C. Wright Mills,

White Collar:

The American Middle Classes


N.B. Paragraph numbers provided are not part of the original document.

Excerpts from the original digitized document  at Internet Archive.


{1} The white-collar people slipped quietly into modern society. Whatever history they have had is a history without events; whatever common interests they have do not lead to unity; whatever future they have will not be of their own making. If they aspire at all it is to a middle course, at a time when no middle course is available, and hence to an illusory course in an imaginary society. Internally, they are split, fragmented; externally, they are dependent on larger forces. Even if they gained the will to act, their actions, being unorganized, would be less a movement than a tangle of unconnected contests. As a group, they do not threaten anyone; as individuals, they do not practice an independent way of life. So before an adequate idea of them could be formed, they have been taken for granted as familiar actors of the urban mass.

{2} Yet it is to this white-collar world that one must look for much that is characteristic of twentieth-century existence. By their rise to numerical importance, the white-collar people have upset the nineteenth-century expectation that society would be divided between entrepreneurs and wage workers. By their mass way of life, they have transformed the tang and feel of the American experience. They carry, in a most revealing way, many of those psychological themes that characterize our epoch, and, in one way or another, every general theory of the main drift has had to take account of them. For above all else they are a new cast of actors, performing the major routines of twentieth-century society:

{3} At the top of the white-collar world, the old captain of industry hands over his tasks to the manager of the corporation. Alongside the politician, with his string tie and ready tongue, the salaried bureaucrat, with brief case and slide rule, rises into political view. These top managers now command hierarchies of anonymous middle managers, floorwalkers, salaried foremen, county agents, federal inspectors, and police investigators trained in the law.

{4} In the established professions, the doctor, lawyer, engineer, once was free and named on his own shingle; in the new white-collar world, the salaried specialists of the clinic, the junior partners in the law factory, the captive engineers of the corporation have begun to challenge free professional leadership. The old professions of medicine and law are still at the top of the professional world, but now all around them are men and women of new skills. There are a dozen kinds of social engineers and mechanical technicians, a multitude of girl Fridays, laboratory assistants, registered and unregistered nurses, draftsmen, statisticians, social workers.

{5} In the salesrooms, which sometimes seem to coincide with the new society as a whole, are the stationary salesgirls in the department store, the mobile salesmen of insurance, the absentee salesmen - - ad-men helping others sell from a distance. At the top are the prima donnas, the vice presidents who say that they are 'merely salesmen, although perhaps a little more creative than others,' and at the bottom, the five-and-dime clerks, selling commodities at a fixed price, hoping soon to leave the job for marriage.

{6} In the enormous file of the office, in all the calculating rooms, accountants and purchasing agents replace the man who did his own figuring. And in the lower reaches of the white-collar world, ofiice operatives grind along, loading and emptying the filing system; there are private secretaries and typists, entry clerks, billing clerks, corresponding clerks - - a thousand kinds of clerks; the operators of light machinery, comptometers, dictaphones, addressographs; and the receptionists to let you in or keep you out.

* * *

{7} Images of white-collar types are now part of the literature of every major industrial nation: Hans Fallada presented the Pinnebergs to pre-Hitler Germany. Johannes Pinneberg, a book-keeper trapped by inflation, depression, and wife with child, ends up in the economic gutter, with no answer to the question, 'Little Man, What Now?' - - except support by a genuinely proletarian wife. . . . George Orwell's Mr. Bowling, a salesman in Coming Up for Air, speaks for them all, perhaps, when he says: 'There's a lot of rot talked about the sufferings of the working class. I'm not so sorry for the proles myself. . . The prole suffers physically, but he's a free man when he isn't working. But in every one of those little stucco boxes there's some poor bastard who's never free except when he's fast asleep and dreaming that he's got the boss down the bottom of a well and is bunging lumps of coal at him. Of course the basic trouble with people like us is that we all imagine we've got something to lose.'

