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One Symptom of Originality: Race and the Management of Labour in the History of the United States

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In the labour-history of the US, the systematised management of workers is widely understood as emerging in the decades after the Civil War, as industrial production and technological innovation changed the pace, nature and organisation of work. Though modern management is seen as predating the contributions of Frederick Taylor, the technique of so-called 'scientific management' is emphasised as the particularly crucial managerial innovation to emerge from the US, prefiguring and setting the stage for Fordism. This article argues that the management of labour in the US has roots in the particularities of a society which racialised its labour-systems – slave and free – and thus made 'racial knowledge' central to managerial knowledge. Rather than transcending the limits of racial knowledge, the authors argue that scientific management relied on experts to know and develop 'the races' not only for the purpose of accumulating capital but also for the organisation of modern production through the first decades of the twentieth century. Such 'knowledge' became central to the export of managerial and engineering knowledge from the US to the world.

Affiliations: 1: Barnard College, Columbia University;, Email:; 2: University of Illinois Urbana Champaign;, Email:


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