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David Gartman
University of South Alabama
This article examines attempts by Marxist thinkers such as Fredric Jameson and David Harvey to explain the cultural transition from modernism to postmodernism by the economic transition from Fordism to post-Fordism. They argue that the movement of advanced industrial societies from standardized mass production to diverse flexible production has created a new culture that stresses difference, superficiality, and ahistoricality. But in their attempts to portray a synchronous development of economy and culture, these thinkers ignore the uneven developments between and within each realm. I argue that in the United States the popular arts like automobile design developed postmodern traits long before the high arts like architecture. Instead of this change in popular culture resulting from post-Fordism, it dialectically influenced this economic change.

Architectural theory, which popularized the term postmodemism, marks both the beginning and the end of the modern era with architectural events that reflect broader socioeconomic changes. The birth of the modern movement is generally marked by the publication of Le Corbusiers manifesto Vers une Architecture in 1923. The Swiss-born architect bluntly offered interwar Europe two alternative futures: Architecture or Revolution (Le Corbusier [1923] 1986, p. 289). The only way to avoid the revolutionary upheaval that loomed at Europes eastern doorstep, he argued, was to reorient industry and culture to satisfying the needs of the masses, especially housing. The only way to produce sufficient goods was to adopt Henry Fords revolutionary system of mass production. A house, Corbu ([1923] 1986, pp. 4, 264) wrote, was simply a machine for living in and had to be produced and designed on the same principles as the Ford car I bought: that is, standardization, simplicity, and mechanization. Modern architecture thus is inevitably associated with the birth of mass-production technologies and the faith in their ability to bring economic progress to the masses (Frampton 1973; 1992). The end of the modem movement in art and architecture, and the beginning of postmodernism, is dated by the architectural theorist Charles Jencks (1991, p. 23) on July 15, 1972, when the infamous Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis was razed by dynamite. The destruction of this public housing, which was constructed strictly on the principles of Corbu and his organizational incarnation, the Congrks Internationaux dArchitecture Mod*Direct all correspondence to David Gartman, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL 36688. The Sociological Quarterly, Volume 39, Number 1, pages 119-137. Copyright 0 1998 by The Midwest Sociological Society. All rights reserved. Send requests for permission to reprint to: Rights and Permissions, University of California Press, Journals Division, 2120 Berkeley Way, Berkeley, CA 94720. ISSN: 0038-0253.



erne (CIAM), symbolizes for Jencks and others the end of faith in progress for the masses through industrial standardization and regimentation. Charles Moore (1967, pp. 35-37) writes that industry has changed since the 1920s. when mechanization meant repetition and corporations and cities alike were arranged in centralized, hierarchical forms. The electronic media have created new leveled and decentralized industries and cities. Paolo Portoghesi (1983, pp. 10-13) argues that this technological revolution in information and communication has given rise to a postindustrial society. Such a society creates a postmodem culture that eschews standardization and repetition for the sake of difference, image, and ephemerality. This rather loose, sweeping architectural narrative, associating cultural changes with economic changes, has been picked up and elaborated by serious academic writers, such as David Harvey, Lawrence Grossberg, Stuart Hall, Edward Soja, and Fredric Jameson. Working within the Marxist tradition, broadly defined, they seek to explain the recent emergence of a postmodern culture characterized by diversity, difference, and depthlessness by a new stage of the capitalist economy beyond mass production called post-Fordism. Although provocative and insightful, these arguments are flawed in several respects. They postulate a single synchronous development of economy and culture that distorts the actual diversities and discontinuities of developments between and within both realms. They ignore these diverse, uneven developments largely because their causal models are driven by economics and fail to recognize the dialectical influence of cultural dynamics on the economy. Some recent commentators have argued that these and other problems with this discourse on postmodernism render the term so logically incoherent and empirically inconsistent as to be useless and meaningless. John Frow (1991, p. 8) provocatively asks whether it would not be better to dismiss the concept as a non-concept, imprecise, incoherent, contradictory, lacking any real historical reference. Despite this and other blistering critiques, the term refuses to go away. I must agree with Norman Denzin (1 993) that this is because the concept of postmodernism, although imprecise and multivalent, captures something real. It is a sign under which we may assemble the multiple crises of social institutions established earlier in this century, as well as the inchoate responses to these crises. We will achieve understanding of the contemporary world not by discarding postmodernism and the related term post-Fordism but by clarifying and specifying their uneven, dialectical relationship. The following is an attempt to begin this process by closely examining the work of David Harvey and Fredric Jameson. To provide an empirical underpinning to this critique, I will focus on the two artifacts that figure heavily in their discourse on postmodernism and post-Fordism: architecture and automobiles.

Both Jameson and Harvey seek to explain the recent emergence of a postmodern culture as a consequence of a new stage of the capitalist economy called post-Fordism. In his earlier work on postmodernism, Jameson (1984; 1991) relied largely on Ernest Mandels theory of late capitalism to provide an economic grounding for cultural changes. But as Mike Davis (1985) points out, Jamesons cultural stage of postmodernism, which begins in full force in 1973, is incongruent with Mandels economic stage of late capitalism, which commences in 1945. Perhaps for this reason Jamesons more recent statement on these issues employs the language of post-Fordism to characterize the economic stage corre-

Postmodernism; or, the Cultural Logic of Post- Fordism?