{8} Kitty Foyle is perhaps the closest American counterpart of these European novels. But how different its heroine is! In America, unlike Europe, the fate of white-collar types is not yet clear. A modernized Horatio Alger heroine, Kitty Foyle (like Alice Adams before her) has aspirations up the Main Line. The book ends, in a depression year, with Kitty earning $3000 a year, about to buy stock in her firm, and hesitating over marrying a doctor who happens to be a Jew. While Herr Pinneberg in Germany was finding out, too late, that his proletarian wife was at once his life fate and his political chance, Kitty Foyle was busy pursuing an American career in the cosmetics business. But twenty-five years later, during the American postwar boom Willy Loman appears, the hero of The Death of a Salesman, the white-collar man who by the very virtue of his moderate success in business turns out to be a total failure in life. Frederic Wertham has written of Willy Loman's dream: 'He succeeds with it; he fails with it; he dies with it. But why did he have this dream? Isn't it true that he had to have a false dream in our society?'

{9} The nineteenth-century farmer and businessman were generally thought to be stalwart individuals - - their own men, men who could quickly grow to be almost as big as anyone else. The twentieth-century white-collar man has never been independent as the farmer used to be, nor as hopeful of the main chance as the businessman. He is always somebody's man, the corporation's, the government's, the army's; and he is seen as the man who does not rise. The decline of the free entrepreneur and the rise of the dependent employee on the American scene has paralleled the decline of the independent individual and the rise of the little man in the American mind.

{10} In a world crowded with big ugly forces, the white-collar man is readily assumed to possess all the supposed virtues of the small creature. He may be at the bottom of the social world, but he is, at the same time, gratifyingly middle class. It is easy as well as safe to sympathize with his troubles; he can do little or nothing about them. Other social actors threaten to become big and aggressive, to act out of selfish interests and deal in politics. The big businessman continues his big-business-as-usual through the normal rhythm of slump and war and boom; the big labor man, lifting his shaggy eyebrows, holds up the nation until his demands are met; the big farmer cultivates the Senate to see that big farmers get theirs. But not the white-collar man. He is more often pitiful than tragic, as he is seen collectively, fighting impersonal inflation, living out in slow misery his yearning for the quick American climb. He is pushed by forces beyond his control, pulled into movements he does not understand; he gets into situations in which his is the most helpless position. The white-collar man is the hero as victim, the small creature who is acted upon but who does not act, who works along unnoticed in somebody's office or store, never talking loud, never talking back, never taking a stand.

{11} When the focus shifts from the generalized Little Man to specific white-collar types whom the public encounters, the images become diverse and often unsympathetic. Sympathy itself often carries a sharp patronizing edge; the word 'clerk,' for example, is likely to be preceded by 'merely.' Who talks willingly to the insurance agent, opens the door to the bill collector? 'Everybody knows how rude and nasty salesgirls can be.' Schoolteachers are standard subjects for businessmen's jokes. The housewife's opinion of private secretaries is not often friendly - - indeed, much of white-collar fiction capitalizes on her hostility to 'the office wife.' These are images of specific white-collar types seen from above. But from below, for two generations sons and daughters of the poor have looked forward eagerly to becoming even 'mere' clerks. Parents have sacrificed to have even one child finish high school, business school, or college so that he could be the assistant to the executive, do the filing, type the letter, teach school, work in the government office, do something requiring technical skills: hold a white-collar job. In serious literature white-collar images are often subjects for lamentation; in popular writing they are often targets of aspiration.

* * *

{12} Images of American types have not been built carefully by piecing together live experience. Here, as elsewhere, they have been made up out of tradition and schoolbook and the early, easy drift of the unalerted mind. And they have been reinforced and even created, especially in white-collar times, by the editorial machinery of popular amusement and mass communications.

{13} Manipulations by professional image-makers are effective because their audiences do not or cannot know personally all the people they want to talk about or be like, and because they have an unconscious need to believe in certain types. In their need and inexperience, such audiences snatch and hold to the glimpses of types that are frozen into the language with which they see the world. Even when they meet the people behind the types face to face, previous images, linked deeply with feeling, blind them to what stands before them. Experience is trapped by false images, even as reality itself sometimes seems to imitate the soap opera and the publicity release.

{14} Perhaps the most cherished national images are sentimental versions of historical types that no longer exist, if indeed they ever did. Underpinning many standard images of The American is the myth, in the words of the eminent historian, A. M. Schlesinger, Sr., of the 'long tutelage to the soil' which, as 'the chief formative influence,' results in 'courage, creative energy and resourcefulness. . .' According to this idea, which clearly bears a nineteenth-century trademark. The American possesses magical independence, homely ingenuity, great capacity for work, all of which virtues he attained while strugghng to subdue the vast continent.

