Elton Mayo and the deification of human relations

Kyle Bruce*, Chris Nyland

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

123 Citations (Scopus)


Orthodoxy holds the emergence of the Human Relations 'school' in interwar America as a response to the alleged inhumanity and simplistic innovation the Scientific Management tradition was striving to develop within the workplace. This paper challenges this orthodoxy and argues that the Human Relations school was in fact a right-wing and decidedly undemocratic innovation that was developed in response to the demand from organized labour that workers be ceded an active and significant part in management decision making. Invoking actor-network theory and specifically Callon and Latour's sociology of 'translation' to organize our historical data, our primary objective is to explain how Mayo and the Human Relations school were able to translate the prevailing context and in so doing create a forum in which powerful actors came to agree that the Human Relations school was an innovation worth building and defending. Our central argument is that Human Relations school presented conservative business leaders such as John D. Rockefeller Jr with an innovation designed to enable them to both monopolize authority in the workplace and the wider community and justify this monopoly on the grounds that the minds of workers and citizens lacked the rationality required to participate in a significant manner in management decision making.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)383-405
Number of pages23
JournalOrganization Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2011


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