sponding with postmodernism (1994, pp. 14, 40-42, 204-205). This not only makes his chronology more synchronous, since the beginning of the post-Fordist economy is generally dated from the early 1970s, but it also makes Jamesons work compatible with the growing body of work, including that of David Harvey (1989), Edward Soja (1989), Lawrence Grossberg (1992), and Stuart Hall (1989), that links postmodernism and postFordism. Now Jameson and Harvey generally converge on the following chronology. The first stage of capitalism is the market or competitive stage, the largely unregulated, freewheeling period prior to the 1890s. This economic structure gave rise to the cultural style of realism, exemplified by novelists such as Honor6 de Balzac, Charles Dickens, and Stendhal. But around the turn of the century competitive capitalism gave way to the monopoly or Fordist stage. This period is defined by the rise of the large, monopolistic corporation and the mass production of standardized goods. The shock of the rapid economic and political changes of Fordism produced cultural modernism, identified with artists such as James Joyce, Pablo Picasso, and Le Corbusier. Fordism and modernism culminated after World War I1 in a period of cultural innovation and economic growth. But the Fordist economy began to show weaknesses in the late 1960s and fell into crisis in the recession of 1973. Attempts to solve this crisis gave rise to a post-Fordist economy, characterized by the flexible production of diversified goods on a new, global scale. This economy produced the new culture of postmodernism, which privileges difference, diversity, and ephemerality. Although Jameson and Harvey identify with Marxist theory, they do not explain the influence of the economy on culture with a direct, simplistic model of base and superstructure. Both draw on a more sophisticated, formal model, influenced by Hegelian Marxists such as Georg Lukks, Theodor Adorno, and Walter Benjamin. This model holds that the main influence of the economy can be found not in the content of the culture but in its forms-not in what it says but how it says it. So they do not examine the content of culture for overt legitimations of the economic system and its ruling class. Instead, they examine the forms of expression, holding that these unconsciously reflect the problems of the economy. Every mode of production generates a set of social contradictions or dilemmas that form the experiences of all living within it. Particularly important are the experiences of space and time. Cultural producers necessarily grapple with these social contradictions and experiences of their age, seeking to resolve them in artistic forms. In this way, the social contradictions engendered by the economy are unintentionally inscribed into the forms of cultural productions. If these productions are biased or political, it is only because the forms offered by artists and writers are circumscribed by the social limits of their class positions (Jameson 1971; 1981).

Now we are ready to explore the postulated connections between the Fordist economy and modernist culture, on the one hand, and the post-Fordist economy and postmodernism, on the other. In characterizing the economic phase emerging around the turn of the century as Fordism, Harvey and Jameson draw on a group of largely Marxist economists called the regulation school. These economists, led by Michel Aglietta (1979) and Alain Lipietz (1987), argue that the development of capitalism cannot be explained solely by the general laws of accumulation inherent in it. One must also examine the specific social institutions



that organize, regulate, and motivate production and consumption. A stable configuration of production and consumption is called a regime of accumulation, and the stability of each regime is ensured by a set of institutions called a mode of regulation. Concentrating on the American case, the regulationists postulate that around the turn of the century a new regime of accumulation called Fordism began to emerge. It was initiated by the revolutionary changes in production made by Frederick Taylor and Henry Ford that eventually resulted in mass production. Taylors program of scientific management seized control of the production process from skilled workers by concentrating their knowledge and skills into managerial hands. This was accomplished by the fragmentation of whole crafts into detailed parts and the precise timing of each part to eliminate superfluous motions and ensure maximum speed. Henry Ford completed this transfer of control from workers to managers with his innovative technology. He reintegrated the fragmented work process into a totally rationalized, mechanical system. Specialized machines captured the skill and discretion of operators, and moving lines and conveyors linked workers in a precisely timed system that controlled their every move. But the price Ford had to pay for his enormously productive system of mass production was product standardization. To keep his expensive technology completely occupied so it would pay for itself, he had to produce only one car, the Model T, and keep its design unchanged from year to year (Aglietta 1979, pp. 111-122; Palloix 1976; Braverman 1974; Gartman 1986). The regime of Fordism encompassed not merely a new system of production but also a new type of consumption. In order to absorb all the goods pouring off mass-production lines, new consumers had to be found. Only the working class was large enough to provide the requisite numbers. But to turn workers into consumers entailed raising their wages and persuading them to buy their means of livelihood, as opposed to producing them at home. This transformation was also begun by Ford and other welfare capitalists, as Antonio Gramsci ([1930] 1971) recognized long ago. After Ford introduced his new technology around 1913, he encountered a wave of worker resistance in the forms of absenteeism, turnover, and threatened unionization. To contain this revolt, he announced in 1914 the Five Dollar Day program, which doubled the wages of most of his workers. To ensure that the new wage induced the disciplined labor that Ford sought, he also had to cajole workers to spend it in the right way. So Ford undertook paternalistic investigations into his workers domestic lives to encourage a lifestyle of stable consumption of durable goods, which ensured their dependence on high wages (Gartman 1986; Meyer 1981). Although the pioneering efforts of Ford and other welfare capitalists began to create high wages and a new type of consumption, these individual efforts could not secure mass consumption against capitalist competition. But beginning in the Great Depression, stable, rule-governed institutions emerged to overcome wage competition and sustain high demand. Under the protection of new labor laws, trade unions created a collective bargaining system that underwrote the wages of all workers. An interventionist Keynesian state emerged to implement both social spending programs and fiscal and monetary policies that sustained aggregate demand (Aglietta 1979; Piore and Sabel 1984; Harvey 1985, pp. 205-209). Jameson and Harvey argue that the culture of modernism emerged at the same time as Fordism as a response to its social contradictions and dislocations. The myriad problems of the age can be captured under the broad rubric of rationalization, in Webers words ([1922] 1968), or alienation, in Marxs ([1844] 1975). The main purpose of Fordist mass production was to turn human subjects into abstract, calculable, uniform things, mere

Postrnodernisrn; or, the Cultural Logic of Post-Fordisrn?