{15} One hundred years ago, when three-fourths of the people were farmers, there may have been some justification for engraving such an image and calling it The American. But since then, farmers have declined to scarcely more than one-tenth of the occupied populace, and new classes of salaried employees and wage-workers have risen. Deep-going historic changes resulting in wide diversities have long challenged the nationalistic historian who would cling to The American as a single type of ingenious farmer-artisan. In so far as universals can be found in life and character in America, they are due less to any common tutelage of the soil than to the leveling influences of urban civilization, and above all, to the standardization of the big technology and of the media of mass communication.

{16} America is neither the nation of horse-traders and master builders of economic theory, nor the nation of go-getting, claim-jumping, cattle-rustling pioneers of frontier mythology. Nor have the traits rightly or wrongly associated with such historic types carried over into the contemporary population to any noticeable degree. Only a fraction of this population consists of free private enterprisers in any economic sense; there are now four times as many wage-workers and salary workers as independent entrepreneurs. . . .

{17} By examining white-collar life, it is possible to learn something about what is becoming more typically 'American' than the frontier character probably ever was. What must be grasped is the picture of society as a great salesroom, an enormous file, an incorporated brain, a new universe of management and manipulation. By understanding these diverse white-collar worlds, one can also understand better the shape and meaning of modem society as a whole, as well as the simple hopes and complex anxieties that grip all the people who are sweating it out in the middle of the twentieth century.

* * *

{18} The troubles that confront the white-collar people are the troubles of all men and women living in the twentieth century. If these troubles seem particularly bitter to the new middle strata, perhaps that is because for a brief time these people felt themselves immune to troubles.

{19} Before the First World War there were fewer little men, and in their brief monopoly of high-school education they were in fact protected from many of the sharper edges of the workings of capitalist progress. They were free to entertain deep illusions about their individual abilities and about the collective trustworthiness of the system. As their number has grown, however, they have become increasingly subject to wage-worker conditions. Especially since the Great Depression have white-collar people come up against all the old problems of capitalist society. They have been racked by slump and war and even by boom. They have learned about impersonal unemployment in depressions and about impersonal death by technological violence in war. And in good times, as prices rose faster than salaries, the money they thought they were making was silently taken away from them.

{20} The material hardship of nineteenth-century industrial workers finds its parallel on the psychological level among twentieth-century white-collar employees. The new Little Man seems to have no firm roots, no sure loyalties to sustain his life and give it a center. He is not aware of having any history, his past being as brief as it is unheroic; he has lived through no golden age he can recall in time of trouble. Perhaps because he does not know where he is going, he is in a frantic hurry; perhaps because he does not know what frightens him, he is paralyzed with fear. This is especially a feature of his political life, where the paralysis results in the most profound apathy of modern times. . . .

{21} In the case of the white-collar man, the alienation of the wage-worker from the products of his work is carried one step nearer to its Kafka-like completion. The salaried employee does not make anything, although he may handle much that he greatly desires but cannot have. No product of craftsmanship can be his to contemplate with pleasure as it is being created and after it is made. Being alienated from any product of his labor, and going year after year through the same paper routine, he turns his leisure all the more frenziedly to the ersatz diversion that is sold him, and partakes of the synthetic excitement that neither eases nor releases. He is bored at work and restless at play, and this terrible alternation wears him out.

{22} In his work he often clashes with customer and superior, and must almost always be the standardized loser: he must smile and be personable, standing behind the counter, or waiting in the outer office. In many strata of white-collar employment, such traits as courtesy, helpfulness, and kindness, once intimate, are now part of the impersonal means of livelihood. Self-alienation is thus an accompaniment of his alienated labor.

{23} When white-collar people get jobs, they sell not only their time and energy but their personalities as well. They sell by the week or month their smiles and their kindly gestures, and they must practice the prompt repression of resentment and aggression. For these intimate traits are of commercial relevance and required for the more efficient and profitable distribution of goods and services. Here are the new little Machiavellians, practicing their personable crafts for hire and for the profit of others, according to rules laid down by those above them.

