I’ve been reading about Taylorism today and was struck by the parallels between the underlying impulse and the problem I’ve written about previously as the opaque subject. Much as the hoped for dissolution of the subject into pure transparency never comes, in spite of the expression of faith in what Mark Andrejevic calls visceral literacy, so too is there something elusive about the nature of the activity which time-and-motion studies seek to disaggregate.
The reality of the subject can never be subsumed under empirical observation of their behaviour. Improvements in the instruments hold out the promise of finally achieving this end but the subject retains a fundamental recalcitrance, resisting dissolution and challenging the investigators towards a further refinement of their instruments. Likewise time-and-motion studies seek to break an activity down into its component parts, disaggregating a unitary activity into a potentially rather numerous sequence of micro-tasks. But there’s always something missing. There can be efficiency benefits at scale because of the characteristics of (enforced) collective action but the disaggregated sequence of tasks can never be the equal of the unified activity. But this seemingly ineffable missing element might simply function as an inducement towards ever more refined disaggregation.
The common thread in both cases is empiricism. Or rather an observational criterion of existence i.e. what observes is what exists. If we instead adopt a causal criterion of existence, such that what makes a difference is what exists, these problems themselves dissolve.