objects in a totally rationalized system controlled by and for others. Workers experienced their work, including its timing and spacing, as an alien entity imposed on them from outside. And because at this time work was generally perceived as testimony to the power and worth of the individual, such rationalized workers experienced their very selves as alienated, as fragments governed by alien others. Thus, the basic contradiction raised by such a work system was that between subject and object. Fordism posed these questions: Can a human subject be rendered totally objective, abstract and alien to itself? Is it possible to reintegrate or reconcile the objective and subjective fragments created by modem industry? (LukAcs [I9231 1971). Modernist culture grappled with and sought to resolve this basic contradiction along three major dimensions of experience: time, space, and self. On the dimension of time or history, the contradiction took the form of change versus permanence. All modernists registered in their work the experience of the shock of the new world and its radical break with the old. The continuous skein of time in premodern societies, guarded by nature and religion, was torn asunder by the new technologies of production and consumption, rendering it chaotic and contingent. Time was no longer governed by the rhythms of human tradition but was reduced to a rationalized, objective thing, under the control of the alien technologies of stopwatch and assembly line. Some conservative modernists such as William Butler Yeats and T. S. Eliot sought to resolve this problem by rekindling lost traditions. But others, especially the avant-garde, sought to humanize this new time by identifying another powerful, enduring force to unify the chaos-technological progress. Artists such as Le Corbusier, Fernand LCger, and Piet Mondrian created a machine aesthetic, a new objectivity that worshiped the abstract, rationalized forms of Fordist mass production as the result of an inevitable material progress of humanity (Harvey 1989, pp. 10-12,31-35; Jameson 1991, pp. 302-313; 1994, pp. 8-21,84-86). Along the dimension of space, the Fordist subject-object contradiction manifested itself as an opposition between surface and depth. The acceleration of time through technologies, such as the railroad, automobile, telegraph, and assembly line, led to a shrinking or compression of space. Spaces that had been separated by hours of labor or travel raced by in almost simultaneous coexistence, emphasizing a quick, superficial perception. These spaces now seemed more like external objects to be passively perceived than subjective places to be actively invested and appropriated. Also responsible for this objectification of space was the rise of the capitalist real estate market, which reduced the heterogeneous landscapes of work and play to abstract units of homogeneous property exchanged by the objective laws of the market. Many modernists responded to this transformation of space by seeking to find some underlying truths or universals that united the surfaces. Freudian psychology read the disjointed symptoms of neuroses as manifestations of deeply repressed instinctual needs. Cubism, new objectivity, and other modernist movements similarly sought to unite the fragmented objective spaces of appearance under a new human style or language (Harvey 1989, pp. 20-23; Jameson 1991, pp. 6-16; 1994, pp. 21-32). Finally, on the dimension of the self, the subject-object contradiction engendered by Fordism became manifest as an opposition between centeredness and fragmentation. On the one hand, individuals in the throes of rationalized Fordist production experienced their lives as objective fragments of a system organized by the alien logic of capitalist rationality. On the other hand, the system of mass consumption gave people the illusion of a private, centered self, insulated from the outside world by family and possessions. This illusion was possible because of the geographic and temporal separation of the fragmenta-



tion of work from the centered wholeness of home. This paradox was expressed in modernist works like Franz Kafkas The Trial and Edvard Munchs The Scream, which presumed a centered, autonomous individual, but one who confronted and only sometimes overcame a strange, senseless, impenetrable world (Jameson 1991, pp. 14-16,311-313). Perhaps no modernist art form better exemplified these contradictions of Fordism than architecture. In the 1920s, European architects such as Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, and Walter Gropius launched the modernist movement, proclaiming a radical break with the historical styles preserved by the old academies. Implicitly agreeing with Fords infamous statement that history is bunk, they declared that the machine age demanded a new architecture that would give order to the chaos by adopting the unadorned, rationalized, standardized forms of mass production, exemplified by the Model T. For them, progress in meeting material needs demanded affordable, mass-produced housing, where the common workers could recuperate from the rigors of their working lives. The modernists also advocated a dialectic of surface and depth, declaring that the surface of a building must be free of superfluous decoration and express the inner structure of its rationalized supports. Finally, in their designs for entire cities they allowed for the simultaneous existence of fragmented production and centered consumption. The factories of fragmented Fordism were carefully segregated from workers homes, where they could maintain the illusion of an autonomous, centered self (Le Corbusier [ 19231 1986; [ 19251 1987).

Post-Fordism is a regime of accumulation that goes beyond the Fordist system of production and consumption in order to resolve its crises. The regulation school argues that Fordism entered a crisis stage in the late 1960s, and radically new economic developments to solve this emerged about 1973. All accounts hold that Fordisms crisis was mainly economic in origin and discount cultural influences. Aglietta (1979) and Lipietz (1987) argue that by the late 1960s Fordist work could not be further divided nor machines further specialized, so productivity growth slowed and profits lagged. Further, as Fordist methods spread to Europe, Asia, and Latin America, international market competition increased for mass-produced goods, displacing the American monopoly. The crisis of Fordist production pushed American manufacturers to search for both new product markets and new production methods. Seeking to avoid the now highly competitive markets for standardized, mass-produced goods, many manufacturers began to offer a diversity of distinctive products that were constantly upgraded to incorporate technological improvements. While mass producers sought to capture economies of scale with a few standardized products, post-Fordist producers concentrated on economies of scope with their diversity of ever-changing goods. This generated a new consumption system, focused not on mass markets but on small, specialized niche markets. But in order to produce for such markets, manufacturers found that they had to alter the rigidly specialized and deskilled Fordist production process. The new methods had to be flexible, allowing machines and workers to adapt quickly to the wide range of tasks demanded by a diverse and changing product mix. Specialized Fordist machines were replaced with microelectronic technologies such as robotics and computercontrolled machine tools that could be quickly adapted. Deskilled, detail workers were replaced by reskilled workers who participated in a wide range of decisions previously centralized by managers (Piore and Sabel 1984; Amin 1994; Aglietta 1979).

Postmodernism; or, the Cultural Logic of Post-Fordism?


