This chapter explores participation at work, beginning in the 1940s in America, with the earliest experiments in worker participation conducted by students of Kurt Lewin. At the heart of this story of participation is a single experiment in which women who worked in a pajama factory were given the chance to be directly involved in the design, execution, measurement and pay rate of their jobs; they experienced, fleetingly and intensively, something we might today refer to as “collaborative innovation.” The experiment became a canonical (and contested) example of how participation improves productivity. The beginning of the chapter explores how Kurt Lewin’s “social climates” were used to create the idea of a “dyadic” notion of participation that takes groups as a fundamental unit of participation. The middle part of the chapter explores the grammar of participation—from the enthusiastic creation of a “participative management” by social psychologists and management theorists in the 1950s to the critiques of cooptation by Unions and others. The latter part of the chapter opens the question: what did the women in the Marion plant “experience” by participating?
Keywords: labor, participative management, Kurt Lewin, worker participation, labor unions, resistance to change, motivation, job enrichment, contributory autonomy