Putting Capitalist Economies in their Place
2. Fordism and post-Fordism The language of Fordism and post-Fordism played a major role in lay discussions about social and economic changes in advanced capitalist societies from the 1970s to 1990s. As it spread more widely, however, this language was vulgarized. This reduced its utility for theoretical understanding and empirical analysis and generated many confusions and controversies. This chapter criticizes and reformulates the conventional terminology of Fordism and post-Fordism in order to enhance its usefulness in the critique of political economy. We make the best case possible for both sets of concepts before criticizing them. In doing so we distinguish four levels on which relevant phenomena have been analysed and contrast their structural and strategic moments. We also identify a fundamental asymmetry between Fordism and post-Fordism as analytical tools and call for more cautious and critical use of terms such as ‘post-Fordism’. The owl of Minerva, Hegel once noted, takes ﬂight at dusk. When the original version of this little-changed chapter was published in 1992, scholars were well placed to understand Fordism but the future remained open because we were still living through a period of experimentation rather than in a consolidated post-Fordism. Thus our arguments below are best read as a second-generation analysis that still serves its main purpose in clarifying what is at stake in discussing Fordism and identifying the problems involved then (and now) in forecasting the nature of a stable post-Fordist order. We return to the latter issue in Chapter 11, which builds on these arguments...
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