My first book, Industrial Constructions: The Sources of German Industrial Power, (Cambridge University Press, 1996, Paperback 2000) examined the variety of industrial organizational and governance arrangements that emerged during the process of German industrialization. It argued in particular that there were two dominant patterns of regionally embedded industrial development in German history: an autarkic, vertically integrated pattern dominated by large firms and a decentralized, vertically disintegrated pattern, dominated by clusters of small and medium sized producers. The book showed how both patterns of industrialization were embedded in extra firm arrangements and policies for training, competition, finance, dispute resolution etc.Industrial Constructions traced the evolution of these two forms of "industrial order" over time. Development and change within and between both forms of industrial order involved a process of creative institutional and strategic re-composition by actors at many different levels. A central claim of the book is that Germany never had a single or unitary system of governance in the political economy. There are multiple logics of governance at work at every level. The "national business system" in Germany, in other words, is a composite system.
My second book, published by Oxford University Press in 2010, is entitled Manufacturing Possibilities: Creative Action and Industrial Recomposition in the U.S., Germany and Japan. This book, like the first one, is interested in problems of industrial development, governance and change. Also like Industrial Constructions, the new book adopts a strongly sociological and political orientation toward industrial processes, rather than a more narrowly economic one. The basic orientation of Manufacturing Possibilities is that industrial development is best understood very broadly as a process of socio-political transformation.
Manufacturing Possibilities has two parts. The first part uses an in-depth historical examination of the evolution of the US, German, and Japanese steel industries to make a variety of theoretical points about creative action, recomposition, and the limits of both neoliberal convergence theory and institutionalist arguments for the reproduction of difference. The chapters generally corroborate the broadly held view (typically associated with neoliberalism) that there are common global pressures, and that successful producers in the same industry pursue similar strategies regardless of where they are located. The first part also shows, however, that even as producers located in different contexts pursue remarkably similar kinds of strategies, they do so in different ways. Globalization does not produce convergence. There are many different ways to do the same (or similar) things.
The second part of Manufacturing Possibilities shifts attention from a historical narrative about the evolution of a single industry since the middle of the last century, to a more contemporary focus. It focuses on a single industrial phenomenon: a global trend within manufacturing toward vertical disintegration. Chapters 4 and 5 lay out the general characteristics of the contemporary global trend: its distinctive impact on the organization of production, on the location of production, on supply chain relations, and on producer strategies in product markets. These chapters are broadly comparative and seek to illustrate the dynamics of vertical disintegration—or what Chapter 5 calls disintegrated production—with examples from across the developed and developing world. Chapters 6 and 7 invert the focus of Chapters 4 and 5. That is, rather than looking at the general characteristics of disintegrated production, the chapters examine the way in which those general trends are working themselves out in the specific (and different) relational and institutional contexts of the US and German political economies. Chapter 6 shows how producers in both the United States and Germany are adopting similar strategies and organizational techniques in the supply chain. Yet, they are doing so in ways that reflect the distinctive practical and resource inheritance of each location. Chapter 7 then turns to a case study of industrial relations reform in Germany in an effort to explore how trends toward disintegration are provoking reform of basic governing arrangements in advanced political economies.
Theoretically, the Manufacturing Possibilities marks a departure from both neoliberal economic and historical institutionalist perspectives on change in advanced political economies. It characterizes industrial change as a creative, bottom up, process driven by reflective social actors. The argument involves two distinctive claims. The first is that action is social, reflective and ultimately creative. When their interactive habits are disrupted, industrial actors seek to repair their relations by reconceiving them. Such imaginative interaction redefines interest and causes unforeseen possibilities for action to emerge, enabling actors to trump existing rules and constraints. Second, industrial change driven by creative action is recompositional. In the social process of reflection, actors rearrange, modify, reconceive and reposition inherited organizational forms and governance mechanisms as they experiment with solutions to the challenges that they face. Continuity in relations is interwoven with continuous reform and change. Most remarkably, creativity in the recomposition process makes the introduction of entirely new practices and relations possible.
Ultimately, the message of Manufacturing Possibilities is that social study of change in advanced political economies should devote itself to the discovery of possibility. Preoccupation with constraint and failure to appreciate the capaciousness of reflective social action has led much of contemporary debate to misrecognize the dynamics of change. As a result, discussion of the range of adjustment possibilities has been unnecessarily limited.
Edited Books/Journal Special Issues
While engaging in the above projects, I have written many articles, some of which are available on this website, and all of which may be found referenced on my CV. I have also co-edited one book and one special issue of the business history journal, Enterprise and Society.
The co-edited book was done together with Jonathan Zeitlin (then of the University of Wisconsin). It was entitled Americanization and its Limits: Reworking Management and Technology in Europe and Japan after World War II, (Oxford University Press, 2000). Essays in this book analyzed the diffusion and selective adaptation of American management and technologies in Europe and Japan in the twenty years after World War II. My own essay looked at the reconstitution of the Steel Industry in Germany and Japan under US occupation in an effort to understand the interpenetration of ideas of industrial governance and organization with contending conceptions of democracy and political order.
The special issue of Enterprise and Society, which appeared in September 2007, highlights a new wave of historical scholarship on the matter of corporate governance in the US, Britain, Japan, France and Germany. My own introductory essay in this issue focused on the surprising heterogeneity of governance forms within national economies. Much of the literature on comparative governance tends to group national economies under unitary types, yet the new emerging historical literature shows that country experiences are far from unitary-different forms of governance often exist within the same country simultaneously. This is even more the case over time.