The current paper is devoted to the analysis of a Post-Fordist revolution about the organization of work and consumption. It determines social problems that could not be resolved by Fordism and examines the dynamic character of post-Fordism. The paper also investigates the new patterns of organization of work and consumption and specifies the positive and negative consequences of modern trends. The post-Fordist system of work organization has both positive and negative aspects that may be attributed to the dominant social and economic relations. The key positive aspects include higher heterogeneity of the labor force, positive impacts of globalization, and more intense competition. However, the negative aspects are significant as well. The most influential negative aspects include the inflexibility of the labor market, high unemployment, and structural imbalances. The consumption issues are also comparatively difficult. On the one hand, consumption has acquired a significant role, as it is the center of consumer preferences. On the other hand, consumption cannot exist without previous production, and the whole system of consumption and production relations should be reorganized.
Keywords: post-Fordist revolution, consumer preferences, consumption
To What Extent Can We Speak of a Post-Fordist Revolution when Exploring the Contemporary Organisation of Work and Consumption?
The post-Fordist revolution has significantly affected modern society. The entire social structure significantly differs from the previous periods of history. Therefore, the new system of social and economic relationships between employers and employees has been emerging. The most significant changes produced by a post-Fordist revolution may be observed in the sphere of work and consumption organization. The purpose of this paper is to determine the social problems that could not be solved by Fordism. It will also examine the dynamic character of post-Fordism and investigate the new patterns of work and consumption organization. The paper will also specify the positive and negative consequences of modern trends.
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First of all, it should be stressed that the rise and fall of Fordism was an objective outcome of social and economic relations (Lipietz 1997, p. 2). Fordism fulfilled its function in a specific stage of human development, but then the environment changed. Fordism was not able to satisfy the emerging needs inadequate ways. Therefore, it was replaced by the post-Fordist system. Fordism was highly centralized and inflexible. It did not analyze the needs and desires of consumers. It led to inefficient use of resources and permanent misallocations. A post-Fordist revolution has established a new system of market relations. It is focused on the needs of consumers. Consequently, the organization of work has changed significantly. As inflexibility does not contribute to higher profits, the majority of companies have introduced more flexible and consumer-oriented systems. Also, consumers determine the methods of production indirectly, and producers from the price system by their valuations, In this way, producers are able to allocate existing resources more efficiently from the point of view of consumers. Aiming at the maximization of profits, producers fulfil a valuable social function of accumulating capital, investing it, and obtaining final consumer goods.
However, the present stage of post-Fordist society is not final. There are several problems and inconsistencies. For instance, modern post-Fordist cities have serious social and economic disadvantages (Baum, n.d.). The present stage of human development is not perfect, but the social institutions should adequately represent the existing environment. At the same time, some scientists use the modern concepts of societies in a metaphorical sense. Daniel Bell considers that “the concept of a post-industrial society is an analytical construct” (Bell 1973, p. 483). It is not directly related to actual societies, but rather contributes to the understanding of global phenomena. This position seems to be correct as the state of society is continually changing, and the post-industrial society of the 21st century is not equal to the post-industrial society of the 1970s. However, if the concept is understood as an analytical tool, then it is possible to recognise both similarities and differences of different periods.
It seems that the use of information in a post-Fordist society is very different in comparison with previous periods. As the organization of work is comparatively flexible, the system constantly needs additional information about consumer preferences to adjust production processes accordingly. Therefore, information is a much more valuable asset today than ever in history. It is recognized that information plays a central role in leisure plans, business activities, and government policies (Webster 2006, p. 263). Thus, a post-Fordist revolution has contributed to the more rational and efficient use of almost all informational sources.
The modern model of capitalist development has led to increasing trajectories of goods and economic subjects. Capital, money, commodities, and employees are distributed in a more diverse way (Lash & Urry 1994, p. 31). It means that the opportunities of globalization may be more effectively utilized. The organization of work has also become more global than before. However, employees from different countries enjoy a more competitive environment that leads to the implementation of more productive methods and techniques. The labor force in the post-Fordist era is much more heterogeneous than before. It may be considered as a positive aspect, because the heterogeneous character of the labor force may enable the personal and professional development of workers, as well as monetary growth for companies. In general, a post-Fordist revolution has created a more competitive and sustainable business environment.
At the same time, the post-Fordist organization of work has some negative aspects as well. There are some trends towards extreme rationality in the present world. Moreover, some scientists consider that existing trends in the fast-food industry can be seen in the society as a whole. This way, the concept of McDonaldisation was introduced, referring to specific sets of operations (Ritzer 1983, p. 100). Additional rationality may be seen in different aspects of modern society. It leads to the active use of recent technologies and a high level of control. Society tries to minimize the effects of uncertainty and deal only with predictable situations. Therefore, it contributes to inflexibility of labour market and high level of unemployment. Although the post-Fordist work organization is more flexible about the process of production adaptation to the needs of consumers, it appears to be inflexible and inefficient about the use of the labor force.
However, the idea that the majority of the current operations are too rational is disputable. First of all, high rationality is not supposed to lead to serious economic problems and recessions, such as the global financial and economic crisis. Moreover, existing imbalances may lead to the disorganization of the capitalist system itself. It may be seen in different geographical regions of the world (Lash & Urry 1987, p. 84). Therefore, the post-Fordist society does not necessarily lead to higher rationality. It may be aimed at it, but actually, sometimes it contributes to operational chaos and different types of inefficiencies. It seems that the subsequent social systems will be designed in order to solve these inconsistencies.
