Walker. Much of the reading on which it is based was completed whilst I held a personal research grant from the ESRC in Britain; I completed the paper at the Center for Organisation and Management (COS) in Copenhagen with the support of the Danish Social Science Research Council. I would like to thank COS, the ESRC, and the SSRC for their support.

[2] Given the controversies around these concepts, some readers might be left dissatisfied. Moreover, as I have used and defended both Fordism and post-Fordism in my previous work (e.g., Jessop 1986, 1988, 1989a, 1989b), it might seem that I am now trying to have my cake and eat it. I prefer to see my critical reformulation as an act of productive consumption.

[3] This set of specifications draws on an extensive literature. The main sources of inspiration include: Blackburn et al., 1985; Boyer 1986a; Galbraith 1967; Hirsch and Roth 1986; Hurtienne 1986; Kaplinsky 1988; Kundig 1984; Lipietz 1985; Piore and Sabel 1985; Siegel 1988a.

[4] Perez treats Fordist mass production and continuous process industries as the carrier industries of the fourth Kondratieff; its motive branches were those involved in producing the low cost oil and energy-intensive materials used in Fordist production; it induced growth in complementary sectors (Perez 1983: 362-3, 369).

[5] It is because these micro- and macro-economic sources of flexibility have been overwhelmed by its general crisis that Fordism now seems so rigid. Among the micro-sources are lay-offs, short-time and overtime working, outsourcing, variations in stock levels, switching between home and foreign markets; the most important of the macro-sources are contra-cyclical demand management policies and the stabilizing effects of welfare payments.

[6] The technical composition of capital refers to the ratio of fixed to circulating capital – more specifically to the relation among means of production, material inputs and work in progress, and labour power.

[7] This is normally referred to as a mode of regulation. I prefer the term ‘social mode of economic regulation’ because this brings out the distinction between the mode and the object of regulation.

[8] It is symptomatic that Ford’s ‘five dollar day’ was introduced to stem massive turnover and absenteeism rates among his assembly-line workers.

[9] A technological rent is a surplus-profit that accrues to firms that undertake productivity enhancing innovations. It lasts until the innovation has become general – when the innovation is integrated into production norms and thus in the socially necessary cost of production.

[10] Galbraith discussed this in The New Industrial State (1967); this work anticipated many later studies of the Fordist regime.

[11] ‘Integral economy’ is analogous to Gramsci’s concept of the ‘integral state’, i.e., the state in its inclusive sense. This was defined as ‘state = political society + civil society’. Thus we could define an integral economy as ‘regime of accumulation + mode of regulation’. See also Jessop 1990b.

[12] Smallness should not be equated with land mass but with population size and gross domestic product relative to other advanced capitalist societies. Openness refers to the ratios of imports and exports to gross domestic product.

[13] On how discourses and strategies of flexibility are ‘rewording’ the world of work in Sweden, see: Elam and Borjeson 1990.

[14] Kristensen’s work is actually more inspired by the flexible specialization paradigm proposed by Sabel and Piore (1984) but the argument is still relevant here.

[15] Richard Hyman expressed this worry to me and it is addressed below.

[16] There are already many other critiques of the concept but few that first draw the necessary distinctions among possible levels of Fordism and/or between its structural and strategic aspects. For some representative criticisms from different perspectives, see: Foster 1988; Hirst and Zeitlin 1990; Meegan 1988; Sayer 1989; Williams et al., 1987.

[17] The concept of ‘economy’ is actually problematic here since it could cover any economic space from a workshop to the global economy. For the moment I ask readers to bear with this usage.

[18] During the Fordist era this sector typically operated on a cost-plus basis and was not subject to the same competitive pressures as sectors oriented to private consumption.

[19] Kaplinsky defends this focus on the car industry on the grounds that: ‘first, it is the largest single industrial employer in the world economy and, second, since the first decades of the twentieth century it has set the pattern for the development of the dominant form of labour process that has subsequently diffused to other manufacturing sectors’ (Kaplinsky 1988: 452).

[20] Lipietz has suggested an even more general definition of Fordism as involving ‘essentially Taylorization plus mechanization’ (Lipietz 1987).

[21] Or, more accurately, his reading of Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle (1906). See Beniger, 1986: 299.

