Notes from: Amin, A  (ed) (1994) Post-Fordism: A Reader, Blackwell: Oxford


Chapter 1 Amin  'Post-Fordism: models, fantasies and phantoms of transition'.

 Most people seem to agree that there has been a substantial transition since the 1970s. For some people, this is the information age, for others postmodernity, global interdependence, or a  new mercantilism-based society (where the state aids new areas of technical expertise). It can also involve more corporate control with banks and corporations more dominant. Some people see as flexible specialisation, with a versatile work force, flat teams, new social movements, and a new social economy  [all these terms arise from Sternberg, apparently]. All the models assume an end to centralism and mass markets.

There are lots of marxist criticisms available, especially via Capital and Class [a marxist journal and theoretical school] : for them, the approach is too functionalist and systematic, ignoring the  'non path dependent, contested and open nature of change' (3). There may be no clear breaks, or no binary contrasts  (and this includes criticism of the view that there are now old and new times). There are many determinations instead. However, postfordism in the New Times project already attempts to synthesise the economic and the cultural, and is not without its critics (including Rustin and Sivanadan). Post-Fordism is clearly a floating metaphor, involving different emphases.

There are three broad models of the transition from the British economy of the 1970s to the present:  there are also several other important models,  including work by Bowles and Gintis, a class based version of regulation theory, Lash and Urry on disorganised capitalism, or Harvey on flexible accumulation.

(1) Regulation (a French school including Aglietta and Lipietz). There are now at least seven specific variants, but all see the key regulating mechanisms of economic life as in decline. Regulating mechanisms are not just economic laws, but are 'embedded social practices'. Key concepts include the 'regime of accumulation' (social norms, relations and forms of exchange which regulate the economy), and the  'mode of regulation'  (institutions and cultural habits which reproduce the whole capitalist society). There are also 'dominant industrial paradigms/labour processes', which combine with regimes of accumulation and modes of regulation to produce a specific 'mode of development'. Finally, there are dominant  'societal paradigms' which involve political compromises and hegemonic patterns of domination and which attempt to integrate the whole society.

 Fordism can be described as involving intensive accumulation and monopolistic regulation. It can be analysed further as involving a specific labour process  (mass-production); a regime of accumulation  (economic growth, economies of scale, mass market); and a mode of regulation  (the separation of ownership and control, large corporations, the corporate recognition of trade unions, the management of credit to sustain demand, mass consumerism, government intervention in wage policies and Keynesianism). This is an ideal type, which has always combined with non-Fordist sections in practice. Fordism produced crises from: decreasing productivity  (unions limit work, and there is a loss of economies of scale); globalization  (which makes national management impossible); growing social expenditure  (on the welfare state); the end of mass consumption and new diversity.

 Amin says that the problem with this approach is that it assumes there is still one general logic of growth and accumulation, rather than a set of general struggles and contradictions. Further, it operates post hoc, rather than as a predictive theory.

 (2) Neo-Schumpeterian. [Schumpeter was an Austrian economist who wrote an early piece praising the entrepreneur as the innovative element in economic and social systems, including capitalism, socialism and democracy {the title of one of his books}]  This approach has some general links with the regulation school and its take on Fordism, especially with its analysis of the 'techno-economic paradigm' as a major regime of accumulation, and the 'socio- institutional framework' as the equivalent of a mode of regulation. However, it gives greater importance to technology and the role of innovative entrepreneurs. These produce sudden quantum leaps in production followed by changes in social life to diffuse them. Innovation can take place in work patterns, but is normally borne by certain  'carrier products' [Toyota? Sony Walkman?]. The crisis of Fordism arises from a mismatch between the new technology and the old social frameworks.

 Amin says the problem with this approach is that it can look technologically determinist.

 (3) Flexible specialisation. This takes an anti-determinist line and sees mass-production as giving way to a set of skilled workers producing a variety of customised goods. This system can co-exist with mass-production, although it can also be in contradiction with it in times of change. Usually this is the result of different choices made by key actors, but these can coalesce into whole historical  'industrial divides'. According to this view, mass production dominated the period 1900-1970 but not since. There has been a breakdown of international regulatory mechanisms, more diverse markets, and new manufacturing techniques, combined with flexible work practices overcoming economies of scale.

Amin says the problem here is that the approach is too dualistic, it is ambiguous about the autonomy of choice and the logic of technology, it tends to see competitiveness as the sole hallmark of industrial efficiency, and is far too optimistic in predicting a rosy flexible future.