To increase their competitiveness, manufacturers not only sought flexibility in product mix but also in wages and labor relations. Beginning around 1973 corporations abandoned the high wages and strong unions of traditional industrial cities and relocated to low-wage, nonunion areas in less-developed regions and countries. Many also downsized and outsourced production by drawing on a far-flung network of low-wage suppliers to cut costs and boost profits. Under post-Fordism, capitalism became a vast, decentralized, global network, but one that is still dominated by large corporations that subordinate localities to their calculus of exploitation. But the locus of corporate power is more diffuse and hence less easily identified (Harvey 1989; Soja 1989; Amin and Malmberg 1994). This new, more globalized and diversified system of production necessarily generated a new system of coiisumption. Unlike the relatively egalitarian Fordist market, aimed at the broad, middle-income group, the post-Fordist market is fragmented and unequal. Higherincome groups buy the upscale, quasi-customized goods turned out by flexible specialization, while lower-income classes continue to purchase cheaper, mass-produced goods, now often manfactured abroad. This widening inequality has resulted not only from corporate wage cuts and outsourcing but also from the abandonment of Keynesian state policy. Under post-Fordism the government abandoned support of collective bargaining and demand management. Fiscal and monetary policies were redirected to the supply-side of the market, supporting corporate competitiveness and military buildup. The Fordist welfare state was replaced by a post-Fordist, neoliberal workfare state (Harvey 1989, pp. 166172; Jessop 1994; Esser and Hirsch 1994; Lipietz 1994). Jameson, Harvey, and others contend that this post-Fordist economy has given rise to a new set of experiences and sensibilities that are encoded in postmodern culture. The basic dilemmas and contradictions of post-Fordism are similar to Fordism, but in postmodern productions they are resolved and addressed in different forms. On the dimension of time, the opposition of change and permanence persists, with people being confronted by another round of discontinuous and chaotic change, seemingly beyond their control. While modernists detected some unifying purpose or direction behind these changes, the postmodernists swear off any attempts to unify or totalize history and instead celebrate the chaotic flux of the eternal present. The modernist sense of time as directional and developmental is replaced by an ahistorical sense of meaningless flux. Jameson and Harvey argue that this loss of historicity has two causes in the post-Fordist economy. First, modernisms sense of progress was the result of the juxtaposition of modernizing societies with premodern regions outside the modernization process. But with the geographic spread of capitalist modernization to all areas of the globe, this contrast is destroyed. When all the world is modern, nothing seems really new or progressive. Second, the post-Fordist emphasis on the ever-changing cycle of fashions and images to sell goods also undermines historicity. When the material world is changing constantly and arbitrarily, simply for the sake of sales, the value of the new and innovative is lost in this steady stream of variation that goes nowhere (Jameson 1991, pp. 16-25, 309-311; 1994, pp. 11-17; Harvey 1989, pp. 54-58,85-87). On the dimension of space, postmodernism abandons the dialectic of depth and surface and degenerates into a unilateral emphasis on simultaneity and superficiality. Under modern conditions, the rush of simultaneous surfaces could still be unified by the deep process of technological progress. The different geographic spaces could be seen as different chronological stages of economic development. But with the penetration of all spaces by capitalism, the historical depth of space evaporates, and individuals are left with a sense of



simultaneous, irreducible, incommensurable space. Just as global space becomes more homogeneous and totalized by capital, we are aware of the superficial differences of the worlds spaces and peoples. This is because, Jameson argues, the post-Fordist economic system is too vast and decentered to be simply represented in consciousness. Further, postFordism creates this sense of differentiated space by superficially tailoring goods to appeal to different nations, regions, races, and ethnic groups (Jameson 1991, pp. 37-38, 341-343, 356-376; 1994, pp. 4043,204-205). Finally, on the dimension of the self, the post-Fordist economy creates a sense of decenteredness and schizophrenia. The centered self of modernism was predicated on a psychological/ geographical space insulated from the heteronomy of work by home and family. But the post-Fordist economy penetrates all spaces of the psyche in its attempts to mobilize desires for consumerism. The centered self is fragmented into a myriad of niches and needs so there is no longer a center from which to be alienated. The psychic model of the age is no longer the modernist neurotic but the postmodern schizophrenic, for whom experience is a flood of unrelated signifiers in an eternal present (Jameson 1991, pp. 1416,25-31; 1994, pp. 31-32; Harvey 1989, pp. 53-54; Grossberg 1992, pp. 351-353). All these changes in cultural forms are best exemplified in architecture, the preeminent art of postmodernism. Architects such as Robert Venturi, Michael Graves, and Charles Moore have abandoned any sense of historical progress or newness. The machine and technological references are passe, and they turn to historical symbols and styles to restore human meaning to construction. These symbols, however, make no deep references to historical periods but are decontextualized to provide mere superficial decoration to differentiate buildings in a crowded marketplace. Abandoning the modernist dialectic of surface and depth, the postmodernists emphasize radical disjuncture, a closure and insulation of the buildings public face from its private depths. While modernists sought a universal language to unify all buildings, the postmodernists stress difference, carefully differentiating their buildings for diverse cultures, contexts, and markets. Further surrendering to the market demands of post-Fordism, the postmodernists have abandoned any attempts at rational planning and worship the market as the ultimate planner (Jencks 1991;Venturi 1966; Venturi, Scott Brown, and Izenour 1972).

In their attempts to explain cultural changes by economic changes, Harvey and Jameson offer us a neat and synchronous chronology of the development of Fordisdmodernism and post-Fordisdpostmodernism. The economy invariably takes the lead, producing dilemmas and contradictions to which the culture responds in attempts to resolve these through artistic forms. My objections to this tale are twofold. First, developments of the economy and culture are much more complex and uneven than these synchronous stories allow. As Grossberg (1992, pp. 325-326) has written, we must reject the assumption that there is a single relationship between capitalism and culture (e.g., between late capitalism and postmodernism) and recognize the possibility of different struggles and articulations existing within different spatial and temporal logics. Frow (1991, pp. 11, 23) has similarly noted that most postmodern chronologies postulate a synchronic necessity that imposes a universal historicity on distinct and unevenly developed domains of the social. Capitalism and culture do not progress in some unilateral lock step dictated by economics. Although ultimately related to one another in a social totality, culture and

