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Scientific Management in Nederland: 1900-1930.

Scientific Management in Nederland, 1900-1930 The organization of labor on the shopfloor is a field of research where business historians and historiographers of labor can cooperate productively. B. S. A. Bloemen's book on the introduction of scientific management in the Netherlands contains much of interest to both groups. The author joins the recent scholarly discussions, going on particularly in the United States and England, about Taylorism and scientific management, terms that Bloemen uses interchangeably. In addition, this volume fills a gap with regard to the Netherlands, since hardly any research has so far been conducted into the history of business organization in this country. The book is soundly structured and written with great clarity.

Bloemen is opposed to studying scientific management exclusively on the basis of the writings of Frederick W. Taylor, the "father" of this concept. Consequently, a review of Taylor's most important books takes up only a few pages in this study. The rest of Taylor surfaces only indirectly during the discussion of various authors, most notably the work of Daniel Nelson and Harry Braverman. In his book Bloemen fits in best with Nelson's historical approach. He is not in favor of the method prevailing among sociologists, in which one first defines scientific management and then tries to learn to what extent a phenomenon corresponding to this definition can be traced in the Netherlands. Bloemen demonstrates that Taylor's doctrine contains contradictory elements and thus is open to multiple interpretations. He therefore opts for an open approach, investigating what groups were attracted to Taylorism and what interests they protected. Throughout this study, scientific management (or Taylorism) is meant to comprise everything that was designated by that term at the time. This broad approach is not fully developed in the chapter on Europe, which, because of the Dutch focus of the book, had to be kept brief, but in the discussion of Taylorism's reception in the Netherlands, Bloemen's methodology works well.

In the Netherlands Taylor's ideas were picked up primarily by representatives of three groups of professionals: engineers, psychologists, and accountants. They realized that the promotion of Taylorism would be very beneficial to their own professions. Trade unions were initially opposed to Taylorism, but after the First World War their attitude became more appreciative. Productivity growth made wage increases possible, and clearly defined job descriptions and rates could curtail arbitrariness on the part of bosses. Employers had great difficulty with scientific management. They found it impossible to believe that outsiders could give valuable advice about a company they themselves knew inside out. Nor were they inclined to hand over any authority to a planning department. Braverman's thesis that employers attempted to utilize scientific management to deprive workers of their exclusive knowledge of the production process is convincingly challenged by Bloemen. The managers, mostly technicians, were very well informed about the production process; that is not where the power of the laborers lay.

Bloemen does not restrict himself to a description of the world of ideas, but also investigates how Taylorism actually fared within Dutch companies. Although limited by the absence of good company histories that deal with this aspect, Bloemen turned the disadvantage to an advantage: he thoroughly studied the archives of the management consulting agency Hijmans and Van Gogh. The description of the history of this agency is one of the most fascinating chapters in the book. As it turns out, Taylor's doctrine found little application in the Netherlands. Innovations remained limited to technical and organizational improvements. Taylor's notions about these were, moreover, not new but had evolved from existing systematic management theories. Other elements in Taylor's ideas, such as appointing foremen, instituting a planning department with far-reaching authority, conducting time schedule studies, or introducing his piece-rate systems, found no following in the Netherlands.

Toward the end of the book Bloemen briefly discusses the question whether scientific management has had a noticeable impact on the economy of the Netherlands. He concludes that the improvements in the position of Dutch laborers in the 1920s, as opposed to their colleagues abroad, can be explained by the rise in productivity in the Netherlands, which was higher than elsewhere. He cautiously suggests that scientific management may have played a role in this development. This conclusion is as yet not very convincing, since it is repeatedly stated in the book that Dutch employers had little interest in scientific management. Only through additional research in company archives, for which this book offers an excellent stepping-stone, can answers to such questions be found. The book also arouses one's curiosity about the development of company management after 1930, which is the final year covered in Bloemen's study.

Keetie E. Sluyterman is a part-time lecturer at the Centre for Business History of Erasmus University in Rotterdam. She wrote a doctoral dissertation on the Dutch cigar industry, "Ondernemen in Sigaren" (1983), and has published various articles on business history. She is presently co-authoring a history of the Oce-Van der Grinten company.
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Author:Sluyterman, Keetie E.
Publication:Business History Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1990
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