Foundations of Social Science - Hawthorne Studies

Topics: Sociology, Hawthorne effect, Hawthorne Works Pages: 11 (3500 words) Published: April 6, 2013

“The Hawthorne Studies are often identified as the single most important piece of empirical industrial social science ever undertaken. To what extent would you agree with this appraisal?”

“There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere.” – Isaac Asimov. Science (from Latin scientia - knowledge) is most commonly defined as the investigation or study of nature through observation and reasoning, aimed at finding out the truth. Social Science can be considered to be the branch of science that studies society and the relationships of individual within a society. However, we are interested in seeing how Social Science can be applied in an organization. An organization is a system of two or more persons engaged in co-operative action, trying to reach a goal. The study of individuals and group dynamics in an organizational setting, as well as the nature of the organizations themselves is said to be organizational behavior. Like all social sciences, organizational behavior seeks to control, predict, and explain. (Wikipedia).

The exact date of when the Behavioral Science or Human Relations Movement came into being is difficult to identify; however, it was not until the second half of the nineteenth century that much attention was paid to workers’ needs, since prior to that time, most managers viewed workers as a device that could be bought and sold like any other possession, without realizing how their needs affect total worker productivity. Then, at the beginning of the twentieth century, Frederick Winslow Taylor introduced and developed the theory of Scientific Management. Its basis was technological in nature, emphasizing that the best way to increase output was to improve the methods used by the workers. It also emphasized the importance of the needs of the organization rather than the needs of the individual worker. Scientific Management was criticized on the grounds that it tended to exploit the workers more than it benefited them. Thus, in the 1920s and early 1930s, the trend started by Taylor was gradually replaced by the Behavioral Science Movement initiated by Elton Mayo and his associates through the famous Hawthorne Studies. (Bookrags)

The Human Relations Movement began with the Hawthorne Studies which were conducted from 1924 to 1933 at the Hawthorne Plant of the Western Electric Company in Cicero, Illinois. In November of 1924, the initial experiments began examining productivity improvements from a scientific management perspective, assessing the effect of physical factors. Later, Professor George Elton Mayo of the Harvard Business School was invited to bring a research team into the factory. Team members included Fritz Jules Roethlisberger and William J. Dickson. (Buchanan, D.A. & Huczynski, A. 2004).

Most commentators have seen Mayo as the conceptual designer and popularizer of the events, but he was both less and more than this. He was only one of the several interpreters of the experiments, and the experimental design was shaped by various practical and intellectual concerns. But he was also far more than a popularizer whose writings conveyed the excitement of the experiments to a diverse readership. He became the central figure in a complex network of Western Electric managers, Bell System executives, social scientists, industrial relations experts, business educators, and foundation officials. It was within this network that the interpretations of the experiments would be stabilized and then disseminated. (Gillespie, R. 1991).

The Hawthorne research revolutionized social science thinking. It demonstrated the important influence of human factors on worker productivity. The research proceeded through five phases: (1) The initial Illumination Studies (1924-1927); (2) the Relay-Assembly Room Studies (August 1928-March 1929); (3) the Mica-Splitting Test Group (October 1928-September...

Bibliography: as on 29.11.05
Ballantyne P.F, 2000, “Hawthorne Research”
Brown, J.A.C. (1986). The Social Psychology of Industry. London, England: Penguin Group.
Buchanan, D & Huczynski, A. (2004) Organizational Behavior: an introductory text. (5th Edition). Prentice Hall International, UK.
Gillespie, R. (1991). Manufacturing Knowledge: A History Of The Hawthorne Experiments. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Jones, S. R. G. (1992) ‘Was There a Hawthorne Effect?’ American Journal of Sociology. November, Vol.98 Issue 3, pp. 451-468.
Thompson, P. & D. McHugh. (2002). Work Organisations: A Critical Introduction. (3rd Edition). Palgrave.
Yunker, G. (1993) ‘An Explanation of Positive and Negative Hawthorne Effects: Evidence From The Relay Assembly Test Room And Bank Wiring Observation Room Studies’ Academy of Management Proceedings, pp. 170-183.
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