The intuitions of Henry Ford came in a crucial period which marked the shift between craft and mass production. Though Ford’s greatest achievement was probably introducing deep changes in the social landscape of his time: from one hand creating large demand for affordable, identical commodities and from the other hand imposing a philosophy that not only redefined the work but also impacted the lifestyle of the worker. Standardization was seamlessly brought outside the production chain, where a stable and quiet lifestyle was preferred to avoid excessive alienation. The spread of Fordism in the postwar period was crucial for shaping production and consumption practices of Western society. It became synonymous with a whole way of life experienced during the economic boom lasting until the 1970s.
Post-fordism, on the other hand, marks the demise of a middle class professional culture and the emergence of a new lifestyle morality of expressive self realization. In the meanwhile, on the productive side, mass production is being replaced by strategies premised on niche markets, small-batch, just-in-time production and the upgrading of workforce skills and autonomy. The concept of just-in-time production was first made popular thanks to the Toyota Management System and involved a degree of flexibility unfit to the classic management of the fordist era.
To a certain extent, we are now experiencing a radicalization of the conditions that brought fordism to an end. In between those conditions, we can enlist the return of craft production, facilitated by easy access to global distribution networks and democratization of production means. As we are seeing the constant rise of new manufacturing techniques, such as 3D printing, and movements claiming alternative forms of distribution and consumption, such as D2C (designer-to-consumer), it is legitimate to ask whether we are seeing the full realization of post-fordism or the beginning of another chapter. As well as what consequences this new chapter may bring on the human level.
The contents that we will publish on the website during the present week aim to explore these issues through different approaches and perspectives. We invited Alessandro Carelli, from FARB, to help us widen our view on these subject. Stay tuned.