HSS Research Seminar Series: Kathleen Hughes ‘Efficiency’ in scientific management and science fiction

Events — Talk Helmore 201 & Microsoft Teams
8 February 2023, 13:00


Taylor’s The Principles of Scientific Management (1911) is recognised to be an early management book of great importance, influencing the factory production line, Fordism, and introducing ideas such as time and motion studies to industrial processes. While attention is often paid to the principles of management that Taylor proposed, there is a missed opportunity to explore the vision that Taylor presented to a popular readership. This vision is one of efficiency and harmonious relations between a benevolent managing class overseeing workers in jobs suited to their ability. It is well known that Taylorism sparked labour unrest in America when it was implemented and struggled to take hold in some areas of Europe (most notably, Britain). At the same time, many literary authors engaged with these influential ideas directly or indirectly. By examining these engagements within fiction, we are able to uncover meaningful perspectives of both Taylor’s vision and ambivalence to it. It is in the science fiction genre, most notably in utopian, anti-utopian, and dystopian literature, that we find encounters with the problematic concept of ‘efficiency’, either in the work of H. G. Wells, Paul Scheerbart, or the post-holocaust literary world of Primo Levi. It is through these literary expressions, therefore, that we can find new access to the dark underside of the Taylor text itself.

Kathleen Hughes holds an ARU VC PhD Studentship in the Faculty of Business and Law. Her thesis, titled ‘Imagined Futures of Work’ is a cross-disciplinary study of the futures of work as represented in science fiction and management and organisational theory from the late C19th to the present day. Her supervisors are Professor Chris Land, Professor Sarah Brown and Dr Jeannette Baxter.

Guests are welcomed to bring their own lunch from 12.30pm.

A photo of the ford assembly line.
A photo of the ford assembly line.

Event contact: Jeannette Baxter and Melanie Bell: HSSresearch@aru.ac.uk