Fordism, named after Henry Ford, refers to various social theories. It has varying, albeit related, meanings in different fields, and for marxist and non-marxist scholars.

Fordism in the United States

In the United States, Fordism is the economic philosophy that widespread prosperity and high corporate profits can be achieved by high wages that allow the workers to purchase the output they produce, such as automobiles.

"Fordism" was coined in about 1916 to describe Henry Ford's methods in the automobile industry.Fact|date=February 2008 Fordism represents a range of industrial practices generally associated with American automobile manufacturer Henry Ford, during the last decades of the 19th Century through to the second decade of the 20th Century. This process broke down complicated tasks in many smaller and simpler ones, allowing unskilled labor to replace skilled labor, and cutting training time so employees could easily and quickly be replaced. The most significant innovation in the context of Fordism had been the introduction of a moving assembly line to automobile production in 1913, cutting the assembly time for a complete Model T Ford chassis from a little over twelve hours to about one and a half, coupled with the mass production of identical products, which differentiated Ford's setup from that of Ransom E. Olds, who used an assembly line starting in 1901 [cite web | title = Pioneers of the auto industry | first = Curtis | last = Redgap | url = | date = 2007 | accessdate = 2008-01-08 ] . This significantly sped up output and lowered average production costs, allowing for profitable sale of a less expensive vehicle.

The fordist production system has four key elements. First, it is characterized by a distinctive division of labor - the separation of different work tasks between different groups of workers - in which unskilled workers execute simple, repetitive tasks and skilled technical and managerial workers undertake functions related to research, design, quality control, finance, coordination, and marketing. Second, parts and components are highly standardized. Third, it is organized not around groups of similar machinery, but machines arranged in the correct sequence required manufacturing a product. Finally, the various parts of the production process are linked together by a moving conveyor belt - the assembly line - to facilitate the quick and efficient fulfillment of tasks.Fact|date=March 2008 Together, these four attributes can reduce cost of production of a single product, leading to increased sales and the potential development of mass markets.

The main goal is to lower the manufacturing cost of the automobile.

Many commentators believe that Fordism was characteristic of Western industry from about 1945 to some time in the 1970s, and that it was linked with the rise of major car manufacturing regions in the Western world, such as the West Midlands conurbation of Britain or Detroit in the USFact|date=March 2008. Fordism is associated by geographers with a distinctive spatial pattern of economic activity, or spatial division of labor; that is, with the spatial separation of the development of the product, at the centre of research and development, and the actual sites of the production of a standardized product.Fact|date=March 2008 It remained a dominant economic approach in the market places of the industrialized world until the 1960-70s when many widespread assumptions about mass production and, more especially, the conformity of the consumer began to be challenged by a growing number of designers, thinkers, and consumers.Fact|date=March 2008 In time, terms such as ‘Post-Industrial’, ‘Post-Fordism’, and ‘niche-marketing’ would come into being.

Fordism was part of the Efficiency Movement which characterized the American Progressive Era. After the Great Depression began, American policy was to keep wages high in hopes that Fordism would reverse the downturn.Fact|date=May 2007

Fordism in Western Europe

According to historian Charles S. Maier, Fordism proper was preceded in Europe by Taylorism, a technique of labour discipline and workplace organization, based upon supposedly scientific studies of human efficiency and incentive systems.Fact|date=October 2007 It attracted European intellectuals — especially in Germany and Italy — at the "fin de siècle" and up until World War I.Fact|date=October 2007

After 1918, however, the goal of Taylorist labor efficiency thought in Europe moved to "Fordism", that is, reorganization of the entire productive process by means of the moving assembly line, standardization, and the mass market. The Great Depression blurred the utopian vision of American technocracy, but World War II and its aftermath have revived the ideal.

The principles of Taylorism were quickly picked up by Lenin and applied to nascent Soviet industry.

Later under the inspiration of Antonio Gramsci, Marxists picked up the Fordism concept in the 1930s and in the 1970s developed "Post-Fordism." Antonio and Bonanno (2000) trace the development of Fordism and subsequent economic stages, from globalization through neoliberal globalization, during the 20th century, emphasizing America's role in globalization. "Fordism" for Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci meant routinized and intensified labor to promote production. They argue that Fordism peaked in the post-World War II decades of American dominance and mass consumerism but collapsed due to political and cultural crises in the 1970s. Advances in technology and the end of the Cold War ushered in a new "neoliberal" phase of globalization in the 1990s. They argue that negative elements of Fordism, such as economic inequality, remained, however, and related cultural and environmental troubles surfaced that inhibited America's pursuit of democracy.

