Scientific Management and Pragmatism in PA Theory: Taylor and Dewey as Strange Bedfellows
Shane J. Ralston
Pennsylvania State University - Hazleton
January 4, 2012
Scientific management in public administration is usually associated with the Philadelphian, machinist and industrial engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor, who introduced high-priced efficiency studies into the workplace with a stopwatch and a clever method of analysis. In contrast, scientific management in philosophy finds more resonance with the ideas of the American pragmatist John Dewey, who conceived management as a species of intelligent inquiry, or scientifically-modeled problem solving. While these accounts are not entirely accurate, they do provide depictions of two thinkers with strikingly different visions of scientific management. However, this reading is the result of filtering Taylor’s ideas through recent commentaries, mostly critical, of mainstream management and consulting practices. Likewise, the view that Dewey understood management as a form of inquiry is the result of contemporary interpretations of his work. In the first two sections of this paper, I examine the similarities and differences between Dewey and Taylor’s conceptions of scientific management. Dewey’s critique of scientific management in his book Democracy and Education receives attention in the second section. In the third section, I consider how approaches to organizational theory and public management have moved away from Taylorism, reflecting several of Dewey’s critical insights about scientific management and a more recent alternative: human relations theory. The paper concludes with some final thoughts concerning the usefulness of the Dewey-Taylor comparison and its implications for good governance in a democratic society.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 24
Keywords: Dewey, Taylor, public administration, scientific management
JEL Classification: Z00working papers series
Date posted: January 7, 2012
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