Projects, management, and protean times : engineering enterprise in the United States, 1870-1960
Author(s)Pinney, Benjamin W
Engineering enterprise in the United States, 1870-1960
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Program in Science, Technology and Society.
Merritt Roe Smith.
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In this dissertation, I trace methods for organizing skilled workers engaged in creative, limited-term projects in the United States between the nineteenth century and the 1950s. Examining eras of system building in technical fields-civil engineering in the nineteenth century, laboratory administration in the 1910s and 1920s, aircraft design in the 1930s, and electronics in the 1950s-I show that recent discourse on the management of innovation and change is a manifestation of a cyclically recurring conversation. This story complicates prevalent views of management theory and practice before World War II by recovering a thread obscured by emphasis on the organization of integrated, divisional companies and operative labor within them. Applying ideas from recent work in organization studies to distill common aspects of the management problems and labor processes individuals have confronted and theorized, I find common patterns: managers of construction firms, engineering departments, and research laboratories have again and again theorized the fast-moving, knowledge-intensive, relational organization, doing so long before these terms were available. Such thinking has been driven both by practical needs and because external pressures have forced explanation of seemingly uncontrolled, irrational work. Practically, the transferability of management techniques among settings such as construction and research has reflected kinships between labor and communication processes: each has involved skilled workers producing complex artifacts in uncertain physical, technical, and social environments.(cont.) The need to explain such work, though, has been as much about external representation as internal control. From origins in government oversight of appropriations and military use of esprit de corps to cohere organizations under stress, tools used to manage project-based enterprises have been applied in response to the speed, scale, and complexity of the work itself. At the same time, engineers have explained the management of their work to deflect pressures to apply the logics of factory production and Taylorist scientific management to the organization of skilled labor. As explanations of the differences between building and operating and as delineations of points and terms of physical and cultural contact, representations of engineering work in schedules, budgets, organization charts, and narratives have both controlled and insulated work.
Thesis (Ph. D.)--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Program in Science, Technology and Society, 2001.Includes bibliographical references (295-338).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Program in Science, Technology and Society.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Program in Science, Technology and Society.