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The Origins and Evolution of the Field of Industrial Relations.

The term industrial relations often connotes the study of relations between management and organized labor. However, it originally described the entire range of labor issues. In The Origins and Evolution of the Field of Industrial Relations, Bruce Kaufman argues that the redefinition is more than a change in terminology, and he offers the reader an academic history of the industrial relations field now more commonly known as human resources.

The book meticulously outlines the evolution of industrial relations. Kaufman charts how industrial relations began with optimistic goals at the start of the 20th century, grew through the middle of the century, and declined as an academic enterprise in the 1980's.

Academics and practitioners at the turn of the century had great interest in promoting better relations between workers and management to reduce tensions and increase productivity in factories at a time of turbulence caused by labor unrest. Pursuing research into this area, which became known as industrial relations, academics developed theories designed to moderate these tensions by improving management practices and proposing labor legislation.

The field's growth developed into two branches as some academics pursued an approach referred to in the book as "science building," while others more interested in practical problem solving headed in a different direction. The interplay between these two positions on questions of personnel policy is a major theme in the book.

Industrial relations originally included the entire spectrum of labor and management issues and addressed such topics from a neutral, third party perspective. Labor and management were regarded as equal parties with a need to find common ground. Beginning as a subcategory within industrial relations, the development of personnel management theories signaled a schism in the field by focusing on management issues. The terms industrial relations and personnel management were not interchangeable, but represented distinctly different perspectives that were reflected in how personnel managers and academics pursued their subjects. The more updated approach of industrial relations is human resources, which was a development of personnel management.

As the book follows developments through the middle of the 20th century, it describes how other academic fields such as sociology and psychology influenced industrial relations. Industrial relations began to incorporate industrial psychology as it applied to labor problems from the perspective of human relations. At the same time, the Great Depression helped spawn New Deal labor legislation such as the National Labor Relations Act and Fair Labor Standards Act, which were critical developments that continue to have an impact on labor relations.

Kaufman defines the decade between 1948 and 1958 as the "golden age" of industrial relations. Unions experienced strong growth in membership and influence, and employer-employee relations became the primary topic of debate in the field. Recognizing this development, universities such as Cornell and Yale, and the University of Chicago established industrial relations programs.

The final chapters are devoted to a discussion of the decline since the 1960's of industrial relations as an academic field. As an example, Kaufman cites universities that have renamed their industrial relations programs: many schools once known for their fine industrial relations curricula have incorporated in their name the more popular term human resources. Kaufman maintains that renaming these academic programs represents more than a name change and instead illustrates a shift away from union-oriented issues such as collective bargaining.

At the book's conclusion, Kaufman recommends that, despite its decline, industrial relations can survive as an academic discipline if it turns to a stronger multidisciplinary approach. This can be accomplished even if the task requires abandonment of the name industrial relations for the more progressive term "employee relations." He envisions a broader approach that will enlist scholars from a number of fields pursuing a common goal of producing quality research that incorporates cross-discipline approaches and more relevant, problem solving research using primary data sources.

A benefit of an historical account is that it puts current human resource theories in perspective. The book looks back to a time when Frederick Taylor and scientific management theories were considered a reform movement that promised a more enlightened approach to managing workers and when a personnel department at a factory was considered to be the vanguard of labor-management relations.

With some theorists now talking about the need to return decisionmaking directly to workers and work teams, Kaufman reminds the reader of a time when control was in the hands of the shop foreman who could hire and fire at will and how this policy changed slowly in favor of personnel departments in which centralized, bureaucratic decisionmaking was seen as fairer and more efficient.

Reflecting the author's academic background, the book is well documented and includes an extensive list of reference works. Practitioners of industrial relations may not fully know the historical background of their field. For them--and others--this book provides a needed foundation for the study of human resources.
COPYRIGHT 1993 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Wald, Michael
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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