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Business history needs a shake-up, Philip Scranton and Patrick Fridenson argue, as many businesses go global and cultural contexts become critical. Reimagining Business History prods practitioners to take new approaches to entrepreneurial intentions, company scale, corporate strategies, local infrastructure, employee well-being, use of resources, and long-term environmental consequences.

During the past half century, the history of American business became an unusually active and rewarding field of scholarship, partly because of the primacy of postwar American capital, at home and abroad, and the rise of a consumer culture but also because of the theoretical originality of Alfred D. Chandler. In a field long given over to banal company histories and biographies of tycoons, Chandler took the subject seriously enough to ask about the large patterns and causes of corporate success. Chandler and his students found the richest material for theorizing about the course of business history in large companies and their institutional structures and cultures. Meantime, Scranton and others found smaller firms, those specializing in batch work as opposed to mass-produced goods, far closer to the norm and more telling.

Scranton and Fridenson believe that the time has come for a sweeping rethinking of the field, its materials, and the kinds of questions its practitioners should be asking. How can this field develop in an age of global markets, growing information technology, and diminishing resources? A transnational collaboration between two senior scholars, Reimagining Business History offers direction in forty-four short, pithy essays.

-- Paul Duguid, University of California, Berkeley

Given the near-silence in technological and business history about post-World War II socialist enterprises, this book gives voice to a generation of Communist China’s managers, entrepreneurs, cadres, and workers from the Liberation to the early 1970s. Using recently-opened online archival resources, it details and assesses the course of technical and organizational experimentation at state-owned, cooperative, and private enterprises as the PRC strove to construct a socialist economy through trial-and-error initiatives. Core questions treated are: How did Chinese enterprises operate, evolve, experiment, improvise and adjust during the PRC’s first generation? What technological initiatives were crucial to these processes, necessarily developed with limited expertise and thin financial resources? How could constructing “socialism with Chinese characteristics” have helped lay foundations for the post-1980 “Chinese miracle,” as the PRC confidently entered the 21st century while Soviet and Central European socialisms crumbled? And what might current-day Western managers and entrepreneurs learn from Chinese practice and performance a half-century ago?

Readers can anticipate a granular, bottom-up analysis of how businesses worked day-to-day in a planned economy, how enterprise practices and technological strategies shifted during the first postwar generation, how managers and technicians emerged after the capitalist exodus, how organizations experimented and adapted, and how the controversies and convulsions of the PRC’s early decades fashioned durable technical and organizational capabilities.



Flexibility, specialization, and niche marketing are buzzwords in the business literature these days, yet few realize that it was these elements that helped the United States first emerge as a global manufacturing leader between the Civil War and World War I. The huge mass production-based businesses--steel, oil, and autos--have long been given sole credit for this emergence. In Endless Novelty, Philip Scranton boldly recasts the history of this vital episode in the development of American business, known as the nation's second industrial revolution, by considering the crucial impact of trades featuring specialty, not standardized, production. Scranton takes us on a grand tour through American specialty firms and districts, where, for example, we meet printers and jewelry makers in New York and Providence, furniture builders in Grand Rapids, and tool specialists in Cincinnati. Throughout he highlights the benevolent as well as the strained relationships between workers and proprietors, the lively interactions among entrepreneurs and city leaders, and the personal achievements of industrial engineers like Frederic W. Taylor.

Scranton shows that in sectors producing goods such as furniture, jewelry, machine tools, and electrical equipment, firms made goods to order or in batches, and industrial districts and networks flourished, creating millions of jobs. These enterprises relied on flexibility, skilled labor, close interactions with clients, suppliers, and rivals, and opportunistic pricing to generate profit streams. They built interfirm alliances to manage markets and fashioned specialized institutions--trade schools, industrial banks, labor bureaus, and sales consortia. In creating regional synergies and economies of scope and diversity, the approaches of these industrial firms represent the inverse of mass production.


Challenging views of company organization that have come to dominate the business world in the United States, Endless Novelty will appeal to historians, business leaders, and to anyone curious about the structure of American industry.

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