{24} In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, rationalty was identified with freedom. The ideas of Freud about the individual, and of Marx about society, were strengthened by the assumption of the coincidence of freedom and rationality. Now rationality seems to have taken on a new form, to have its seat not in individual men, but in social institutions which by their bureaucratic planning and mathematical foresight usurp both freedom and rationality from the little individual men caught in them. The calculating hierarchies of department store and industrial corporation, of rationalized office and governmental bureau, lay out the gray ways of work and stereotype the permitted initiatives. And in all this bureaucratic usurpation of freedom and of rationality, the white-collar people are the interchangeable parts of the big chains of authority that bind the society together.

{25} White-collar people, always visible but rarely seen, are politically voiceless. Stray politicians wandering in the political arena without party may put 'white collar' people alongside businessmen, farmers, and wage-workers in their broadside appeals, but no platform of either major party has yet referred to them directly. Who fears the clerk? . . .

{26} Between the little man's consciousness and the issues of our epoch there seems to be a veil of indifference. His will seems numbed, his spirit meager. Other men of other strata are also politically indifferent, but electoral victories are imputed to them; they do have tireless pressure groups and excited captains who work in and around the hubs of power, to whom, it may be imagined, they have delegated their enthusiasm for public affairs. But white-collar people are scattered along the rims of all the wheels of power: no one is enthusiastic about them and, like political eunuchs, they themselves are without potency and without enthusiasm for the urgent political clash.

{27} Estranged from community and society in a context of distrust and manipulation; alienated from work and, on the personality market, from self; expropriated of individual rationality, and politically apathetic - - these are the new little people, the unwilling vanguard of modern society. These are some of the circumstances for the acceptance of which their hopeful training has quite unprepared them.

* * *

{28} What men are interested in is not always what is to their interest; the troubles they are aware of are not always the ones that beset them. It would indeed be a fetish of 'democracy' to assume that men immediately know their interests and are clearly aware of the conditions within themselves and their society that frustrate them and make their efforts misfire. For interests involve not only values felt, but also something of the means by which these values might be attained. Merely by looking into himself, an individual can neither clarify his values nor set up ways for their attainment. Increased awareness is not enough, for it is not only that men can be unconscious of their situations; they are often falsely conscious of them. To become more truly conscious, white-collar people would have to become aware of themselves as members of new strata practicing new modes of work and life in modern America. To know what it is possible to know about their troubles, they would have to connect, within the going framework, what they are interested in with what is to their interest.

{29} If only because of its growing numbers, the new middle class represents a considerable social and political potential, yet there is more systematic information available on the farmer, the wage-worker, the Negro, even on the criminal, than on the men and women of the variegated white-collar worlds. Even the United States census is now so arranged as to make very difficult a definitive count of these people. Meanwhile, theorizing about the middle class on the basis of old facts has run to seed, and no fresh plots of fact have been planted. Yet the human and political importance of the white-collar people continues to loom larger and larger.

{30} Liberalism's ideal was set forth for the domain of small property; Marxism's projection, for that of unalienated labor. Now when labor is everywhere alienated and small property no longer an anchor of freedom or security, both these philosophies can characterize modern society only negatively; neither can articulate new developments in their own terms. We must accuse both John Stuart Mill and Karl Marx of having done their work a hundred years ago. What has happened since then cannot be adequately described as the destruction of the nineteenth-century world; by now, the outlines of a new society have arisen around us, a society anchored in institutions the nineteenth century did not know. The general idea of the new middle class, in all its vagueness but also in all its ramifications, is an attempt to grasp these new developments of social structure and human character.

{31} In terms of social philosophy, this book is written on the assumption that the liberal ethos, as developed in the first two decades of this century by such men as Beard, Dewey, Holmes, is now often irrelevant, and that the Marxian view, popular in the American 'thirties, is now often inadequate. However important and suggestive they may be as beginning points, and both are that, they do not enable us to understand what is essential to our time.

{32} We need to characterize American society of the mid-twentieth century in more psychological terms, for now the problems that concern us most border on the psychiatric. It is one great task of social studies today to describe the larger economic and political situation in terms of its meaning for the inner life and the external career of the individual, and in doing this to take into account how the individual often becomes falsely conscious and blinded. In the welter of the individual's daily experience the framework of modern society must be sought; within that framework the psychology of the little man must be formulated.