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The organization of work is closely related to the consumption issues. Consumption has become one of the central elements for production analysis, as consumption and production are not separated any more. Modern technologies allow buying and selling goods even before their actual production. For example, there are different forward, futures, and options contracts that are widespread nowadays. All goods are produced to find consumers. The high competition encourages the introduction of new products and services. However, products and services are not always able to find their consumers. Therefore, marketing techniques have to adapt as well. In particular, advertising is much more widely used in the post-Fordist era. Non-material assets and non-material factors affecting consumption play a significant role in different stages of the marketing process.
In general, the entire structure of consumption/production relations is not similar to that of the Fordist and previous periods. Keynesian economists realize the importance of consumption and they suggest that consumption determines the potential for economic growth. A number of multiplier models are used in this regard (Burnette n.d., p. 1). However, the conclusions of Keynesians do not seem to be correct. The notion that consumption is the only or the main factor in the process under consideration does not follow from the fact that consumption affects production. Although it is possible to sell goods (or claims to goods) before they are produced, it is impossible to consume them before production. Therefore, the significance of production refers high in the post-Fordist period, as well.
Keynesian perspective does not describe the essence of the post-Fordist era, as it attributes the whole social and economic progress solely to consumption and ignores the essence of consumption/production relations and the role of the price system. Although a post-Fordist revolution has largely influenced the organization of work and consumption, it does not mean that these elements became separated. On the contrary, in the period of globalization, the interrelations and interdependencies are more complex and intense than in the previous periods.
It seems that modern changes in relation to the organisation of work and consumption should be analysed from dynamic positions. It is unreasonable to describe the essence of social and economic relationships at any given time, as the situation is subject to constant modifications. Moreover, the situation is not identical for different geographical locations. However, the studies that analyze the general patterns of changes may be very useful. David Harvey analyses modern society from this perspective (1990). The process of transformation leads to the establishment of new patterns and problems that are typical for the present period of history. Some tendencies seem to be opposite to one another. For example, the tendency to highly decentralised price formation correlates with the tendency to higher control regarding labour relations (Harvey 1990, p. 122). They seem to be inconsistent with one another and make the development of the post-Fordist society more difficult. Labour relations should become more flexible and more adequate to the existing capitalist system.
An inflexible labor market constitutes several serious problems for present-day society. It contributes to rigid production structure and the organization of work does not adequately represent the consumer preferences. Moreover, as all workers are also consumers, the structure of consumption is altered as well. Therefore, it seems that labor relations and social programs should correspond to the capitalist system as a whole.
The issue of cultural identity is also relevant in the post-Fordist society. This form of identity refers to people’s association with particular linguistic, ethnic, and religious groups (Hall n.d., p. 596). In the post-Fordist era, the impact of globalization should be counterbalanced by the expression of cultural identity by different people. Therefore, the post-Fordist society will tend to become more global and diverse at the same time. The modern trends should be examined as well. Researchers demonstrate that about 10% of workers in the UK work at home, and there is an increasing tendency of people constantly using telephones and computers at work (Felstead, Jewson & Walters 2005, p. 419). A post-Fordist revolution has created the possibility for employees to work from home and still be globally integrated. It allows the minimization of transportation and transaction costs, as well as the joy of more freedom for workers. The post-Fordist world enables flexible specialisation, and a number of new network enterprises may originate on the basis of informational changes in the process of work and consumption. Thus, a new technological paradigm has originated (Castels & Cardoso 2005, p. 3).
The post-Fordist vision has contributed to the adoption of completely new methods and systems that have almost no similarities with Fordism (Edgell 2005, p. 84). Both social and economic means and ends are different. The managers of different levels should be able to introduce these different schemes in their daily operations. The post-Fordist world requires additional skills from managers, employees, and employers. Moreover, learning is also an essential element of the modern transformation. Managers should constantly learn new effective techniques, employees may learn new responsibilities, and employers should learn the structure of demand for a company’s products. Even consumers constantly learn about the market structure and its dynamics.
Technologies are both the source and the outcome of progress in the post-Fordist society. It has contributed to the state of affairs when even children may be considered as being “multiprocessing”, meaning that they can perform several operations simultaneously (Brown 2000, p. 13). On the one hand, the new post-Fordist generation may be more productive in comparison with the previous ones. On the other hand, the quality of some operations may diminish, and it is a negative consequence, as future growth will depend on qualitative rather than quantitative aspects.
Moreover, the understanding of work is different in modern society. It is recognised that work occupies the central place in the life of people and even relates to personal identity (Bauman 2004, p. 17). It means that the work and consumption organization in modern society should be optimized to solve significant social and economic problems. The significance of work for modern people contributes to additional responsibility and motivation. At the same time, inflexibility of labour market and high levels of unemployment may create psychological problems for employees on different stages of professional performance.
In general, the post-Fordist system of work organisation has both positive and negative aspects that may be attributed to the dominant social and economic relations. The key positive aspects include higher heterogeneity of the labor force, positive impacts of globalization, and more intense competition. However, the negative aspects are significant as well. The most influential negative aspects include the inflexibility of the labor market, high unemployment, and structural imbalances. The consumption issues are also comparatively difficult. On the one hand, consumption has acquired a significant role, as it is the center of consumer preferences. On the other hand, consumption cannot exist without previous production, and the whole system of consumption and production relations should be reorganised.