The surest way to make a mistake in social science : japanisation, end of work, globalisation, new economy, networked societies,

References

Freyssenet M., "Le plus sûr moyen de se tromper en sciences sociales: japonisation, fin du travail, globalisation, nouvelle économie, société en réseaux…", La Lettre du GERPISA, Avril 2002 (n°159), pp 5-10. Digital publications, gerpisa.univ-evry.fr, 2002, Ko ; freyssenet.com, 2006, 220 Ko.

Freyssenet M.,“ The surest way to make a mistake in social sciences : japanisation, end of work, globalisation, new economy, networked societies, etc ”, La Lettre du GERPISA, Juillet 2002 (n°161), p 2-7. Digital publications, gerpisa.univ-evry.fr, 2002, Ko ; freyssenet.com, 2006, 220 Ko. English version of the previous article.

Freyssenet M., « Le plus sûr moyen de se tromper en sciences sociales : japonisation, fin du travail, globalisation, nouvelle économie, société en réseau... », Gérer et Comprendre, Annales des Mines, 2002, pp 34-40. Revised version of Freyssenet M., "Le plus sûr moyen de se tromper en sciences sociales: japonisation, fin du travail, globalisation, nouvelle économie, société en réseaux…", La Lettre du GERPISA, Avril 2002 (n°159), pp 5-10.

Freyssenet M., « La forma más sencilla de equivocarse en ciencias socials. Japonización, fin del trabajo, globalización, nueva economía, sociedades en red », Sociologia del Trabajo, n°46, automne 2002, pp 3-17. Translation in spanish of Freyssenet M., « Le plus sûr moyen de se tromper en sciences sociales : japonisation, fin du travail, globalisation, nouvelle économie, société en réseau... », Gérer et Comprendre, Annales des Mines, 2002, pp 34-40.

This text is the development of a conference held at the 7th Spanish Congress of Sociology (Salamanque 20-22th of september 2001). First published in La Lettre du GERPISA in french and in english, it was published almost in the same time in the french review Gérer et Comprendre, Annales des Mines and in the spanish review Sociologia del Trabajo. The different versions are quasi identical.

The two first version are downloadable. Please, go to the end of this page.

Abstract

The past decade has been a veritable breeding ground for visions of the future, whether the inevitable diffusion of the so-called Japanese model, the widely proclaimed end of work, the irreversibility of globalisation or else the advent of a new era of prosperity thanks to the “new economy”. The latest of these perspectives is one by Manuel Castells, who predicts that societies might very well be re-building themselves into networks, with a great deal of help from (and maybe even thanks to) the Internet.

The problem is that despite their different and even contrasting attributes, predictions of this sort always reproduce the same types of errors yet never learn from their mistakes. The repetition is bothersome, and it merits explanation.

It is true that the theorisations that we are lampooning here have sometimes served as useful “punching balls” for researchers seeking more conceptual rigour. Nevertheless, a great deal of time has been lost trying to refute such ideas. Moreover, even before such refutals are entirely completed, the theorisation is already being contradicted by unexpected occurrences in the real world – before being immediately replaced by other theorisations that are riddled with the same defects. To cope with these notions, we are forced to undertake a Sisyphean struggle, and this prevents us from nurturing and sustaining other more highly evolved approaches and theories in public discussions and on the academic scene.

Despite their different contents and levels of sophistication, these theoretical “bubbles” are the product of one and the same intellectual approach. The first phases of this approach consists of regrouping facts by their resemblance to one another or by their apparent convergence, and then presenting them as if they were radically new trends. The next phase in this approach involved demonstrating that the new trend was capable, if it were allowed to generalise, of resolving some contradiction or major problem that had been polarising public debate and worrying a very large number of people. The third phase, ostensibly the most delicate one, is the demonstration that the concept in the spotlight cannot help but disseminate and generalise, thereby providing a real resolution of whatever problem it is that is worrying the entire planet. The fourth phase is a commonplace but not absolutely indispensable one. Having pretended that no uncertainty, contradiction and/or conflict exists (or else having relativised the impact thereof), it becomes possible to list all of the felicitous changes that the universalised process on offer will engender in all areas of social life. The most lucid essayists and researchers stay well away from acting in this manner, but even so, such behaviour does not necessarily compromise one’s scientific reputation.

Several conclusions can be derived from past refutals of universalist theses (and from attempts to replace them with approaches that are more rigorous in nature).
When faced with a phenomenon that seems novel, three research operations would seem to be indispensable. The first consists of contextualising facts that could otherwise be deemed to comprise a (new) trend by examining them in the light of the history of the concrete entity to which each refers (such and such an individual, group, institution, society, etc.) so as to understand their meaning and thus verify whether their aggregation would be a legitimate endeavour. The second involves establishing via comparison and reasoning which pre-conditions will render the facts that have been regrouped or selected feasible and viable. The third is to conceptualise them in such a way as to replace the shared, spontaneous or pseudo-knowledgeable representation with one that is more illustrative and operative in nature.

It is easy to see why it is more difficult to summarise the findings of our approach in a single formula that can cater directly to our social imagination and respond to our concerns. As opposed to the affirmation by some that they will probably be able to solve most major problems, and as opposed to the affirmation by others that crises are unavoidable, the tools we are proposing enhance our overall understanding of the diversity of trajectories, contexts, conditions and possibilities.

