AccueilIn-Corporate. The Human Sciences in Business History: between Naturalization and Legitimization (1880-1940)

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Publié le lundi 13 mai 2013 par Élodie Faath

Résumé

Even if human scientists and business executives like to argue otherwise, the human sciences have always been in-corporated. Without them, the modern business corporation would simply have been unimaginable, just as the production and consumption of working bodies within these corporations. ‘The Firm’ continues to frame itself as a fundamental human enterprise, in which the prominence of human ressources and human relations only continues to increase, yet the humanities of the business corporation largely remain to be written.

Annonce

Argument

Even if human scientists and business executives like to argue otherwise, the human sciences have always been in-corporated. Without them, the modern business corporation would simply have been unimaginable, just as the production and consumption of working bodies within these corporations. And yet, psychologies of labor, sociologies of organization, even the ‘sciences’ of administration are seldom recognized as such in contemporary histories of business. For too long, the entrance of the human sciences in business life has been considered a mere side-effect of some other ‘rationality’, such as the managerial revolutionsince the 1880s, or the spread of rationalization policies since the First World War (Burnham 1941, Chandler 1977, Chandler 2004). In a similar fashion, the human sciences-in-business have often been conceptualized as a set of secondary tools in the hands of mechanical engineers, accountants, process controllers, system designers – the ‘real’actors of business’ corporatization. Even if all sorts of ‘labor science’ have gained more prominence among historians of science and business (Alexander 2010, Meskill 2006, Patzel-Mattern 2010, Rabinbach 1991), the paradox looms large. ‘The Firm’ continues to frame itself as a fundamental human enterprise, in which the prominence of human ressources and human relations only continues to increase, yet the humanities of the business corporation largely remain to be written.

It may come as no surprise that, in dismissing the importance of the human sciences in the business corporation, many historians only resume the oppositions present in the discourse of all sorts of business ‘scientists’ since the 1880s. Classical psychotechnicians and sociologists, career counselors and organizational theorists: they too considered the business corporation and human labor as qualitatively different things, between which some kind of mutual adjustment was the best one could hope for. Therefore, they too often dismissed the productive moment of the intervention of the human sciences, between a given corporate body structured in order to function ‘rationally’ on the one hand , and the constant necessity to reconsider these ‘rational’ choices on the other; between the ‘humanist’ naturalization of a corporate labor force that was psychologically and physiologically fit for the task on the one hand, and the ‘humanist’ legitimization of corporate labor on the other, as sole judges to justify what happiness was worth the effort that was being paid (Boltanski and Thévenot 1991, Boltanski and Chapiello 1999). Insisting upon the ‘rationality’ of their demands, human scientists invariably tried to convince (even coerce) laboring subjects to attach themselves to a set of corporate values that sanctified that particular effort.

During this conference, we wish to put these oppositions to the test, in order to restore the human sciences as fundamental framework that has helped to bring about the corporatization of business. Therefore, we wish to focus upon four sets of research questions. In the first place, we want to excavate the human sciences in business through debunking the oppositions between the perceived ‘objectivity’ of the business cycle and the ‘subjectivity’ of human labor. To what extent, e.g., should we consider mechanical visions of the business cycle themselves as a product of the human sciences? And to what extent should we understand the very concept of rational functioning as a matter of naturalization and legitimation that could originate nowhere else than in the human sciences? In the second place, we want to reclaim the production of labor theories as part of this intervention of the human sciences in business, in political economy (such as in Marx, Jevons), as well as in sociology (such as in Weber, Friedmann), in labor psychology (Munsterberg; Lahy) in political philosophy (such as in Gramsci and Sorel), and in the anthropology of technology (such as in Mauss, Leroi-Gourhan).

In the third place, we wish to open up links with all sorts of political corporatism, whether in elitist (such as in De Man), durkheimian (such as in Mauss, Déat) and radical forms (such as in Sorel). To what extent, e.g., did the oppositions between naturalized labor and legitimized organization reflect political distinctions between body and mind, corporation and chief, market and plan, society and authority? In the fourth place, we wish to reclaim the many forgotten corporate ‘expertises’ as a production site of the ‘human’ in corporate organization, such as in classical theories of administration (such as in Taylor, Le Chatelier, Fayol), in the practices of mechanical engineering, in accounting, in early information management. To what extent had these practices been informed by a specific perception of ‘the human’ in business, and how did these practices disseminate this conception within the capillaires of corporate life?

In order to testify these human sciences in business, we do welcome contributions from all relevant fields in the humanities – the histories of business, science and technology in particular, yet also from labor history, the sociology of labor and the sociology of governmentality. We are welcoming theoretical contributions as well as well-built case-studies, ranging from specific business contexts, over unionist and activist environments to expert circles and scientific communities. 

Submission guidelines

Curriculum vitae and abstract (up to 2,500 characters) must be submitted by 30th June 2013 to Evert.Peeters@arts.kuleuven.be and Marco-Saraceno@libero.it  

  • The deadline for abstract submissions is 30th June 2013

  • July 15, 2013 – Notification of acceptance

Languages in the workshop: English

The Conference will take place in September, 2013, at 27-28

We are seeking to provide a contribution towards travel, fees and/or accommodation costs for those who have no opportunity to participate otherwise.

Organising and Scientific Committee

Lieux

  • KU Leuven
    Louvain, Belgique

Dates

  • dimanche 30 juin 2013

Fichiers attachés

Mots-clés

  • business history, rationalization, history of body, corporatism, psychotechnique

Contacts

  • Marco Saraceno
    courriel : marco-saraceno [at] libero [dot] it
  • Evert Peeters
    courriel : Evert [dot] Peeters [at] arts [dot] kuleuven [dot] be

Source de l'information

  • Marco Saraceno
    courriel : marco-saraceno [at] libero [dot] it

Pour citer cette annonce

« In-Corporate. The Human Sciences in Business History: between Naturalization and Legitimization (1880-1940) », Appel à contribution, Calenda, Publié le lundi 13 mai 2013, http://calenda.org/246849