|A set of industrial and broader societal practices associated with the workplace innovations pioneered by Henry Ford in Detroit, Michigan in the second decade of the twentieth century. In its original usage, Gramsci (1971) wrote of \'Americanism and Fordism\' in his description of Ford\'s strategy to reorganize shopfloor production while at the same time forging a new relationship with his workers. Automobile production was being revolutionized through the use of the mass-production assembly line and application of the principles of Taylorism to organize workers\' tasks (with higher productivity and internal economies of scale producing a cheaper final product). At the same time, Ford hoped that by paying his workers a high wage commensurate with their enhanced productivity, and by shortening the work day to eight hours, he could create an efficient workforce with a stable family life and incomes large enough to acquire the very products they themselves were producing.
More recently, members of the Regulation school of political economy have used \'Fordism\' to describe a broader system of social relations transcending the practices of any single firm. Here, the Fordist regime of accumulation refers to a period stretching roughly from the end of the Second World War to the mid-1970s. The era was, in this view, characterized by the widespread mass-production of standardized goods using inflexible, dedicated machinery, exploitation of internal scale economies, a Taylorist fragmentation and deskilling of work, and relatively narrow and rigidly defined job descriptions. The key to this regime\'s sustained success was a unique and unprecedented social compromise struck between workers and owners, manifested in a set of institutions governing wage determination, collective bargaining, and social welfare functions. Collectively, these institutions served to link annual wage increases to the productivity increases being realized from mass-production techniques. Their net result was to distribute sufficient income to workers to support consumption of industrial products on a mass scale. These broad institutional arrangements are said to have prevailed in each of the major industrialized nations of the capitalist world, although the precise form realized may have varied considerably across individual nation-states ( Jenson, 1989). Furthermore, these national developments were complemented by a supranational institutional framework set up in the first years after the Second World War to help ensure global economic stability and order through the regulation of currency exchange rates, international trade, financial markets and development assistance. Taken together, the institutional innovations created at these two spatial scales combined to produce the conditions for an unprecedented period of economic growth and stability that has come to be known as the \'Golden Age\' of Fordism (Glyn et al., 1991: cf. money and finance, geography of).
Geographers have associated this historical period with the rise of major regional concentrations of mass-production industries in the more developed countries (e.g. automobile manufacturing in the American Midwest, the British West Midlands, northwestern Italy). The later stages of this period have also seen the spatial fragmentation of manufacturing functions, with routinized assembly of standardized products occurring increasingly in branch plants in peripheral regions of industrialized countries, or in Third World production sites. More recent work by economic geographers has raised doubts about many of the basic precepts of the Fordism thesis by questioning the empirical validity of arguments in support of the \'Golden Age\' idea (Webber and Rigby, 1996). (See also flexible accumulation; new international division of labour; post-Fordism; product life cycle.)Â (MSG)
References Glyn, A., Hughes, A., Lipietz, A. and Singh, A. 1991: The rise and fall of the Golden Age. In S. Marglin and J.B. Schor, eds, The golden age of capitalism. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 39-125.Â Gramsci, A. 1971: Selections from the prison notebooks. New York: International Publishers; Jenson, J. 1989: \'Different\', but not \'exceptional\': Canada\'s permeable Fordism. Canadian Journal of Sociology and Anthropology 26: 69-94.Â Webber, M.J. and Rigby, D. 1996: The golden age illusion. New York: Guilford Press.
Suggested Reading Harvey, D. 1989: The condition of postmodernity. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.