Senses of Fordism

"Fordism" is a term sometimes used in sociology for a particular kind of industrial organization, or an era of industrial organization. It tends to involve mass production, which included moving assembly lines, specialized machinery, high wages, and low cost products.

Henry Ford brings these elements together in his Highland Park automobile factory in Detroit. He had already realized that if his cars had interchangeable parts, then you needed fewer skilled craftspeople to build a car. The skill was in designing the jigs that turned out uniform parts. Then, if the parts were uniform, you could develop machines to install them or put them together.

Once interchangeable parts became available, all that was left was to put them together in a continuously moving assembly line. With the higher volume of product, prices necessarily had to go down in order to sell them. Ford instituted a $5 a day policy, bringing wages up to the point that the workers could afford to buy the cars.

The result: absenteeism and labour turnover went down significantly, and productivity soared. The "mass worker" had been created - unskilled, highly paid, and generally happy. Ford's Model T car captured 55% of the market by the early 1920s.

Fordism can mean several things:

1. Fordism as a labour process involving moving assembly line mass production.

2. Fordist sectors as lead growth sectors capable of transmitting growth to other sectors of an economy. This is Fordism as an economic force in society, moulding an economy into a specific form.

3. Fordist organization as hegemonic. The influence of Fordist ways become pervasive.

4. Fordism as a mode of regulation. Fordist political structures eventually influence governments, as growth becomes taken for granted.

Notes from Stuart Hall et. al.,
Modernity: Introduction to Modern Societies.