{33} The first lesson of modern sociology is that the individual cannot understand his own experience or gauge his own fate without locating himself within the trends of his epoch and the hfe-chances of all the individuals of his social layer. To understand the white-collar people in detail, it is necessary to draw at least a rough sketch of the social structure of which they are a part. For the character of any stratum consists in large part of its relations, or lack of them, with the strata above and below it; its peculiarities can best be defined by noting its differences from other strata. The situation of the new middle class, reflecting conditions and styles of life that are borne by elements of both the new lower and the new upper classes, may be seen as symptom and symbol of modern society as a whole.

Chapter 8: The Great Salesroom

Section 6: The Personality Market

{34} In the world of the small entrepreneur, men sold goods to one another; in the new society of employees, they first of all sell their services. The employer of manual services buys the workers' labor, energy, and skill; the employer of many white-collar services, especially salesmanship, also buys the employees' social personalities. Working for wages with another's industrial property involves a sacrifice of time, power, and energy to the employer; working as a salaried employee often involves in addition the sacrifice of one's self to a multitude of 'consumers' or clients or managers. The relevance of personality traits to the often monotonous tasks at hand is a major source of 'occupational disability,' and requires that in any theory of 'increasing misery' attention be paid to the psychological aspects of white-collar work.

{35} In a society of employees, dominated by the marketing mentality, it is inevitable that a personality market should arise. For in the great shift from manual skills to the art of 'handling,' selling, and servicing people, personal or even intimate traits of the employee are drawn into the sphere of exchange and become of commercial relevance, become commodities in the labor market. Whenever there is a transfer of control over one individual's personal traits to another for a price, a sale of those traits which affect one's impressions upon others, a personality market arises.

{36} The shift from skills with things to skills with persons; from small, informal, to large, organized firms; and from the intimate local markets to the large anonymous market of the metropolitan area - - these have had profound psychological results in the white-collar ranks.

{37} One knows the salesclerk not as a person but as a commercial mask, a stereotyped greeting and appreciation for patronage; one need not be kind to the modern laundryman, one need only pay him; he, in turn, needs only to be cheerful and efficient. Kindness and friendliness become aspects of personalized service or of public relations of big firms, rationalized to further the sale of something. With anonymous insincerity the Successful Person thus makes an instrument of his own appearance and personality. . . .

{38} The expansion of distribution, the declining proportion of small independent merchants, and the rise of anonymous urban markets mean that more and more people are in this position. Salespeople in large stores are of course under rules and regulations that stereotype their relations with the customer. The sales-person can only display pre-priced goods and persuade the acceptance of them. In this task she uses her 'personality.' She must remember that she 'represents' the 'management'; and loyalty to that anonymous organization requires that she be friendly, helpful, tactful, and courteous at all times. One of the floorwalker's tasks is to keep the clerks friendly, and most large stores employ 'personnel shoppers' who check up and make reports on clerks' 'personality.'

{39} Many salesgirls are quite aware of the difference between what they really think of the customer and how they must act toward her. The smile behind the counter is a commercialized lure. Neglect of personal appearance on the part of the employee is a form of carelessness on the part of the business management. 'Self-control' pays off. 'Sincerity' is detrimental to one's job, until the rules of salesmanship and business become a 'genuine' aspect of oneself. Tact is a series of little lies about one's feelings, until one is emptied of such feelings. 'Dignity' may be used only to make a customer feel that she shouldn't ask the price too soon or fail to buy the wares. Dixon Wector, who writes that 'It has justly been remarked that the filling station attendant has done more to raise the standard of courtesy en masse in the United States than all the manuals of etiquette,' does not see that this is an impersonal ceremonial, having little to do psychologically with old-fashioned 'feeling for another.'

{40} In the formulas of 'personnel experts,' men and women are to be shaped into the 'well-rounded, acceptable, effective personality.' Just like small proprietors, the model sales employees compete with one another in terms of services and 'personality'; but unlike proprietors, they cannot higgle over prices, which are fixed, or 'judge the market' and accordingly buy wisely. Experts judge the market and specialists buy the commodities. The salesgirl cannot form her character by promotional calculations and self-management, like the classic heroes of liberalism or the new entrepreneurs. The one area of her occupational life in which she might be 'free to act,' the area of her own personality, must now also be managed, must become the alert yet obsequious instrument by which goods are distributed.