Fordism and the Soviet Union

Historian Thomas Hughes (Hughes 2004) has detailed the way in which the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s enthusiastically embraced Fordism and Taylorism, importing American experts in both fields as well as American engineering firms to build parts of its new industrial infrastructure. The concepts of the Five Year Plan and the centrally planned economy can be traced directly to the influence of Taylorism on Soviet thinking. Hughes quotes Stalin:

:"American efficiency is that indomitable force which neither knows nor recognises obstacles; which continues on a task once started until it is finished, even if it is a minor task; and without which serious constructive work is impossible . . . The combination of the Russian revolutionary sweep with American efficiency is the essence of Leninism." (Hughes 2004, 251)

Hughes describes how, as the Soviet Union developed and grew in power, both sides, the Soviets and the Americans, chose to ignore or deny the contribution of American ideas and expertise. The Soviets did this because they wished to portray themselves as creators of their own destiny and not indebted to their rivals. Americans did so because they did not wish to acknowledge their part in creating a powerful rival in the Soviet Union.

Other Marxist variations

Fordism is also a term used in Western Marxist thought for a "regime of accumulation" or macroeconomic pattern of growth developed in the US and diffused in various forms to Western Europe after 1945. It consisted of domestic mass production with a range of institutions and policies supporting mass consumption, including stabilizing economic policies and Keynesian demand management that generated national demand and social stability; it also included a class compromise or social contract entailing family-supporting wages, job stability and internal labor markets leading broadly shared prosperity -- rising incomes were linked to national productivity from the late 1940s to the early 1970s. At the level of the labor process Fordism is Taylorist and as a national mode of regulation Fordism is Keynesianism.The social-scientific concept of "Fordism" was introduced by the French regulation school, sometimes known as regulation theory, which is a Marxist-influenced strand of political economy. According to the regulation school, capitalist production paradigms are born from the crisis of the previous paradigm; a newborn paradigm is also bound to fall into crisis sooner or later. The crisis of Fordism became apparent to Marxists in late 1960s.

Marxist regulation theory talks of Regimes of Capital Accumulation (ROA) and Modes of Regulation (MOR). ROAs are periods of relatively settled economic growth and profit across a nation or global region. Such regimes eventually become exhausted, falling into crisis, and are torn down as capitalism seeks to remake itself and return to a period of profit. These periods of capital accumulation are "underpinned", or stabilised, by MOR. A plethora of laws, institutions, social mores, customs and hegemonies both national and international work together to create the environment for long-run capitalist profit.

Fordism is a tag used to characterise the post-1945 long boom experienced by western nations. It is typified by a cycle of mass production and mass consumption, the production of standardized (most often) consumer items to be sold in (typically) protected domestic markets, and the use of Keynesian economic policies. Whilst the standard pattern is post-war America, national variations of this standard norm are well known. Regulation theory talks of National Modes of Growth to denote different varieties of Fordism across western economies.

Fordism as an ROA broke down, dependent on national experiences, somewhere between the late 1960s and the mid-1970s. Western economies experienced slow or nil economic growth, rising inflation and growing unemployment. The period after Fordism has been termed Post-Fordist and Neo-Fordist. The former implies that global capitalism has made a clean break from Fordism (including overcoming its inconsistencies) whilst the latter that elements of the fordist ROA continued to exist. The Regulation School preferred the term After-Fordism (or the French "Après-Fordisme") to denote that what comes after Fordism was, or is, not yet clear.

Other meanings

The concept may also refer to some of Ford's social views:

* It may also be applied to the fictional religion-like ideology described in Aldous Huxley's novel "Brave New World". 'Our Ford', a parody on Our Lord, provides a centre-point in the religious celebration in Brave New World's society, and the name is used both as an incantation and source of authority throughout the book.

* It often describes the paternalistic "taking care of the worker" - a "family-like" mentality seen first in the auto-industry (Ford). The paternalism could be kindly (providing benefits) or restrictive (for example, Ford discouraged smoking even off premises).Fact|date=March 2008
* In a broader sense, Fordism refers to the classical 20th century consumer society: high productivity allows for high wages, mass production allows for mass consumption. (e.g. during the "economic miracle" of post-war West-Germany)Fact|date=March 2008


The period after Fordism has been termed Post-Fordist . Fordism as a Return on assets (ROA) broke down, dependent on national experiences, somewhere between the late 1960s and the mid-1970s. Western economies experienced slow or nil economic growth, rising inflation and growing unemployment. The economies of western countries had shifted away from manufacturing and industry and towards service and the knowledge economy. Meanwhile, industry has moved from the west to second- and third-world countries, where production is cheaper. Most employees in the Fordist structure were able to purchase the product they produced.Fact|date=April 2008 Indeed post-Fordism has arisen in part due to the increasing interconnectedness of the world.Fact|date=August 2007 The movement of capital has become more fluid, and nation-states have withdrawn significantly from the economic sphere. Post-Fordism has arisen in part due to globalization. In Ford's time, laborers were relatively unskilled, but they could form unions, and these labor unions became very strong because capital was not so fluid.