Postmodernisrn; or, the Cultural Logic o Post-Fordism? f


economy can develop in relative autonomy, according to their own dynamics. This unevenness may occur not only between but also within these two institutions, with, for example, different types of culture developing at different rhythms and rates (Frow 1991, pp. 21-23). Second, in the relation between economy and culture, the former need not take causal priority. Harvey and Jameson remain faithful to the broad Marxian model of base and superstructure, holding that the economic base influences the cultural superstructure. As Frow has noted (1991, p. 14), both seek to derive the cultural realm from the logic of an epochal socioeconomic system, setting up a mechanically causal relation between a primary and an epiphenomena1 realm. They do not sufficiently recognize the potential for a dialectical relation between culture and economy. The economy may broadly determine the contradictions and dilemmas of social life to which culture must respond, but these responses have the potential to contradict and undermine the very institutions of production and consumption that generated them. I hope to show that just such a dialectical contradiction occurred in the transition from Fordism to post-Fordism. In what follows, I will demonstrate these weaknesses empirically and begin to develop a model of the relation of Fordism to modernism and post-Fordism to postmodemism that is more complex, dialectical, and sensitive to uneven developments. I will do so by focusing on the relation between the quintessential mass-produced artifact, the automobile, and the aesthetic practice of architecture. To give the arguments greater scope, however, I will supplement them with examples from the fashion industry. As we have seen, Jameson and Harvey postulate a synchronous, unilateral relationship between the mass-production economy of Fordism and aesthetic modernism. The mass production of cheap, standardized cars like Fords Model T and simple, functional clothing not only created a new process of production and consumption but also provided the aesthetic model of geometric purity, abstraction, and rationalization that was adopted in the modernist machine aesthetic and new objectivity. Only when the economy began to move away from the mass production of standardized goods toward the flexible production of a greater array of aesthetically differentiated products did a distinct postmodern aesthetic arise. This chronology certainly seems believable for the high art of architecture, for, at least in the United States, modernism did not reach its heyday until the 1950s and 1960s and did not face serious challenge until the 1970s. But if we examine the popular consumer culture, this synchronous chronology seems ridiculous. As every American with a modicum of knowledge of the auto or fashion industries can tell you, style, diversity, and ephemerality emerged as selling points in the mid-l920s, not in the 1970s. In the fashion industry, the mass production of clothing initially resulted in standardization and leveling. Elite styles were imitated and disseminated to the masses as a mark of respectability and social mobility. It was difficult without close inspection to distinguish a male worker from his boss on a Sunday afternoon in the city, for both wore dark suits of similar styles in leisure hours. By the 1920s, even womens clothing, which was generally characterized by greater variety, was becoming standardized. The movement of more women into the workforce gave rise to sleek, simple, functionalist styles reminiscent of modernist buildings. Clothing thus bespoke the emergence of a mass society of classless and functional uniformity. But this symbolism was short-lived and, as the 1920s turned into the 1930s, mass uniformity gave way to individual expression. To stimulate demand, fashion merchandisers began to differentiate and individualize markets, making use of consumer surveys to identify segments such as conventional, romantic, modern, and



artistic. Unlike the earlier, class-based distinctions in fashion, against which Thorstein Veblen railed in The Theory ofthe Leisure Class ([1899] 1934), these diverse styles were touted as a matter of personal choice, testifing to individual taste, not social rank (Ewen and Ewen 1982, pp. 169-232; Wilson 1990, pp. 210-224). A similar process was at work in the all-important auto industry, which lies at the center of the postmodedpost-Fordist discourse. By 1927, when modern architecture was just beginning to build its first exemplars of the machine aesthetic in Europe, Fords standardized, functionalist Model T was extinct. Automakers were beginning to give consumers stylistic diversity, superficial decoration, and constantly changing models-all defining characteristics of postmodern culture. This direction was pioneered largely by General Motors Alfred Sloan, who perceived that once Fordist mass production had fulfilled the need for basic transportation consumers wanted something more-a better car with some distinction to set them apart from the crowd. So instead of offering one standardized car for the masses, like Ford, Sloan marketed a graded hierarchy of cars, ranging from the low-priced Chevrolet to the luxury Cadillac. Consumers could pick a car that matched their income and lifestyle, achieving a sense of individuality in their purchases. Many of the distinctions between GMs makes were purely superficial, decorative geegaws attached to the cars surfaces to give them a different visual reading. The stylists who designed the differentiating skins were careful to insulate them from any sight of the mechanical parts underneath. Thus, in the mid-I920s, autos pioneered an aesthetic of superficiality, marked by a radical disjuncture of inside and outside. Sloan not only offered consumers different cars but also models that changed yearly in a process he called the annual model change. Cars were continually upgraded and improved but, once again, on the surfaces alone. Fashion and ephemerality were the sine qua non of the annual model change, a perpetual cycle that really went nowhere. This, along with other aspects of automotive marketing, contributed to an evaporation of historical meaning, a privileging of space and surfaces over history and time. From the very beginning, the automobile was promoted as a means of escaping history through mobility in space. Buyers were told to deal with their discontents through changing their location in space, not changing society in history. Drive to better economic opportunities in a different town or region, or at least escape the monotony and heteronomy of Fordist work with a carefree drive in the unspoiled countryside. The dazzling array of ephemeral surfaces was the culmination of the eclipse of historical time by the movement of images in space (Gartnian 1994). These new, more differentiated fashions and automobiles were merely the leading edge of a broader consumer culture sweeping America in the 1920s and 1930s. As markets for consumer goods became saturated in the mid- 1920s, Fordist manufacturers increasingly turned to diversity, style, and beauty to compete and stimulate demand. The Great Depression, with its disastrous collapse of aggregate demand, only exacerbated these trends, with industrial designers appending stylish, attention-grabbing surfaces to everything from locomotives to pencil sharpeners (Meikle 1979). Prior to the mid-l960s, this consumer culture seemed perfectly compatible with the Fordist methods of mass production. Diversity, distinction, and change in consumer goods did not require post-Fordist computers and robots or post-Fordist job enrichment and worker participation. These traits were rendered compatible with Fordist specialized machines, assembly lines, and deskilled labor through the clever machinations of industrial designers such as GMs Harley Earl. The basic mechanical components of the diverse, changing array of automotive

Postmodernism; or, the Cultural Logic o Post-Fordism? f


models remained standardized to achieve the high volume of production required for the economical use of specialized machines. And these relatively unchanging parts were shared by a number of different automotive models. Even the fundamental structure of the body, the body shell, was standardized to a few basic types that were shared across divisions. However, to disguise this mass-produced commonality the designers tacked relatively inexpensive components onto the shells to distinguish them visually. It was these cheap parts that changed year to year to lend models the appearance of progress, not the standardized components under the shells (Gartman 1994).

