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09/23/2009

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Jim&DebbieOverson

My response to your blog regards your comments concerning Chandler's lack of discussion of "workers." I am going to assume you are referring to the grunts, such as in the factories on the floor, who actually do the work.

Well, Chandler's book really is only concerned with the Rise of the large corporate forms. It was almost a given throughout the entire time frame that Chandler discussed that there would be a nearly unlimited supply of said grunts. People were eager to move from agricultural settings into urban settings with these relatively higher paying jobs. The country was being flooded with immigrants who would have been attracted to these jobs as well.

So in Chandler's discussion in the rise of these corporations, I can understand why he really only dwells on the growth and development of the role of the many layers of salaried middle-managers that were required. And Chandler does do, I think, a thorough job of discussing this topic. He basically said throughout the book that without the rise of these middle-managers that these large, efficient, hugely profitable corporations could never have arisen.

So my response to your blog assumed that you were referring to the vast body of grunts as "workers." The grunts didn't provide an explanation of the Rise, I think they were just taken for granted. So, workers were discussed, but only that class that Chandler felt did contribute to the Rise, that being the birth and development of the salaried midde-managers.

TJD

I am going to essentially repeat comments I made on another post

I think it is unfair to critique Chandler for not writing a different book. While I agree with you that workers, etc are important in the big picture of the development of business writ broadly, I don't think they would add much to his thesis, which I read as an interpretation of the rise of hierarchical management and modern accounting systems as a result of technological determinism (over-simplified). What pieces of evidence would add to the analysis? How would you use them? Would the be extraneous? Chandler isn't writing "The Story of American Manufacturing" (or distribution or consumption or ....). His work is different, and the diversity that you suggest is not necessarily appropriate in my view. I don't think the common worker (to borrow a phrase) adds anything to the discussion of how cost accounting methods were developed.

leeannghajar

I think you're pointing to an issue that others have had with Chandler's work as well. AND, I think the role of labor history in writing business history is tricky, actually. Maybe this critique of Chandler's work is answered by a look at his place in business historiography. He set the field on a new course--or some would likely argue--he gave it a direction. At the very least, almost every business history you pick up will reference how the author agrees/disagrees/expands upon Chandler.

Thomas McGraw--also a seminal figure in business history after Chandler, and also a Harvard Professor--is among historians who explain that Chandler revolutionized to the chaotic field of business history through his focus on organizational structure and process. When he came along, business history was in kind of a fog and a slump characterized mostly by arguments about whether Robber Barons were good, bad, and/or just plain ugly. According to McGraw, Chandler was well aware of areas he de-emphasized or neglected in all of his work--labor, role of government, human impact of industrialization--but he chose to develop his ideas narrowly and deeply. He was all about frameworks and even generalizations in order to provide form and shape to the history of the American business enterprise.

And, a propos of nothing, he and JFK teamed together on the Harvard sailing team.

(The Essential Alfred Chandler: Essays Toward a Historical Theory of Big Business. Edited and with an Introduction by Thomas K McCraw. I think McCraw's introductory essay was also published as an article somewhere and is available on JSTOR.)

Salvatore DeGennaro

While I do agree that Chandler’s work could have been more encompassing had he looked at the labor force more, I agree with some of these comments that his scope was indeed the management of business and perhaps it is unfair to judge his work accordingly. However, I think an issue that certainly deserves consideration for any complete study of this subject may be the role that the improvements in transportation and communication played in improving the work force to make these vast increases in industry possible. Did the new methods of transport and communication have an effect on the ability to bring in expert labor or train labor to meet expert levels? Certainly this may be a part of the entire equation not looked at extensively. These new technologies enhanced the management greatly; a look at the change in labor force according to these technologies would be quite interesting as well.

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