Archiv für Sozialgeschichte
Band XLIII/ 2003 - Summaries

Ruth Rosenberger,

Democratisation through Scientification? Personnel Experts in Firms as the Force Behind the Changes in the Social Order of West German Companies

At the beginning of the 1970s, in the context of the reorganisation of West German companies, specialised personnel departments were set up, whereby social science experts - industrial psychologists and personnel experts - obtained their own, independent site in the corporate social space of the companies. What were the resulting changes that took place within the companies, what were their concrete effects and who were the main protagonists? - These are the central questions of this essay. Its starting point is the common thesis of the "democratisation of labour relations" in the Federal Republic. This thesis is to be examined by analysing the social scientific procedures, through which the corporate social relationships between supervisors and employees were supposed to be organised. Of particular interest here are the structural policy implications and their effect in and upon the social space of the firm. In conclusion, it can thus be shown that the integration of social science experts into West German companies was certainly a reaction to public demands for more participation, transparency, etc. All the same, what happened here was not primarily a democratisation but a "scientification" process. This process could potentially have contributed to a democratisation of the company's social order; this, however, was prevented not least by personnel experts with close links to the employers, who continued to employ holistic categories such as "leadership personality" and "community". The most extensive change, to which personnel experts in firms contributed in an important way, was the implementation of a "co-operative approach to leadership". This new model of social relationships within companies set new standards for how executives should interact with their employees; at the same time, however, it perpetuated the traditional concept of a hierarchically organised pyramid. Scientific personnel measures did thus not contribute to the democratisation of corporate social order. At best, they created the preconditions for a liberalisation of social manners within the companies.


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