This brief examination of the development of American mass culture reveals that it pioneered aspects of postmodernism long before these traits appeared in the high arts such as architecture. These postmodern traits did not require a new system of economic production. Why have the regulationists and their followers such as Jameson and Harvey missed or discounted these developments? I believe the answer lies in their focus on Europe and their neglect of American mass culture. The European, mainly French, economists who initiated the discourse of Fordism and post-Fordism have allowed their national experiences to contaminate their history of these regimes of accumulation, which by all accounts were pioneered in the United States. As most recognize, Fordist mass production did not really take hold in Europe and Great Britain until after World War I1 (Lipietz 1987; Anderson 1984; Piore and Sabel 1984). And there, as in the United States, the initial products of early Fordism were standardized, functionalist, and boring, like the Austin Seven and Morris Minor autos (Batchelor 1994, p. 130). Certainly nothing approaching a consumer culture of difference and decoration emerged in Europe until the 1960s, long after the pioneering efforts of the American designers and merchandisers. This may have misled the regulationists into postulating that the mass culture of Fordism is necessarily standardized, abstract, and functionalist. The early stage of Fordism did create a functionalist, abstract, technology-worshiping aesthetic in the high arts, as Jameson and Harvey contend. But this aesthetic was pioneered in Europe and did not really take hold in the United States until after World War 11. Perry Anderson (1984) argues that such cultural modernism emerged only in societies in which the modern machine age of Fordism clashed sharply with a premodern regime dominated by landowning classes. In such societies, largely located in central Europe, the stark confrontation of machine technologies with an archaic class structure heightened the sense of their newness and revolutionary potential. I contend, however, that the modernist aesthetic was a product not only of the contrast of new technologies with old regimes but also of the social vehicle through which mass production and consumption were introduced. The class alliances created by the old regimes of central Europe forced the state to play the central role in the rationalization of industry, while the U.S. class structure gave the market predominance in this process. In central Europe the continued power of the aristocracy led to a capitalist or bourgeois class that was relatively weak, politically, economically, and culturally. The aristocracy dominated not only the government but also the arts through their state-sponsored academies (Mayer 1981). Manufacturers still produced largely handcrafted goods for the upper classes with skilled labor. And, in Germany at least, industries were organized into pro-



duction-restricting, price-controlling cartels, with little competition among firms (Nolan 1994). World War I led to the collapse of the central European monarchies and the rise of tenuous new democratic regimes, such as the Weimar Republic, which faced the monumental tasks of not only building democracy but also modernizing industry. The war forced all classes to confront the backwardness of European industry, and Henry Fords massproduction process was widely championed as the model to emulate. But each class interpreted Fordismus in the light of its particular interests. Rank-and-file workers focused on Fords high wages and mass consumption as the solution to industrial problems. The professional-managerial class viewed technology and managerial reform, which gave it more jobs and power in industry, as the key to mass production. The weak industrial bourgeoisie opposed not only high wages but also mechanization, the latter because Fordist machines were expensive and their increased productivity would undermine the cartel agreements. The political class of the new state was under great pressure, from a restless working class that had helped bring it to power, to modernize industry and deliver a rising standard of living. But finding little support from a weak and backward industrial bourgeoisie, it allied with the professional-managerial class, including top leaders of the Social Democratic party, in a state-driven attempt at Fordist rationalization of production and consumption. In this alliance, professional artists and architects helped provide the ideological support for the technocratic program. Seeking to carve out for themselves a new role in industry, artists such as Le Corbusier championed mass production and created a new aesthetic that elevated the functional, geometric forms of the machine to the status of universal beauty (Lane 1985; Nolan 1994; Maier 1970). The state effort at Fordist production of consumer goods focused on housing, which was in disastrously short supply. State funds were channeled through various public and semipublic programs to subsidize the construction of huge housing estates that were generally planned and designed by architects. The modernists took this opportunity to employ their stripped-down, functionalist, machine aesthetic, not merely in order to incorporate industrial building materials but also to provide ideological testimony to the brave new world of mass production and mass consumption being created by the technocratic elite. There were distinct signals that workers in general and the residents of these housing estates in particular did not care for the stingy, rationalized standards and aesthetics imposed upon them. But consumers had no mechanisms to register their preferences, for there was no market in housing and state decisions were controlled by a bureaucratic and artistic elite (Lane 1985; Nolan 1994; Boudon 1969). In the United States there was no such ancien regime to block industrial and bourgeois development. The class of industrial capitalists gained dominance rather easily and early. The failure of cartels and trusts early in the century induced greater competition among firms, forcing industrialists to embrace new Fordist technologies that promised increased productivity and lower prices. In the process, they began to incorporate within industry the engineers, designers, technicians, and managers who were the agents of rationalization. This alliance between the growing professional-managerial class and capitalists solidified during the Progressive Era, when professionals such as social workers and intellectuals worked with private industry, not the state, to quell working-class unrest. Fords Five Dollar Day and other welfare programs began to integrate workers into capitalism with higher

Postmodernism; or, the Cultural Logic of Post-Fordisrn?


