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Fordism at Ford: Spatial Decentralization and Labor Segmentation at the Ford Motor Company, 1920-1950

Bruce Pietrykowski
Economic Geography
Vol. 71, No. 4 (Oct., 1995), pp. 383-401
Published by: Clark University
DOI: 10.2307/144424
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/144424
Page Count: 19
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Fordism at Ford: Spatial Decentralization and Labor Segmentation at the Ford Motor Company, 1920-1950
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Abstract

The identification of a system of flexible production, with its own spatial logic, in contrast to an older system of Fordist mass production has generated much interest among economic geographers and political economists. This distinction rests on a widely accepted and rarely questioned understanding of the constituents of Fordist mass production. The leading examples of Fordist production are the Ford Motor Company's Highland Park and River Rouge plants. Contrary to this standard narrative, I suggest that the spatial logic of production at Ford included both industrial concentration and spatial decentralization of some tasks formerly centralized at both Highland Park and the Rouge. Beginning in the early 1920s, tasks were moved out of Highland Park and the Rouge and into separate Ford-owned plants known as the village industry plants. I examine neoclassical location theory through the transaction cost theory of industrial location advanced by Scott and suggest that this approach does not adequately account for Ford's location decisions. Instead, I advance a neo-Marxian theory of industrial location based on labor market power and labor market segmentation in order to explain the life cycle of the village industry plants. By offering an account of production at the village industry plants, I argue that mass production itself contains contradictory logics of centralization and decentralization, deskilling and skilling, craft, technical and bureaucratic control within specific geographic locales which allowed for particular employment strategies that both derived from and reinforced existing divisions between urban and rural residents.

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