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Fordism (and post-Fordism)

methods of organizing production in advanced industrial societies associated with Henry Ford. Although the fundamental reference point of both concepts is the production process, the terms are often used as a way of conveying associated social and political consequences. Thus, while Henry Ford's great initiative in manufacturing was the mass production of a standardized product at a price that would generate mass consumption, this also implied:
  1. capital-intensive, large-scale plant;
  2. an inflexible production process;
  3. rigid hierarchical and bureaucratic managerial structures;
  4. the use of semiskilled labour performing repetitive and routine tasks, often subject to the discipline of SCIENTIFIC MANAGEMENT;
  5. a tendency towards strong unionization and the vulnerability of production to industrial action;
  6. the protection of national markets.

Though Ford's innovations began, in the interwar period, with the production of cars, his methods were rapidly employed in other sectors of manufacturing, and were increasingly seen as the organizational basis on which the advanced economies could continue to develop and, especially after World War II, prosper. It should also be noted that Fordist ideas of scale, centrality of control, standardization and mass consumption not only influenced the agenda of capitalist production, but also underpinned the nature of Soviet industrialization and the creation and delivery of welfare services in the free-market democracies (e.g. in the UK welfare state).

Post-Fordism refers to the new economic possibilities opened up by the rise of microchip technology, computers and robotics in the production and exchange of information and commodities. In contrast to Fordism, the distinguishing feature of the post-Fordist era is usually held to be the foundation of smaller units of enterprise, catering for segmented markets by the FLEXIBLE PRODUCTION of specialized goods or services. Associated social and economic changes involved in the post-Fordist transition are:

  1. the decline of old manufacturing and 'S mokestack’ industries (together with the emergence of the so-called 'S unrise’ computer-based enterprises);
  2. more flexible, decentralized forms of the labour process and of work organization;
  3. a reorganized labour market, into a skill-flexible core of employees and a time-flexible periphery of low-paid insecure workers performing contract labour;
  4. a consequent decline of the traditional, unionized blue-collar working class, and the pre-eminence within the occupational structure of white-collar, professional, technical, managerial and other service sector employees;
  5. the feminization of many labour processes affected by the new technology;
  6. the promotion of types of consumption around the concept of individually chosen lifestyles, with an emphasis, therefore, on taste, distinctiveness, packaging and appearance;
  7. the dominance and autonomy of multinational corporations in a global process of capitalist production;
  8. a NEW INTERNATIONAL DIVISION OF LABOUR, based on the new flexibility, within which global production can be organized.

The precise dating of the transition from Fordism to post-Fordism is impossible. Indeed, debate continues about the utility and content of both concepts. The least that can be said is that different sectors of national economies are differentially affected (for example, the fast-food business continues to expand on classic Fordist principles in the so-called post-Fordist era), and that, internationally, the implications of post-Fordism are rather obviously different for economies such as the UK's on the one hand and, for example, Bangladesh's on the other. As an analytical device, the term Fordism was used by Antonio GRAMSCI to emphasize Fordism's pivotal role as an ‘hegemonic’ form of industrial organization (see HEGEMONY), a form of control that mixed persuasion with compulsion, e.g. high wages, welfare provision. See also POSTINDUSTRIAL SOCIETY, NEW TECHNOLOGY, DISORGANIZED CAPITALISM.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the system of organization of assembly-line production that originated in the first quarter of the 20th century in the USA. The system is named after the American engineer and industrialist H. Ford (1863–1947), who was the first to introduce the system at his automobile plants in River Rouge and Dearborn, Mich.

The assembly line (seeCONVEYOR ASSEMBLY) was the basis of Fordism and its new production and work organization techniques. Each worker stationed along the assembly line performed one operation, which consisted of several labor motions or only one motion (for example, turning a nut with a wrench) and which required virtually no skill. According to Ford, 43 percent of the workers required one day of training, 36 percent required between one day and one week, 6 percent required one to two weeks, and 14 percent required one month to one year of training.

The introduction of conveyer assembly, together with other technical innovations, such as standardization of the product and standardization and interchangeability of parts, led to a sharp increase in labor productivity, to the reduction in the prime cost of production, and to the beginning of mass production (seeMASS PRODUCTION and PRODUCTION LINE). At the same time, Fordism led to an unprecedented intensification of labor, to boredom, and to automatism. Fordism is designed to turn workers into robots and entails an extremely high degree of nervous and physical strain. The forced rhythm of labor set by the assembly line necessitated the replacement of piecework pay scales by time scales. Fordism, like the Taylorism that preceded it, became synonymous with those methods of worker exploitation characteristic of the monopolistic stage of capitalism that are designed to increase the profits of capitalist monopolies.

In an effort to suppress the dissatisfaction of the workers and to prevent their organized struggle to protect their rights and interests, Ford introduced a military-type discipline at his plants, instituted a system of spying among the workers, and maintained his own police force to carry out reprisals against worker activists. Labor union activity was prohibited at Ford enterprises for many years.

In the book My Life and Work (1924), Ford claimed to be a social reformer and asserted that his methods of organizing production and work could transform bourgeois society into a society of abundance and social harmony. Ford extolled his system as being solicitous for the workers and boasted that his enterprises paid higher wages than the average in industry. However, the higher earnings were first and foremost associated with the exceptionally high pace of the work, with the rapid depreciation of labor power, and with the task of ever hiring new workers to replace those who were worn out.

Bourgeois ideologues view the opposition of the working people to the destructive social consequences of Fordism as resistance to technical progress. In reality, the working class is waging a struggle not against technical progress but against the capitalistic use of its achievements. Given the modern scientific and technological revolution, the higher general education and skill level of the working class, and the intensification of the workers’ struggle, Fordism has become a stumbling block to the growth of labor productivity.

In the early 1970’s, some capitalist firms conducted experiments on the modification of assembly-line production to reduce monotony, to increase the interest and attractiveness of labor, and consequently to make labor more effective. Assembly lines were redesigned to this end: for example, the lines were shortened, operations were combined, and workers carried through an entire cycle of operations. Bourgeois sociologists frequently depict such measures as a manifestation of the concern of industrialists for the “humanization of labor.” In actuality, however, they are dictated by the striving to adapt Fordism to modern conditions and thereby to improve the methods used to exploit the working people.

Only under socialism is the true humanization of labor possible: man becomes a creative individual, confident of the social usefulness of his work. He comprehends the science of management of production, of the state, and of society. Any form of technical progress, including the conveyer, is used under the conditions of normal intensiveness of labor and is accompanied by the easing and improvement of working conditions.


Vitte, I. M. Teilor, Dzhil’bert, Ford. Leningrad, 1925.
Lavrov, N. S. Genri Ford i ego proizvodstvo. Leningrad, 1926.
Veis, G. Abbe i Ford (Kapitalisticheskie utopii). Moscow-Leningrad, 1928.
Burlingame, R. Henry Ford. London, 1957.
Hughes, J. T. The Vital Few: American Economic Progress and Its Protagonists. Boston, 1966.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Although it is not for me to say whether Fordist myths will stay alive for some time to come, articles like Foster's (reminiscent of Braverman's style) are an excellent attempt to help us make sense of the social forces emerging from this lasting crisis.