levels of consumption of standardized goods purchased in the market with higher wages (Wiebe 1967; Weinstein 1968). Like their European counterparts, some of the reforming professionals advocated a simplified, unadorned aesthetic for workers housing and goods. Working-class families were instructed in how to transform their kitchens from centers of sociality to models of Fordist efficiency and also encouraged to forego the overstuffed, overdecorated Victorian furnishings they seemed to prefer in favor of simple, functionalist styles. But because the regime of mass consumption came to American workers through the private market, not through state provision as in Europe, they could use their rising wages to express their own aesthetic preferences. Defying progressive professionals, workers chose goods not with a rationalized machine aesthetic but with decoration and ornament that insulated them from the harsh reminders of Fordist work and provided the individuality and beauty that had been exorcised from their work world (Cohen 1982). This market demand forced manufacturers to develop the new consumer aesthetic of difference, decoration, and superficiality, traits not found in Europe until market demand for basic, functional goods had finally been saturated in the 1960s. This consumer culture quickly became dominant and eclipsed Americas rudimentary modernism in the high arts. Specifically, modernist architecture of the type pioneered in Europe found little favor in America prior to the 1950s. Although stark functionalist forms were accepted in factories and commercial buildings, few wanted to see them elsewhere. The preferred style in market-driven American cities was known as moderne, which, although relatively simple, was more organic than mechanical and not averse to some historical decoration. In the suburbs, even more organic and decorative styles prevailed, with Frank Lloyd Wright providing the direction (Frampton 1992). After World War I1 the differentiated, decorative, obscuring aesthetic of Americas consumer culture blossomed under the nourishment of the demand-stimulating regulation of the Keynesian state. In particular, automobile design exploded in an orgy of fantastic, ephemeral decoration, of which the tail fin was only the most outrageous example. This consumer aesthetic also proliferated in the rapidly expanding suburban housing market, where millions of standardized developers boxes were thrown up by quasi-Fordist methods. As in autos, this mass-produced homogeneity was disguised by a disconnected array of decoration and historical styles tacked onto the surface. Downtown, however, a curious aesthetic anomaly emerged among the corporate headquarters, banks, and government offices that continued to occupy the urban core. These structures began to adopt the severely functional, modernist machine aesthetic, often attached by tmigrC modernists such as Mies van der Rohe. Modernist architecture was considered an appropriate expression of the technocratic, rationalized power of the triumphant corporate and governmental ruling class. But this technocratic aesthetic downtown posed no real challenge to the dominant consumer culture since it was segregated geographically from consumerisms suburban stronghold, where Americans could forget the rationalized production that was the basis of the system. Suburbanization had a similarly bifurcating effect on American fashion. The postwar boom, with its prosperity and emphasis on childrearing, reversed the trend toward women working and isolated them in suburbs focused on leisure and recreation. Consequently, a new trend toward leisure wear emerged, offering clothing such as Bermuda shorts and sports shirts for knocking about the burbs. But for womens occasional appearances in public settings, a new romantic ideal was created, drawing on Victorian fashions and per-



petuating an image of delicacy and domesticity. For men venturing away from the suburban retreat to the downtown towers of work, a standard corporate suit was appropriate to emphasize sobriety and rationality. But again, at home a new leisure costume of individuality and expression began to emerge, as men were encouraged by publications, such as Playboy, to express themselves in consumerism. A vast array of individualized sportswear became available to men as well (Ewen and Ewen 1982, pp. 233-241; Ehrenreich 1983, pp. 30-51).


This early emergence of postmodernist traits in the consumer culture of America does not mean that there was no change in production or culture around 1973. A persuasive body of evidence reveals that in the United States about this time there was a significant break with Fordist production and its bifurcated culture. But unlike Jameson and Harvey, I argue that the cultural changes contributed to the economic changes of post-Fordism. The internal contradictions of Americas consumer culture began to undermine Fordist mass production in the mid- 1960s, giving rise to an economic crisis that spawned post-Fordist changes. These changes then facilitated an extension and intensification of aspects of consumer culture into a distinctive postmodernism. I offer the following as a brief, underdeveloped sketch of this process, anticipating a fuller development elsewhere. The economic stability and prosperity of Americas postwar Fordism drove the consumer culture to new heights, revealing for the first time the contradiction between individuality and uniformity. In the world of fashion, some began to see through the myriad colors and cuts of mass-produced fashions to perceive a deadly dull uniformity. Everyone sought individuality but within a narrow range of variation defined by suburban acceptability. Americans wanted to be different, just like everyone else-the dilemma of massproduced individuality. Consequently, some outside the consensus, such as the Beats, hippies, and minorities, began to pioneer new styles, or antistyles, often drawing on repressed or forgotten cultures: working-class blue jeans, peasant blouses, traditional African clothing. Mass producers of clothing struggled to keep abreast of fashion trends no longer driven by their marketing logic. In Europe, mass production overcame wartime shortages and destruction by the 1960s, and similar countercultural fashion trends emerged among groups such as the Mods, Rockers, and Punks (Ewen and Ewen 1982, pp. 241-251; Wilson 1990, pp. 215-217). Similarly, in the automobile industry the contradiction of mass-produced individuality was becoming apparent by the late 1950s, as the styling game spiraled out of control. Before this period, GMs large, talented staff had dominated auto styling, doling out to consumers careful, incremental changes that were imitated by Ford and Chrysler, who trailed in the styling game. In the postwar period, the two laggards began to beef up their own styling departments and seriously compete with GM for styling innovations. This fierce competition quickly accelerated the style cycle and drove it to outrageous heights. Each model year saw such drastic and arbitrary changes in style that consumers began to notice the standardized similarities of all cars. The 1958 Edsel was the culmination of this contradiction; it was a car that protested its difference so loudly and garishly that consumers saw its similarity to Detroits other overdecorated dinosaurs. Its disastrous demise, plus

