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Body movement and the brain
Making a Voluntary Movement

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Research : Taylor, Frederick Winslow (1856-1915) Research : Simone Weil
History : Demain le travail

To optimize workers' movements, some researchers have even filmed them so as to study them in slow motion. It was this research that inspired some of the sequences in Charlie Chaplin's film Modern Times, which satirizes modern work methods that left so little room for the human element. Chaplin's hero, instead of having the machine serve as an extension of himself, ends up becoming part of the machine.

Link : Les Temps modernes

Industrialization made work meaningless by depriving workers of any sense of achievement from the products they had made. In the industrial age, workers no longer had any overall view of these products, because they were forced to focus on their individual components.

Taylor was fully aware of this brutalizing aspect of industrial work. In The Principles of Scientific Management (1911), he wrote: "Now one of the very first requirements for a man who is fit to handle pig iron as a regular occupation is that he shall be so stupid and so phlegmatic that he more nearly resembles in his mental make-up the ox than any other type. The man who is mentally alert and intelligent is for this very reason entirely unsuited to what would, for him, be the grinding monotony of work of this character."


Human beings have always used tools to act on their environment. Over the years these tools have ranged from our bare hands, to sharpened pieces of flint, to more sophisticated devices. Neither the agricultural revolution of the Neolithic Age nor the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century would have been possible if the human brain hadn't been capable of imagining increasingly complex actions for processing raw materials.

Over the past few centuries, however, there has been an irresistible trend, away from the skilled, diversified labour of traditional artisans and craftspersons and toward the unskilled, repetitive labour of mass industry, which requires only a short learning period. And the working class has consented to this loss of control over its own labour in exchange for admission to the consumer society.

G. Brzhzovski, "Steel Workers on the Factory Floor" 1964

But in the early days of industrialization, workers' monotonous and often physically arduous tasks led them to work more slowly to get through their long days on the job, because at a time when there was no social safety network, any injury that a worker suffered meant a loss of income. Business owners understood that this situation was eroding their profits, and they attempted to fight it by rethinking all their methods of production.

Experts began to observe workers' movements, break them down into their components, and time each one, in order to find ways of minimizing them. The idea, of course, was to increase the workers' efficiency and, consequently, the businesses' productivity.

The person who may have contributed the most to laying the foundations for this approach was Frederick Taylor (1865-1915), who developed his theory of the scientific organization of work in his book The Principles of Scientific Management (1911). This paradigm, which gave rise to the use of assembly lines in manufacturing, attempted to subject every detail of the organization of work to rational logic. It called for the division of labour to be pushed to its utmost limits, with every job broken down into simple, repetitive tasks and all workers subjected to tight supervision.

For Taylor, the workers' job was not to think, but to execute movements that had been scientifically calculated for them. A system of bonuses or rewards that encouraged workers to perform acted as positive reinforcement. In Taylor's view, all intellectual labour should be removed from the shop floor and concentrated in the offices where the business did its planning and organization. When Taylor was hired to improve working methods in a mining company, he didn't even hesitate to show miners the best way to fill their shovels to achieve maximum daily productivity.

Taylorism thus arose in the United States in the late 19th century and foretold the advent of the assembly line, which was first used by Henry Ford, in his automobile factories, starting in 1913.

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