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The advanced capitalist nations are currently undergoing an enormous economic, social, and political transformation. At the heart of this transformation is the transition between large scale, standardized production (Fordism) and new, more flexible approaches to manufacturing (flexibility), and a concomitant extension of manufacturing to include products both concrete (goods) and ephemeral (services). This volume explores the consequences of this transition from the standpoints of technology, labor relations, firm strategy, education, government programs, and geography.
The book is a collection of papers by well-known scholars investigating the current global transition from mass consumption and production to flexible production for niche markets. The book is unique in that it not only discusses standard economic concerns, but also investigates the social and political implications of this transition. Each chapter is concerned with a different aspect of the same restructuring process.



1. The Current Transition in Industrial Capitalism

The advanced capitalist nations are currently undergoing a wrenching economic, social, and political transformation. At its heart, this transformation involves a shift away from the mass production of highly standardized goods and services for mass markets to small-batch production of relatively customized goods and services for niche markets. This volume brings together in one place essays by a group of individuals who have thought widely and written extensively on various aspects of the current transformation of industrial capitalism in an attempt to integrate this research and these disparate viewpoints into an single complete picture. Briefly, the book touches upon five dimensions of the current transformation of capitalism: technology, labor relations, firm organization, public policy, and locational decisionmaking. Each chapter is concerned with a different aspect of the same transformative process. The purpose of this introductory chapter is to frame the debate contained within the remainder of the book. To do so, it is first necessary to define a set of terms.
Daniel C. Knudsen, Jeffrey S. Boggs

2. Technology, Competitiveness, and Flexibility: Constantly Evolving Concepts

This chapter examines three concepts central to the changes evident in the world economy, and their impacts on regions and places, firms, and people. Technology is perhaps the most important of the three because it has the broadest scope and thus directly affects the other two concepts: flexibility and competitiveness. Technology also is the one least able to be controlled by individual firms, since technology originates in other firms, especially competitors, and in research institutes and universities throughout the world. However, technology provides only a portion of the advantages described as flexibility or as competitiveness. All three are central phenomena of the 1990s, where global capitalist competition has pushed small firms to be international and seek out export markets, and pushed large, transnational firms to form networks of partners, large and small, that allow them to become flexible.
Edward J. Malecki

3. Labor and Capitalist Accumulation in the Late Twentieth Century: What and Who is Flexible?

A recent Wall Street Journal article reported the new UAW assembly line workers that Chrysler and Ford are currently hiring are far better-educated than their current work force. The UAW is opposed to this effort to hire better-educated workers. Ex-UAW president Fraser was quoted as saying “Let’s face it, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work on the assembly line (Templin, 1994).” During the last decade of the twentieth century there have been intense changes underway in the global political economy and these changes are profoundly impacting how we think about labor and labor relations. The proximate cause for this rethinking is the remarkable success of Japanese capitalism. Trying to understand the changes labor is experiencing is, in effect, to try to explain the changes in capitalism itself. As Say er and Walker (1992) aptly point out, there is a reworking and a new, more powerful integration of the global division of labor. This is reflected in and is an aspect of a far deeper and more profound globalization of the wage labor relationship. Importantly, though capitalism has always accumulated on a world scale, in the current period it is penetrating new regions with the intent of integrating the inhabitants into the global marketplace as producers. As importantly, like a virus, it is constantly mutating its surface coating (i.e., labor relations, interfirm relations, the role of managers etc.), while reproducing its essential genetic code. Thus, its tremendous flexibility.
Martin Kenney, James Curry

4. Preparing Workers and Students for the New Workplace

Research has provided us with a good deal of information about literacy demands in the workplace. Researchers (Sticht, 1982; Mikulecky, 1982) have consistently found the vast majority of prose material (i.e., memos, manuals, trouble-shooting directions, new product information) in the workplace to be of high school to college level difficulty. These high school to college difficulty levels are comparable to the difficulty levels of most newspapers and magazines (Wheat, Lindberg, and Nauman, 1977). The number of workers being called upon to use print materials is also being influenced by technological and organizational changes in the workplace. As workplaces restructure to become more productive, workers in many manufacturing and service occupations are being called upon to monitor quality by gathering information from charts, graphs, and computer screens, taking measurements, calculating averages, graphing information, entering information onto various forms, and writing brief shift reports indicating problems and attempted solutions. Others must gather information from print to effectively participate in quality assurance groups and to play active roles in improving productivity (Chisman, 1992; Faison et al., 1992).
Larry Mikulecky