Postmodernism; or, the Cultural Logic o Post-Fordism? f


the steady growth of sales of imports such as Volkswagens, signaled Americans craving for a wider range of choice (Gartman 1994). The demands of this incipient consumer revolt forced automakers to offer a wider range of structurally and mechanically differentiated cars beginning around 1960. The standardized but superficially differentiated family sedans of the 1950s gave way to a dizzying array of really different cars: compacts, intermediates, personal luxury cars, muscle cars, pony cars. But this diversity severely taxed the system of Fordist mass production. A separate factory with specialized equipment had to be built for each type of car. Within each models factory the array of optional components that consumers could order to individualize their cars began to tie up capital in inventory, slow down production, and create coordination problems. Consequently, manufacturers unit profits began to decline even as they sold more cars. The automakers first response was to apply a large dose of the traditional remedy of speedup. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, factory managers tightened discipline, trimmed workforces, and forced remaining workers to labor harder. This approach proved disastrous, not only because unemployment was low and unions still strong but also because increasing product diversity itself empowered workers. The variation along assembly lines induced by model differentiation prevented managers from determining standard job times and inadvertently left discretion in workers hands. The results of the new speedup regime were dramatized at GMs Lordstown, Ohio, plant, where young workers launched an innovative strike against line speed and monotony. Such discontent, along with lagging profits, forced managers to search for new methods of managing both labor and materials to produce the growing product mix with less cost. These efforts ultimately gave rise to the flexibile production systems of post-Fordism. These new production techniques then made possible an even larger range of changing, differentiated products (Gartman 1994). These changes in production and consumer goods impacted the high arts in America as well, especially architecture. By the 1960s Americas imported modernism was already beginning to look stale to a younger generation of artists who were struggling in a crowded market to differentiate themselves from the established taste. Modernist architecture in particular had lost its avant-garde status and became synonymous with the corporate establishment, especially its bulldozer approach to urban renewal. Rejecting the established style, young artists turned for inspiration to the new diversity and vitality of consumer culture, and pop art was born (Huyssen 1986). In architecture, young radicals worked with inner-city neighborhoods to fight urban renewal, arguing that the messy diversity and complexity of the existing streets was far superior to the sterile uniformity of modernist planning (Jacobs 1961). From such efforts emerged a new appreciation of the architecture of the consumer vernacular, celebrating diversity, decoration, symbolism, and ephemerality. This new departure was codified largely by Robert Venturi (1966) and his colleagues (Venturi et al. 1972), who declared that Main Street, along with Times Square and the Las Vegas strip, were almost all right. These monuments to the Great Proletarian Cultural Locomotive revealed a complexity and vitality that were close to the preferences of common people, Venturi declared, while the functionality and simplicity of modernism was an elitist bore. Further contradicting the modernist credo, Venturi argued for the use of historical styles and decoration in architecture. Historical tropes (e.g., Greek columns on courthouses and Tudor half-timbering and colonial carriage lamps on suburban tract houses)



carried well-established, popular meanings. If architects wanted to communicate with the broad public and not merely with the elitist avant-garde, they had to incorporate such historical decorations. What began as a radical, quasi-populist attack on the brutality of modernism in the 1960s and 1970s, however, was soon incorporated as an accomplice of economic restructuring in the 1980s. Corporate attempts to cut costs and attain flexibility devastated the American landscape. In a search for cheap, nonunionized labor, corporations shifted production out of the industrial Midwest and Northeast to the American Sunbelt and offshore, abandoning industrial cities and millions of unionized blue-collar workers. The professional-managerial class that engineered the restructuring experienced a rapid enrichment, leading to a growing income inequality. This in turn encouraged a further fragmentation of the marketplace, as more and more manufacturers began to court the upscale market of newly enriched yuppies who craved distinctive goods to testify to their fortune. Post-Fordism, with its stratified niche markets, flourished. And postmodernism was its cultural accomplice, especially in architecture. In the 1980s, many cities that were devastated by plant closings and corporate flight desperately searched for a new strategy for renewal. Many tried to capture some of the new wealth by attracting the prosperous classes back downtown with consumption and entertainment spectacles. Convention centers, shopping malls, historic restorations, and restaurant districts were developed to encourage the yuppies not only to shop and eat but also to live downtown (Zukin 1991; Sorkin 1992). Office buildings and corporate headquarters were also part of this renewal, but the whole package was generally wrapped in a style of decoration and diversity that was an intensification of the earlier consumer culture. Much of this new urban construction was consumption-oriented and sought to give people the diversity and excitement that their working lives lacked. Further, since many cities were still the sites of an abandoned and decaying industrial ugliness, these buildings had to carefully insulate fun-seeking patrons from these unpleasant sights, leading to an insularity of this architecture (Davis 1990, pp. 221-263). Even the new downtown office buildings got caught up in the postmodern frenzy of decoration, superficiality, and insularity. After all, people did not want to look at an ugly modernist box that screamed efficiency and rationalization when coming downtown to shop, play, or live (Harvey 1989). So postmodern architecture took off, part of the new consumer culture that was more intense and unequal but less geographically segregated than the one pioneered in the 1920s and 1930s. Postmodernism was also distinguished from early consumerism by its ironic attitude. High-art architects, such as Venturi and Moore, appropriated the symbols of the consumer vernacular with ironic twists that signaled a distance from their naive applications in products such as autos and Las Vegas casinos. A subtle change in scale or context revealed to the cultural cognoscenti that they were not really serious but merely playing with the popular language, just gaming, as the postmodern philosopher JeanFrancois Lyotard puts it. Postmodernism embodied a double coding (Jencks 1986, p. 14)-the simple, symbolic language of comfortable illusions and escape for the masses was overlain with a hip, condescending joke for those in the know, The same sort of irony permeated the yuppie appropriation of the clothes of the rebellions in the 1960s. Jeans, tiedyes, bell-bottoms, and ethnic fashions that had once carried meaning-rebellion, refusal-were now appropriated and stripped of their historical content. Retro fashions

Postmodernism; or, the Cuftural Logic of Post-Fordism?


became just another part of a superficially differentiated and fragmented identity, a style to be ironically played with for the sake of some arbitrary difference (Baudnllard 1994, pp. 43-44).

Despite the dismissive attitude of some to the concept, I am convinced that postmodernism identifies important changes that are occurring in the culture of advanced capitalist societies. I applaud the efforts of Marxist theorists, such as Jameson and Harvey, to connect these changes to contemporary economic changes captured under the rubric of post-Fordism. But to be more believable and heuristic, this broad, sweeping theory needs further refinement and specification through detailed empirical studies of the kind outlined above. First, the theory must loosen its synchronous and uniform conception of social change to recognize the possibility-even the likelihood-of diverse and uneven developments. Culture should be seen as a response or reaction to economic changes by producers within a particular social structure. Depending on the specific configuration of class interests surrounding economic changes such as mass production, the position of cultural producers will vary, giving rise to cultural responses that vary from country to country and from high to popular culture. Second, this theory must also be altered to recognize that these cultural responses may exert a dialectical influence on economic developments, facilitating and contradicting them. Such dialectical influence further accounts for the disjointed, uneven movement of history. Jameson, Harvey, and others have done great service by plotting the broad contours of the terrain of postmodernisdpost-Fordism from their vantage point in the theoretical stratosphere. But now we need to get down to earth and do the hard work of ground reconnaissance, which will reveal that the borders and features of this landscape are not so starkly and simply defined as in their aerial maps.
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