Structures of management: capital and postindustrial capital

Alan Liu’s analysis of Frederick W. Taylor’s “functional foremanship” model of manufacturing allows for a much-needed re-examination of Jean-François Lyotard’s description of the capitalist construction of “professional” and “technical” intelligentsia, contextualizing Lyotard’s argument to a post-Y2K and Web 2.0-era postindustrial capitalism:

“The other management idea to emerge in step with mediation is distributed management or what Taylor called functional foremanship. When manufacturing could be charted out on paper as an interlocking sequence of operations, operators, locations, and resources, then responsibility for the entire plan could be distributed piecemeal to an organization chart of managers that broke the gang-boss mold of management, according to which individual managers directly oversaw platoons of workers. Managers matched up instead with discrete, transposable, and re-programmable functions that bore no necessary relation to individual workers or work group formations, which in turn could be restructured piecemeal as needed. Workers, in other words, no longer had a boss per se; they were minded instead by a buzzing hive of “order of work and route clerks,” “instruction card clerks,” “time and cost clerks,” “shop disciplinarians,” “speed bosses,” “inspectors,” “repair bosses,” and so on who bossed them by bossing around pieces of paper (SM, pp. 102–4). Freed of the need to be directly bossy, indeed, managers in Taylor’s argument could even be “friendly,” or what we might today call user-friendly systems of management. In short, Taylor’s functional foremanship was the origin of today’s professional-managerial or professional-technical-managerial new class” (68).

— Alan Liu, “Transcendental Data: Toward a Cultural History and Aesthetics of the New Encoded Discourse.” Critical Inquiry Vol. 31, No. 1 (Autumn 2004)

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