scientific management

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scientific management:

see industrial managementindustrial management,
term applied to highly organized modern methods of carrying on industrial, especially manufacturing, operations. The Rise of Factories
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scientific management

A set of principles governing the design of jobs which entail the separation of mental from manual labour, subdivision of tasks, deskilling, close managerial control of work effort and incentive wage payments.

The scientific management movement originated in the US in the 1890s, F. W. Taylor being its main proponent, hence the terms ‘Taylorism’ and 'scientific management’ are often used interchangeably. Taylor was trained as an engineer and his principles of management were based on the philosophy that work design is capable of objective measurement by which work can be broken down into its constituent parts as various ‘physical motions’ which can be precisely timed (thus time and motion study) with a view to reorganizing jobs to achieve the most efficient use of effort to raise productivity. In this sense management would become 'scientific’ rather than intuitive, discovering the laws governing work activity as a basis for a set of universal principles defining the ‘best way’ to organize work. Taylor's philosophy was also based on ideas from classical economics and a psychology which assumed that individuals were naturally lazy and instrumental in their attitude to work. Each individual would be paid in relation to their effort and motivated by economic reward. With scientific management trade unions would be obsolete and cooperation in the workplace would be ensured through the application of scientific principles and each worker pursuing their individual self-interest. Scientific management advocated:

  1. the fragmentation of work into simple, routine operations;
  2. the standardization of each operation to eliminate idle times;
  3. the separation of conception from execution – the design and control of work being a management task.

Taylor's principles were primarily directed at the workplace but his methods also implied the functional division of management, including their separation from owners which was elaborated by the early proponents of MANAGEMENT SCIENCE into a formal blueprint for organizations, defining lines of authority and spans of control (see also ORGANIZATION THEORY).

Taylor's ideas were also an extension of earlier 19th-century approaches to factory organization and mechanization, notably the work of Andrew Ure and Charles Babbage. The ‘Babbage Principle’ (1832) asserted that skilled tasks should be fragmented into a skilled component and various deskilled associated tasks which allow each task to be paid at the lowest possible rate and workers perform only operations commensurate with their skill and training.

Sociological analysis of scientific management has focused upon two issues: first, its significance as a management ideology legitimating management control, and secondly, the extent to which scientific management was applied in practice in capitalist societies at various stages of their development. As an ideology, scientific management has enjoyed a pervasive influence over work organization and managerial thought up to the present day despite initial opposition from both trade unions and employers. As an ideology it contrasted strongly with earlier employers’ attitudes of paternalism and welfarism and was the object of considerable criticism from later HUMAN RELATIONS approaches to management which rejected its individualistic, economistic assumptions about human motivation, and advocated instead task variety, group working and elf-fulfilment through work.

Recent debate in sociology has focused on the importance of Taylorism as a basis for managerial control under capitalism (see LABOUR PROCESS). It is clear that scientific management principles were never fully implemented in practice. Worker opposition and the need by employers to secure both work consent and flexibility in work organization meant the abandonment or modification of many of Taylor's original principles (see FORDISM AND POST-FORDISM). Nevertheless, elements of Taylorism, particularly deskilling, were and still are widespread both in manufacturing and office work (see TECHNOLOGY, SKILL). Scientific management was even influential in socialist societies via the works of Lenin and Gramsci but separated from the capitalist ideology which underpinned it.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000