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Rage, rage against the dying of the light: Lyndall Urwick's scientific management

Lee D. Parker (School of Commerce, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia, St Andrews University, St Andrews, UK Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand)
Philip Ritson (The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia)

Journal of Management History

ISSN: 1751-1348

Article publication date: 27 September 2011

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to analyse and critique Lyndall Urwick's long‐term advocacy of scientific management and its influence upon management thought.

Design/methodology/approach

An analysis and critique of Urwick's published writings across 60 years, on the subject of scientific management and organizations, particularly linking his work and arguments to the influence of Frederick Taylor, also positioning him relative to the thinking of leading thinkers such as Henri Fayol.

Findings

This paper argues that the key to understanding his legacy lies in his unique and changing definition of “scientific management”. This was broader than the definition applied by most of his contemporaries and inspired his integrationist project of assimilating Taylorist scientific management into a raft of developing schools of management thought.

Research limitations/implications

Urwick's legacy included a lifetime campaign to reconcile scientific management with succeeding schools of thought, today's management literature stereotyping of some of his contemporary thinkers, and a contribution to management literature's predilection for the labelling of theories and principles.

Practical implications

The paper argues for returning to original sources to accurately understand the intentions and arguments of early founders of many aspects of today's management practice. It also alerts us to the proclivity of management theory and practice to opt for convenient labels that may represent a variety of historical and contemporary meanings.

Originality/value

The paper offers a critical reflection and assessment of the longest standing advocate of scientific management in the management literature.

Keywords

Citation

Parker, L.D. and Ritson, P. (2011), "Rage, rage against the dying of the light: Lyndall Urwick's scientific management", Journal of Management History, Vol. 17 No. 4, pp. 379-398. https://doi.org/10.1108/17511341111164409

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited