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fordism As defined by Antonio Gramsci, this refers to a form of productive organization thought to be typical of advanced capitalism and exemplified by Henry Ford's system of mass automobile production. This allied labour management according to the principles of scientific management (‘Taylorism’) with a wider reorganization of production and marketing, involving a moving assembly line, standardized outputs, and demand stimulation by a combination of low prices, high wages, advertising, and consumer credit. Gramsci suggested that high levels of production could only be sustained by ‘tempering compulsion … with persuasion’. Fordism provided workers with high wages and rising levels of consumption in exchange for an intensified work regime.

Many subsequent (mainly neo-Marxist) theorists have used the concept in analysing the industrial and social order of full employment, mass production, the welfare state, and rising standards of consumption, which characterized advanced capitalist societies after the Second World War. However, the term is used variously to refer to assembly-line mass production, certain leading sectors of industry, a hegemonic form of industrial organization, or a ‘mode of regulation’–the meaning of which probably comes closest to that intended by Gramsci.

Following the economic crises of the 1970s and 1980s, with associated changes in the social and technical organization of production and the alleged coming of post-industrial society, some suggest that fordism is in terminal crisis, being succeeded by ‘post-fordism’, based on so-called flexible production systems. This new terminology also carries varying meanings according to the context of use and author. See also REGULATION THEORY.

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