Will a postfordist future involve networks of small firms? New forms of integration of management with skilled workers? New forms of decentralisation and involvement, a new culture, and a new and optimistic  'Yeoman/artisan democracy'? At the moment, this is found in leading-edge industries only, such as in Silicon Valley. It is by no means the only option. The new forms of work might equally well be regulated by new regimes of surveillance. Any changes are likely to be local solutions reflecting local balances of power. There may well be new dual labour markets, and it is likely we will find geographical clusters  (although Japan is seen here as a unique paradigm). There are likely to be both local and global developments, and it is difficult to predict which is more likely.

 Not everyone agrees that there will be a new formation of individualism and fragmentation, and subjectivism, as the New Times theorists predict. It is still possible to see a role for collective participation and negotiation, with conditions to be fought for.

 Harvey's work in particular sees postmodernist style as linked to economic changes through a flexible accumulation strategy, especially in the development of cities -- the  'production of symbolic capital'. This links with Zukin's work on the  'mobilisation of spectacle', in marinas and shopping malls. They also predict a rise in poverty in cash realization and the growth of an underclass. This latter option is unacknowledged by the likes of Mulgan [a New Times theorist and an optimist]. The same split between optimistic and pessimistic possibilities is found in the work of Davis on the city -- Los Angeles is both the privatisation of space and the development of a fortress.

Chapter 5 Tomaney, J  'A New Paradigm of Work Organisation and Technology'

The three main approaches to understand changes are flexible specialisation, Japanisation, and new forms of production in
Germany. Overall, there has probably not been a decisive break, however, there is still a capitalist class and lots of fundamental continuities with Fordism, including traditions of industrial practice which are themselves multiply determined.

Taylor and Braverman invoke general logics of economic development, and face the difficulty of reductionism.[Braverman wrote a key marxist text identifying 'deskilling' as a necessary part of the accumulation strategy of advanced capitalism]. Taylorism itself may only apply to fordist production. Flexible specialisation approaches predict by contrast a new skilled humane and flexible workforce, a new stability, the re-emergence of the craft paradigm spreading to large industry, and the reunification of the stages of conception and production. However, have economies of scale diminished? Is technology that multi-purpose? Large volume production is still needed, and the introduction of new technology seems to be going on most quickly within existing large-scale organisations, where it is still used to maximise labour time. Technology still replaces skill, and routinises labour rather than releasing new forms of craft organization. Similar doubts apply to the  'involvement' in Total Quality regimes. There is still management control, and work intensification is still the real driver.

Japanisation invokes a transferable postfordism, and a more humane work regime. However, the Japanese economy still features high-volume production of standardized goods. Is apparently based on 'flexibility in the utilisation of plants, the minimisation of quality problems as they arise, and minimisation of production fllow buffers' (quoting Jurgens). But is intensification the Japanese secret? JIT and TQ is designed to eliminate waste and disruption and job rotation. The non-discriminatory work place culture can be seen as a bourgeoisification of the work force [ ie the defusing of worker opposition?] . The loyalty to the firm in exchange for lifetime employment and salary paid according to seniority is really a sign of management dominance, work intensification or super-exploitation. Is there a genuine class accord or is this a sign of union weakness? The superior work conditions are still seen as a gift of management, especially in times of labour shortage. There is a dual labour market. Lifelong contracts can be seen as limiting transfers of skill. JIT is still very exploitative possibly even Taylorist. Japanese work culture is best seen as a development into the ergonomics of mass-production, possible in the face of serious opposition.

In western Germany, there seems to be a new form of production --  'high-wage/high productivity coalition'. This involves the re-emergence of skilled work instead of automation, and attention to valorisation [adding value to goods] rather than the old crude controls. Workers are  'manually gifted, theoretically talented', and the production system is controlled by a series of diagnoses and remedies. But is the West German miracle reductionist and ahistorical? Does it affect core production only? Skills are still diminished while managerial control is not. Technology can be introduced in a number of specific conditions, including where it is used to regulate and do surveillance. The introduction of work teams can bring about intensification. Finally, the positive outcomes may be specific to Germany, which was always less Taylorist, and not to the general logic of advanced capitalism.

