BookBlast® Archive | Elton Mayo, The Descent into Chaos | Speech, New England Conference on National Defense, April 1941

Certain ideas expressed in speeches made half a century ago by my grandfather, the psychologist and organizational theorist, George Elton Mayo (1880-1949), are disturbingly relevant to the world today.

He is an inveterate optimist who is not sobered by a comparison of our own time with the high expectations of a century ago. Bernard Cracroft, writing in 1867, expressed the general attitude of the early years of the nineteenth century. “The mercantile fever, the ardent faith in progress” was based upon belief in “the boundless development of human energy striving like fire ever upwards.” “Unforeseen but probable discoveries” were expected at any moment to “throw additional millions into the lap of human comfort.” By such means it was expected that man would raise himself above the possibilities of privation and strife.

This belief expressed certainty of immense future advance in scientific discovery, mechanical invention, the development of economic knowledge and industrial organization. And this belief has nowhere proved vain: the actual advance in the last century of scientific discovery, mechanical invention, economic knowledge and organization has surpassed by far anything that Cracroft and his contemporaries could possibly have anticipated. To cross the continent from coast to coast in a few hours of the night by air has become a commonplace. Men talk to each other across three thousand miles of sea without wires or any tangible connection. In no area of activity have nineteenth-century expectations been disappointed: the fulfilment has by far outdone the hope. Continue reading BookBlast® Archive | Elton Mayo, The Descent into Chaos | Speech, New England Conference on National Defense, April 1941

BookBlast® Archive | The Three Faces of Elton Mayo, J H Smith | New Society, December 1980

Elton Mayo was born in Australia one hundred years ago this month (on December 26, 1880) and died in a nursing home in Guildford almost sixty-nine years later. Towards the end of his life, through his association with the Harvard Business School and the Hawthorne Studies, he enjoyed a public acclaim granted to few social scientists of his day. None however would have envied him the fall from grace which was to follow his death. By the mid-1950s, the terms ‘Mayoism’ and ‘Mayoite’ were recognised additions to the perjorative vocabulary of social science. In 1946 an overblown account of his work in Fortune compared him to Thorsten Veblen and John Dewey, praising his erudition, rare authority and beneficent influence on labour-management relations. Yet a decade later, in his influential monograph Hawthorne Revisited, Landsberger was obliged to devote a whole chapter to the deficiencies of Mayo, as listed by such critics as Daniel Bell, Reinhard Bendix, John Dunlop, Clark Kerr, C. Wright Mills and Wilbert Moore. Charges of conceptual ineptitude and of theoretical and methodological narrowness formed only part of the indictment: Mayo’s emphasis on industrial collaboration was said to ignore central economic and political issues (notably the functions of trade unions) and to relegate industrial social science to the role of a managerial or ‘cow’-sociology.

Continue reading BookBlast® Archive | The Three Faces of Elton Mayo, J H Smith | New Society, December 1980