For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Flexible Specialisation, Automation and Mass Production"

by Smith, Chris (1989)

Abstract

This paper examines the parallels between French and American perspectives on automation as a break with mass production in the 1960s, and French and American debates on Neo-Fordism/Flexible Specialisation as a break with mass production in the 1970s and 1980s. It explores the question of continuity and discontinuity in technological paradigms, and identifies common political themes in the two eras. In particular it notes that American interpretations of French theory, Blauner in the 1960s and Sabel in the 1980s, translate socialist or anti-capitalist transformational elements of these theories into pluralistic and liberal reformist political practice. The importance of the market, the role of craft skills, and the search for social solidarity and community within `new' capitalist production regimes are recurrent elements in the American literature. French theorists, on the other hand, are more concerned with social agency, continuity of managerial control and capital/labour dynamics within new production forms which are contradictory rather than integrated. The paper examines the genealogy of the concept flexible specialisation, and evidence of its existence in a primary area of mass production, the food industry. It concludes by rejecting both the utility and political message of the flexible specialisation thesis in favour of a more grounded marxist analysis of work restructuring.

Keywords

Automation, Machines, French Context, American Context, Neo-Fordism, Flexibility, Flexible Automation, Specialisation, Historical Context, Socialism, Anti-Capitalism, Agency, Marxism, Marx, Fordism

Themes

Automation Issues

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