Detroit, Capital of the Twentieth Century
This introductory chapter provides an overview of Fordism. Fordism, in its most common usage, was a term that first originated in the 1970s and then boomed in the 1980s, when social scientists sought ways to theorize the structural crises of the industrialized West. Henry Ford in fact never used the term — his global admirers created it. Fordism enjoys a second popular usage: as a shorthand for a distinctively American modernity that is said to have spread across the world in the twentieth century, in a process that historians of Europe have called “Americanization.” Finally, Fordism is used in a third way that focuses more narrowly on what goes on inside firms and on shop floors. To labor historians, Fordism means the shop regime associated with mass production: a focus on unskilled laborers working monotonous tasks on assembly lines. The chapter then details how the spread of Fordism during the interwar years arose from an antagonistic development competition that was initially triggered by the rise of the United States and then accelerated by the Great Depression. It looks at how Detroit became the destination of engineering delegations bent on wholesale technology transfer.
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