Economic History Workshop | "Scientific Management and Social Peace: The International Labour Organization and the Dissemination of Taylorism in the Interwar Years"

Event date: 
March 9, 2023 - 12:00pm to 1:20pm
Bianca Centrone
Princeton University
Liane Hewitt
Princeton University
Seminar Series: 
Economic History Workshop
Co-Sponsored by: 
Julis-Rabinowitz Center for Public Policy & Finance

"Scientific Management and Social Peace: The International Labour Organization and the Dissemination of Taylorism in the Interwar Years"

Bianca Centrone, Princeton University

This workshop will be offered exclusively in-person. Registration is required.

This presentation will explore the international dissemination of scientific management between the end of World War I and the early 1930s. The paper will observe how the gospel of management responded to fears about the ongoing crisis, as well as hopes for a future of national and international security and prosperity. Taking a step back from the study of the practical implementation of organizational strategies in industry, it looks at how a more indeterminate ideal of scientific management dominated post-war international pursuits of a wealthier and more just world. Following the end of WWI, scientific management became the locus of international scrutiny as the motor of American economic success. Governments and businesses began calling for international cooperation to spread management knowledge and practices, with the aim to reconstruct the industries and economies that had been torn apart by the war. The International Labor Organization and its first director Albert Thomas immediately endorsed, took over and further propagated these efforts. Scientific management promised increased outputs at lower costs for employers and higher wages for workers. Heightened productivity would result in a further threefold transformation: creating faster-growing economies; overcoming the split between capital and labor; and achieving international peace and security. Faith in the potential of business to guarantee the stabilization of economies and societies did not survive the blows of the Great Depression, giving way to a new enthusiasm for government planning. Politicians and economic thinkers turned their backs, but the web of personal and institutional connections and organizations had boosted the dissemination of knowledge of scientific management methods. Although management turned out not to be what the ILO had originally wanted it to be, its international advocacy achieved the success that it had coveted. And with the force of their economic potential as well as their social and political appeal, the new organizing strategies spread and took root, effectively shaping the future of industry for decades to come. 

Robert Yee
Area of Interest: 
Economic History