Content

1. There are so many good reasons to make a mistake in social sciences that there is no need to add any bad ones
2. A three-part waltz: spectacular success; sudden doubt; and sudden discarding - before the dance starts all over again
3. The tireless application, time and time again, of the same approach: transforming seemingly convergent facts into a universal trend that resolves major social contradictions
4. A battle cry in favour of substantive, historical and analytical approaches
5. How to organise a debate between these two types of approaches?

Key words

Japanisation, the end of work, globalisation, the new economy, networked societies, growth mode, profit strategy, business history, theory of firm, labour, market, industrial relations, work organisation, wage system, work crisis, fusion, acquisitions, alliances, separations of firms, internal growth, external growth, Toyotism, Japan, just-in-time, industrial relations, social conflicts, professional categorisations, social relationships, capital-labour relationships.

Concerned disciplines

Economics, Ergonomics, Management, Geography, History, History of Sciences and Technologies, Engineering, Political Science, Sociology.

Writing context

Contribution
to personal questioning
to scientific reflexion of research laboratory or network
to national and international scientific debate
to diffusion of scientific results
to implementation of scientific results

References, commentaries, critics

Curent relevance

See also

✔ Freyssenet, M., "Le modèle productif japonais n'a jamais existé", édition numérique, freyssenet.com, 2006, 200 Ko. Version initiale plus longue de ✔ Freyssenet, M., "Le modèle productif japonais n'a jamais existé", in Boyer, R., Souyri, P-F, Mondialisation et régulations. Europe et Japon face à la singularité américaine, La Découverte, Paris, 2001, pp 97-115. Édition en japonais par un éditeur japonais, ✔ Freyssenet, M., "Le modèle productif japonais n'a jamais existé", in Boyer, R., Souyri, P-F, Mondialisation et régulations. Europe et Japon face à la singularité américaine, , Tokyo : Fujiwara Shoten, 2002, pp 151-178.

✔ Freyssenet M., “L’invention du travail”, Actes du Colloque Interdisciplinaire - Travail: recherche et prospective", CNRS/PIRTTEM, 1992, pp 65-74. Republié: Freyssenet M., “L’invention du travail”, Futur antérieur, n°16, 1993/2, pp 17-27. Version modifiée et augmentée, Freyssenet M., “Historicité et centralité du travail”, in Jacques Bidet, Jacques Texier (dir.), La crise du travail, PUF, Paris, 1995, pp 227-244. Version modifiée et augmentée en anglais, Freyssenet M, “Emergence, Centrality and End of Work”, Current Sociology, 1999, vol 47, n°2, pp 5-20.

Boyer R. Freyssenet M., "The Future Once Again is Open. Profit Strategies, Internationalisation Forms and New Spaces of Automobile Industry”, in Freyssenet, M., Lung, Y., (dir.), Actes de la Sixième Rencontre Internationale du GERPISA, “Les nouveaux espaces de l’industrie automobile mondiale”, 4-6 juin, 1998, Paris, Palais du Luxembourg, pp 609-632, première version en anglais en première publication. Deuxième version en français, Boyer R., Freyssenet M., “L’avenir est à nouveau ouvert. Stratégies de profit, formes d’internationalisation et nouveaux espaces de l’industrie automobile”, Gérer et Comprendre, Annales des Mines, 1999, juin, pp. 21-30. Version en anglais publiée par un éditeur allemand, Boyer R., Freyssenet M., “Rewriting the Future. Profit Strategies, Forms of Internationalisation and New Spaces in the Automobile Industry”, in Eckardt, A., Köhler, H-D., Pries, L. (Hg.), Global Players in Lokalen Bindungen. Unternehmensglobalisierung in soziologischer Perspektive, Édition Sigma, Berlin, 1999, pp 81-97. Version en italien publiée par un éditeur italien, Boyer R., Freyssenet M., « Riscrivere il futuro. Strategie di profitto, forme di internazionalizzazione e nuovi spazi nell’industria automobobilistica », in Lodigiani, R., Martinelli, M., Dentro e oltre i post-fordismi. Impresa e lavoro in mutamento tra analysi teorica e ricerca empirica, Vita e Pensiero, Milan, 2002, pp155-175.

✔ Boyer R., Freyssenet M., "Les uns fusionnent, les autres pas. La variété des stratégies de profit et des modèles productifs à l'ère de la mondialisation", in Y Lung (dir.), Actes de la 9ème Rencontre Internationale du GERPISA, 7-9 juin 2001, palais du Luxembourg, "Les reconfigurations de l'industrie automobile : alliances, cessions, fusions-acquisitions, partenariats, scission…" (Cédérom). Éditions numériques, gerpisa.univ-evry.fr , 2001, 52 Ko; freyssenet.com , 2006, 52 Ko.

Possible purchase websites

http://www.gerpisa.univ-evry.fr/
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Last presentation updating

2006.05.31

Date of the putting on line of the downloadable text

2006.02.28 : Freyssenet M., "Le plus sûr moyen de se tromper en sciences sociales: japonisation, fin du travail, globalisation, nouvelle économie, société en réseaux…", La Lettre du GERPISA, Avril 2002 (n°159), pp 5-10.

2006.02.28 : Freyssenet M.,“ The surest way to make a mistake in social science : japanisation, end of work, globalisation, new economy, networked societies, etc ”, La Lettre du GERPISA, Juillet 2002 (n°161), p 2-7.

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