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