Post-Fordism can be characterized by the several attributes:

New information technologies.

Emphasis on types of consumers in contrast to previous emphasis on social class.

The rise of the service and the white-collar worker.

"•"' The feminization of the work force.

The globalization of financial markets.

Instead of producing generic goods, firms now found it more profitable to produce diverse product lines targeted at different groups of consumers, appealing to their sense of taste and fashion. Instead of investing huge amounts of money on the mass production of a single product, firms now needed to build intelligent systems of labor and machines that were flexible and could quickly respond to the whims of the market. Modern just in time manufacturing is one example of a flexible approach to production.

Post Fordism is very much driven by information technology. Advancement in computer technologies allows for just-in -time manufacturing. There is no longer a need for mass production of the same item or a need to stock-up on a given product. Products are made and they are out the door. The key to production flexibility lies in the use of informational technologies in machines and operations. These permit more sophisticated control over the production process. With increasing sophistication of automated processes and, especially, the new flexibility of electronically controlled technology, far-reaching changes in the process of production need not necessarily be associated with increased scale of production. Indeed, on of the major results of the new electronic and computer-aided production technology is that it permits rapid switching from one part of a process to another and allows - at least potentially- the tailoring of production to the requirements of individual customers. Traditional automation is geared to high-volume standardized production; the newer ‘flexible manufacturing systems’ are quite different, allowing the production of small volumes without a cost penalty. This creates less space needed, which creates less rent. Modular processes can be taken advantage of to create custom & limited products for niche markets. Focus is now on the principle task of manufacturing. Companies are smaller and subcontract many tasks. Likewise, the production structure began to change on the sector level. Instead of a single firm manning the assembly line from raw materials to finished product, the production process became fragmented as individual firms specialized on their areas of expertise. As evidence for this theory of specialization, proponents claim that clusters of integrated firms, have developed in places like Silicon Valley, Jutland, Småland, and several parts of Italy.


* Antonio, Robert J. and Bonanno, Alessandro. "A New Global Capitalism? From 'Americanism and Fordism' to 'Americanization-globalization.'" "American Studies" 2000 41(2-3): 33-77. Issn: 0026-3079
* Banta, Martha. "Taylored Lives: Narrative Production in the Age of Taylor, Veblen, and Ford." U. of Chicago Press, 1993. 431 pp.
* Holden, Len. "Fording the Atlantic: Ford and Fordism in Europe" in "Business History " Volume 47, #1 January 2005 pp 122-127
*Hughes, Thomas P. 2004. "American Genesis: A Century of Invention and Technological Enthusiasm 1870-1970". 2nd ed. The University of Chicago Press.
* Bernard Doray, "From Taylorism to Fordism: A Rational Madness" (1988)
* Jane Jenson; "'Different' but Not 'Exceptional': Canada's Permeable Fordism," "Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology," Vol. 26, 1989
* Max Koch. "Roads to Post-Fordism: Labour Markets and Social Structures in Europe" (2006)
* Peter J. Ling. "America and the Automobile: Technology, Reform, and Social Change" chapter on “Fordism and the Architecture of Production”
* Maier, Charles S. "Between Taylorism and Technocracy: European Ideologies and the Vision of Industrial Productivity." "Journal of Contemporary History" (1970) 5(2): 27-61. Issn: 0022-0094 Fulltext online at Jstor
* Mary Nolan; "Visions of Modernity: American Business and the Modernization of Germany" Oxford University Press, [ 1994 online]
* Hasso Spode: "Fordism, Mass Tourism and the Third Reich." "Journal of Social History" 38(2004): 127-155.
* Bruce Pietrykowski; "Fordism at Ford: Spatial Decentralization and Labor Segmentation at the Ford Motor Company, 1920-1950," "Economic Geography", Vol. 71, (1995) 383-401 [ online]
* Roediger, David, ed "Americanism and Fordism - American Style: Kate Richards O'hare's 'Has Henry Ford Made Good?'" "Labor History" 1988 29(2): 241-252. Socialist praise for Ford in 1916
* Haruhito Shiomi and Kazuo Wada; "Fordism Transformed: The Development of Production Methods in the Automobile Industry" Oxford University Press, 1995
* Steven Tolliday and Jonathan Zeitlin eds. "The Automobile Industry and Its Workers: Between Fordism and Flexibility" (1987)comparative analysis of developments in Europe, Asia, and the United States from the late 19th century to the mid-1980s
* Watts, Steven. " The People's Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century" (2005)
* Williams, Karel, Colin Haslam and John Williams, "Ford versus `Fordism': The Beginning of Mass Production?" "Work, Employment & Society", Vol. 6, No. 4, 517-555 (1992), stress on Ford's flexibility and commitment to continuous improvements

External links

* [ Ford, "My Life and Work"] , from Project Gutenberg
* [ Digitalfordism (a library of texts in English, German etc.)]

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