New Materialisms: Alternatives to Mass Production Revisited

The 1980s and 1990s produced a wave of interesting work on modes of industrial production beyond the mass production paradigm. Chuck Sabel in collaboration with Piore on the Second Industrial Divide and with Jonathan Zeitlin on a series of historical projects was the inspiration for much of this research. Flexible specialization or “flex spec” was its buzzword. The key text for historians was an essay in Past and Present (1985) on “Historical Alternatives to Mass Production”. In 1997 the duo produced an edited collected title World of Possibilities. The attached essay offers an extended critique of the tensions within the Sabel and Zeitlin project, the gap between their social scientific and historicist approaches and the elision of technology that came to mark their work. The essay offers Phil Scranton’s marvelous Endless Novelty: Specialty Production and American Industrialization, 1865-1925 (paperback 2000) as the way out of the impasse in which Sabel and Zeitlin found themselves. Latour hovers in the background of the essay though I don’t make this explicit. A shortened review appeared in Social History in 2000.

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Tooze Alternatives to Mass Production Review Sabel, Zeitlin, Herrigel and Scranton 2000

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