A lot of the optimistic forecasts seem to depend on there being some whole logic where employers are forced to invest in workers. However, computerisation is fully compatible with mass-production and need not involve a reintroduction of craft. New technology is about control rather than innovation, and JIT is best seen as a [temporary?] alternative to full automation. Even reskilling can involve a new form of integration and intensification. New developments are best seen as continuous transformations rather than spectacular breaks: as a result, marxism can still explain developments, especially via theories of machinofacture. Fordism was never universal, but is best seen as one solution available in one sector (flow manufacture), where time savings were maximised. The era after Fordism is still about saving. Ever since the mechanisation of information,  'informational principles' drive production, determine work teams, and decide upon automation. Work is even more integrated as a result, although the process is still unevenly applied. The process even affects batch production, which it also intensifies  (for example market information gathered by electronic means). Overall what we see is a continuation of trends, a flexible Taylorism. Even subjective knowledge is harnessed to production, as in TQ. Social integration takes place only around production and provides workers with additional responsibilities for which they are not rewarded: for example they are urged to constantly search for a way to end production bottlenecks.

Fordism was never the single factor producing post-war economic success, and was certainly not universal. The increase in demand from a new middle class and from the military was equally important. Therefore it is wrong to see Fordism as a necessary logic: it is really a particular balance of class forces, a specific deal to integrate working class by high wages and standards of living.

However, there might still be contradictions since subordination is never total

Chapter 6 Storper, M "Flexible Specialisation in the US Film Industry'

Fordism is a system of vertical integration, mass production, state oligopoly, welfare state and mass consumerism. Flexible specialisation involves the flexible production of goods which is vertically disintegrated, with networks of firms, flexible multi-purpose technology, and less technical division of labour. There is a balance of competition and cooperation, producing regional clusters of agglomerates. Instead of an industrial divide approach, there is a tree structure.

Fordism can be seen as a particular case in US history rather than representing some logic of American production. It is now possible to see the end of American financial hegemony especially, leaving space for a possible second epoch. The case-study of Hollywood shows the possibilities, since the actual business has been transformed to a far more flexible mode. Hollywood is a good case study because it is also seen as at the heart of American industry. 

Originally, films were made using a craft process which rapidly became a fordist one. The film production companies were in fact among the first to adopt fordist techniques. They integrated production and distribution, and instituted formula movies. It is possible to see the continuity script as a good example of Taylorist division of labour, which also had the advantage of breaking actors' skill in improvisation and thus control over production [actors shoot a variety of scenes regardless of their place in the story -- all the scenes at a particular location, for example --  and then the continuity people edit them together]. Film production featured an advanced division of labour with pre-production and post-production, with their own teams of specialists. Films moved forward as if on an assembly line leading to maximum capacity utilisation. This was the  'studio system'of the 1920s-40s. The industry produced a cluster of workers, oligopoly, and market concentration. It was eventually destabilised by:  (a) anti-trust legislation which forced the studios to sell off cinema chains and disrupted their assured market;  (b) the arrival of television, which produced a more segmented market, decline in attendances and profits.

The answer was to cut production and increase flexibility. Standardized pieces were dropped, especially shorts and newsreels. There was a focus on the spectacular to differentiate cinema from TV, including the introduction of Technicolor and Cinerama. Fewer but more expensive films were produced instead of volume. Specialised producers now arose, outside the control of studios, able to innovate, and also to take advantage of the casualisation of the work force. The end of long-term contracts ended the star system too -- the best ones could command high salaries which required further cost cutting, and a shift of control back towards actors.

Attempts were made to destabilise the industry in the 1960s. Hollywood could still colonise overseas distribution especially in Europe. They were able to dominate TV via made-for-television pieces. Television itself contracted and spawned a series of smaller producers. Studios were still overcapitalised, making them vulnerable to takeovers and conglomeration. Studio lots were sold to realize land values. This led to more location shoots and technical innovations such as hand-held cameras, and a new look [eg lo-tech or grimy realist] for the cinema. Union rules were broken in the process, and non-union actors and set workers were employed.

Studios themselves were unable to concentrate enough labour to assemble all these skills, leading to decentralisation, and joint production with independents. By the 1980s 50 per cent of films were produced by independents. Lots of pre-production was contracted out, including editing, lighting and special effects.

The industry required new financial alliances in order to spread risks, including  'horizontal integration' (for example film spin-offs). Other firms became multi-purpose -- e.g. Cinnabar first built sets then went into effects, then produced their own commercials which used their effects. Hollywood was able to regrow, but as a local cluster, able to produce a variety of films and other products.

Was there an underlying logic to all this? In general, it is a story of shock and uncertainty, leading to sub-contracting, seeking out new production techniques, always trying to control markets. If market control fails, subcontractors can grow into specialists and then innovators, and then form horizontal networks offering a product variety. These networks don't offer internal economies of scale, but other economies instead. This became an irreversible change. It is these external economies arising from horizontal networks that are crucial, and these have been undertheorised so far.