[22] Some difficulties in the Fordist literature stem from failures to meet these criteria; and many criticisms levelled against this literature are rooted in an unnecessary conflation of different possible definitions.

[23] Several commentators note that the dichotomy creates a false polarization, ignoring distinctions such as unit, small batch, process, and mass (e.g., Smith 1989: 216). Williams et al., go even further: they claim that ‘it is very difficult to identify particular enterprises or industries as instances of mass production or flexible specialisation’ and that this makes it hard to establish criteria of dominance or to establish whether one is displacing the other (Williams, Cutler, Williams, and Haslam 1987: 415, 417).

[24] For example Sorge and Streeck cross-classify batch size (low or high volume) and type of product (customized, quality competitive or standardized, price competitive) to generate four types of production strategy: specialized component production, mass production, craft production, and diversified quality production (Sorge and Streeck 1988: 15-16). This is already an advance. See also Badham and

[25]Nor should it be forgotten that the Parisian regulationists are mainly polytechnicians who have been employed in the French planning apparatus on macro-economic issues. See Jenson and Lipietz 1987.

[26] Such arguments clearly require changes in the definition of Fordism as an accumulation regime – albeit different changes in each case.

[27] Much of Boyer’s work is inspired by Kaldorian models: for example, Boyer and Petit 1981; or Boyer and Ralle 1987. Other Parisian regulationists also use models that are similar to, based on, or develop Kaldor-Verdoon arguments.

[28] Thus Mike Davis criticized Aglietta’s pioneering work on US Fordism for ignoring the ‘1.6 trillion dollars devoted to the permanent arms economy since 1946′ (cited in Foster 1988: 28).

[29] Several parallels can be drawn between the US New Deal and the Nazi New Order as forms of internal welfare state: with the Volksempfaenger (radio), Volkswagen, and Autobahn serving equivalent functions to mass household consumer durables, the model T, and the US highway programme (Roobeek 1987: 134).

[30] Siegel explains the neglect of fascism in terms of ‘a procedure that reduces to a mere preparatory stage about two-thirds of the sixty years since the inception of the Fordist era in the 1920s’ (1988: 4).

[31] This argument was put by Haug (1988); he also noted how some post-Fordist theorizing also referred to continuities, reinforced trends, and so on – thus making it ambiguous what was involved in post-Fordism.

[32] Once again the Japanese model poses problems here: if the post-Fordist future was pioneered by Japan and if Japan lacked a Fordist past, what does the concept of post-Fordism signify when applied to Japan?

[33] This presupposes agreement on the crisis of Fordism – whether as labour process, accumulation regime, mode of regulation, or mode of societalization.

[34] Many early comments on Fordism in crisis foresaw only a movement from Fordism to neo-Fordism: according to Kenney and Florida, this involves ‘the use of new technologies to generate economic renewal within the general context of fordist institutions and social relationships’ (Kenney and Florida 1988: 147n). Typical examples are Aglietta’s pioneering study of American Fordism (1979) and Palloix’s comments on the neo-Fordist labour process (1976).

[35] This seems to be Kaplinsky’s line when he writes: ‘there is now widespread recognition that there are alternatives to the Fordist system, which are also widely recognized to be more productive’. One reason that JIT developed as an alternative was the small scale of the early Japanese market for cars and the need to keep investory costs down (1988: 455).

[36] Reverting to the labour process in the automobile industry, for example, we may note that one study suggests that the British industry is moving towards the German model whereas the American industry is moving towards the Japanese (Juergens, Malsch, and Dohse 1988: 12).

[37] Even flexible manufacturing systems are too costly for most small firms to instal and require user firms to push for higher volumes and more product variety than markets might bear (cf. Sayer 1989: 673, citing Schonberger 1987).

[38] Even flexible manufacturing systems are too costly for most small firms to instal and require user firms to push for higher volumes and more product variety than markets might bear (cf. Sayer 1989: 673, citing Schoenberger 1987).

[39] The notion of `Spaethkapitalismus’ involves a pun on the German concept of `Spaetkapitalismus’ (or ‘late capitalism’). It refers to Lothar Spaeth, the modernizing Christian Democratic Minister-President of Baden-Wurtemburg and a leading advocate of a post-Fordist future for West Germany.

 

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