5. Large Firm Strategies: Spatial Patterns of Production

Views of national economic development and firm evolution that predominated through the early 1970s emphasized stable sequences of developmental stages through which leading nations or firms had passed. Less industrialized nations, if successful, were expected to pass through these same stages. Because the technical and social infrastructure associated with each developmental stage were known in the case of the lead countries, “followers” might be able to decrease the length of each individual stage, thus climbing the development ladder more quickly. For firms, a similar evolutionary model of industrial organization dominated. In this case, however, the description of development focused primarily on leading firms that grew to dominate industrial branches or sectors. In the case of firms, conditions in the market were expected to operate such that the “best” firms developed through a sequence, culminating in a particular organizational form. Firms with inadequate resources, less able management, or poor competitive positions, on the other hand, were expected to remain at lower stages in the sequence unless conditions changed.
Claire Ellen Pavlik

6. Services and Flexible Production: Contingent but Mutually Reinforcing Systems

Analyses of economic change in the late twentieth century frequently point to two parallel sets of phenomena, the emergence of so-called “flexible production” systems and the explosive growth of services. Both of these have radically reshaped what is produced in various parts of the global economy, how it is produced, who produces it, and where production is located. While the growth of the service economy occurred for reasons only partly related to the emergence of flexible production systems, services would not be as prominent as they are today without the emergence of flexible production. In short, services and flexible production are contingent, but mutually reinforcing systems.
Barney Warf

7. Inter-Firm Collaboration and Industrial Competitiveness

At the high end of manufacturing markets, the end that will create wealth and ultimately jobs, things don’t get made by companies anymore. Things get made, designed, engineered, manufactured, and distributed by groups of firms working together in new, dynamic, and multiple alliances and networks. For firms to be competitive in these markets, there is just too much to learn, too much to be able to do. They can’t do it alone any longer. They have to learn to learn cooperatively.
Brian Bosworth

8. Government Response to Structural Change and the Implementation of More Flexible Management and Production Systems

For well over a decade, analysts from many disciplines have engaged in a vigorous debate over the nature and consequences of the great changes sweeping the structure, organization, and location of industries and enterprises. This debate has often been couched in the context of a possible emergence of a new era of “flexible accumulation.” From a pragmatic perspective, much of this debate has had limited direct policy relevance, but the concepts have served to frame the policy debate and guided policy decisions in the face of inadequate understanding of the changes at work. Several key areas of consensus and lines of analysis have emerged that help guide government actions.1
J. W. Wheeler

9. Fixed Structures in Transition: The Changing Demand for Office and Industrial Infrastructure

This chapter examines some aspects of change in the demand for infrastructure in the U.S. space economy, relating this to “flexible accumulation,” a label given in recent years to the evolving capitalist system. Derivatives of the flexible accumulation label such as flexible specialization and flexible production have subsequently been coined to describe changes in industrial organization accompanying capitalism’s evolution. While the labels were first applied to manufacturing reorganization, their perceived relevance for describing reorganization trends among the service sector has been increasing.
Nancey Green Leigh

10. Period and Place, Capitalist Development, and the Flexible Specialization Debate

This chapter concerns the way in which we use concepts of period and place in social theory. It is prompted by thoughts raised in the context of the debate about flexible accumulation (FA) and flexible specialization (FS). The idea of industrial divides—whether that first promulgated by Piore and Sabel (1984) between mass production and a more recent revamped craft production or the military-industrial divide of Markusen (1991)—serve to emphasize the issue of periodization in social theory. The attendant concern with industrial districts of the sort first identified by Piore and Sabel brings to mind the issue of just how and why we might divide up substantive domains geographically. Some of the critique of flexible accumulation and flexible specialization theses has also served to draw attention to differentiation in the geographic plane: concerns for the institutional distinctiveness of Japan come to mind here (Kenney and Florida, 1988; Sayer, 1989; Curry, 1993).
Kevin R. Cox

11. The Current Transition Reconsidered

This volume has presented collected essays on various aspects of the current transformation of industrial capitalism in an attempt to create a single complete picture. The book touched upon five dimensions of the current transformation of capitalism: technology, labor relations, firm organization, public policy, and locational decisionmaking. The purpose of this final chapter is to summarize the debate contained within the book and to extend the findings beyond the narrow confines of the largely Anglo-American and U.K. experience that the authors present.
Daniel C. Knudsen, Raymond L. Martin
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