Chapter

Americanizing British Engineering? Strategic Debate, Selective Adaptation, and Hybrid Innovation in Post-War Reconstruction, 1945–1960

Jonathan Zeitlin

in Americanization and Its Limits

Published in print January 2004 | ISBN: 9780199269044
Published online September 2007 | e-ISBN: 9780191717123 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199269044.003.0004
 Americanizing British Engineering? Strategic Debate, Selective Adaptation, and Hybrid Innovation in Post-War Reconstruction, 1945–1960

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This chapter seeks to sketch out the contours of British debates about Americanization and reconstruction in a key sector of manufacturing: the engineering or metalworking industries. Its central concerns are threefold. First, contrary to the claims of some recent historians such as Corelli Barnett, it highlights the determined efforts during the immediate post-war years — above all by the Attlee Labour governments — to push British industry towards the adoption of American-style mass-production and management methods. Second, it re-examines contemporary objections to these proposals and reassesses the practical impact of them on the reconstruction of British engineering. It is shown that there were significant practical obstacles in both the short- and long-term to the wholesale adoption of the American model. Often, too, however, British manufacturers selectively adapted elements of US techniques to fit with their existing production strategies; in some cases, moreover, their creative modifications of transatlantic methods generated innovative hybrid forms of flexible manufacturing which anticipated in important respects those later made famous by the Japanese. The chapter calls into question the causal link between the limits of post-war Americanization and the subsequent decline of British manufacturing.

Keywords: Americanization; Britain; manufacturing; innovation; selective adaptation; hybridization

Chapter.  15133 words. 

Subjects: International Business

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