Brazilian Fordism in Historical

Elizabeth Bortolaia Silva

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This essay traces the evolution of Fordism in Brazil from the period before 1964 until the early 1990s. The central emphasis is on the importance of the political regime and economic policies for the development of particular styles of management at the national and factory levels.

There is a consensus in the literature that the process of managerial modernization is very recent in Brazil. This process was driven by the multinationals in the early 1980s, not much latter than in some more economically advanced countries. But the diffusion and depth of changes have been narrower and shallower than in the latter.

There is also a basic understanding that the process is too new and that the country is too entangled in harsh economic conditions and political uncertainties, for researchers and policy makers to discern clearly the contours of the present style of management and to define its future trajectory. I aim to shed light on this debate by exploring the options and paths ahead through a review of the historical trajectory of fordist styles of management in Brazil.

The picture of current conditions in the modern industrial sector in Brazil shows restricted scope for extensive adoption of 'Japanese' practices, or 'lean production' strategies. Actually, these strategies appear in some firms (in the same way that these labels appear in the academic literature) without regard for the overall context of their development or the background conditions out of which they developed. This points to a need to develop a clear framework for research in the field. This paper is an attempt in this direction.

In the following pages, I explore Brazilian fordism in historical perspective by distinguishing and analysing five different styles and periods of management. The first, dominant before the military coup of 1964 is paternalist fordism. The second, prevailing during the dictatorship, from 1964 to the late 1970s is authoritarian fordism. In the 1980s the changes in technology and production management remade the pattern, introducing flexibilities in line with international trends towards democratizing fordism. The two alternative, or perhaps combined, styles prevailing in the 1990s are characterized as nostalgic fordism and/or post fordism.

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