{41} In the normal course of her work, because her personality becomes the instrument of an alien purpose, the salesgirl becomes self-alienated. In one large department store, a planted observer said of one girl: 'I have been watching her for three days now. She wears a fixed smile on her made-up face, and it never varies, no matter to whom she speaks. I never heard her laugh spontaneously or naturally. Either she is frowning or her face is devoid of any expression. When a customer approaches, she immediately assumes her hard, forced smile. It amazes me because, although I know that the smiles of most salesgirls are unreal, I've never seen such calculation given to the timing of a smile. I myself tried to copy such an expression, but I am unable to keep such a smile on my face if it is not sincerely and genuinely motivated.'

{42} The personality market is subject to the laws of supply and demand: when a 'seller's market' exists and labor is hard to buy, the well-earned aggressions of the salespeople come out and jeopardize the good will of the buying public. When there is a 'buyer's market' and jobs are hard to get, the salespeople must again practice politeness. Thus, as in an older epoch of capitalism, the laws of supply and demand continue to regulate the intimate life-fate of the individual and the kind of personality he may develop and display.

* * *

{43} . . .Employers again and again demand the selection of men with personality. A survey of employment offices made by a university indicated that 'the college graduate with a good personality . . . will have the best chance of being hired by business. . . Moreover, personality will be more important than high grades for all positions except those in technical and scientific fields.' The traits considered most important in the personnel literature are: 'ability to get along with people and to work co-operatively with them, ability to meet and talk to people easily, and attractiveness in appearance.'

{44} In the literature of vocational guidance, personality often actually replaces skill as a requirement: a personable appearance is emphasized as being more important in success and advancement than experience or skill or intelligence. 'In hiring girls to sell neckwear, personal appearance is considered to outweigh previous experience.' 'Personality pays dividends that neither hard work nor sheer intelligence alone can earn for the average man.' In a recent study of graduates of Purdue University, 'better intelligence paid only $150.00 a year bonuses, while personality paid more than six times that much in return for the same period and with the same men.'

{45} The business with a personality market becomes a training place for people with more effective personalities. Hundreds of white-collar people in the Schenley Distillers Corporation, for example, took a personality course in order to learn 'greater friendliness . . . and warmer courtesy . . . and genuine interest in helping the caller at the reception desk.' As demand increases, public schools add courses that attempt to meet the business demand 'for workers with a pleasant manner.' Since business leaders hold that 'a far greater percentage of personnel lose their jobs because of personality difficulties than because of inefficiency,' the course features 'training in attitudes of courtesy, thoughtfulness and friendliness; skills of voice control . . .' et cetera. In Milwaukee, a 'Charm School' was recently set up for city employees to teach them in eight one-hour classes 'the art of pleasant, courteous, prompt and efficient service.' Every 'step in every public contact' is gone into and the employees are taught how to greet and listen to people.

{46} Elaborate institutional sets-ups thus rationally attempt to prepare people for the personality market and sustain them in their attempt to compete on it successfully. And from the areas of salesmanship proper, the requirements of the personality market have diffused as a style of life. What began as the public and commercial relations of business have become deeply personal: there is a public-relations aspect to private relations of all sorts, including even relations with oneself. The new ways are diffused by charm and success schools and by best-seller literature. The sales personality, built and maintained for operation on the personality market, has become a dominating type, a pervasive model for imitation for masses of people, in and out of selling. The literature of self-improvement has generalized the traits and tactics of salesmanship for the population at large. In this literature all men can be leaders. The poor and the unsuccessful simply do not exist, except by an untoward act of their own will. . . .

Chapter 9: The Enormous File

{47} As skyscrapers replace rows of small shops, so offices replace free markets. Each office within the skyscraper is a segment of the enormous file, a part of the symbol factory that produces the billion slips of paper that gear modern society into its daily shape. From the executive's suite to the factory yard, the paper webwork is spun; a thousand rules you never made and don't know about are applied to you by a thousand people you have not met and never will. The office is the Unseen Hand become visible as a row of clerks and a set of IBM equipment, a pool of dictaphone transcribers, and sixty receptionists confronting the elevators, one above the other, on each floor.

* * *

{48} The office is also a place of work. In the morning irregular rows of people enter the skyscraper monument to the office culture. During the day they do their little part of the business system, the government system, the war-system, the money-system, co-ordinating the machinery, commanding each other, persuading the people of other worlds, recording the activities that make up the nation's day of work. They transmit the printed culture to the next day's generation. And at night, after the people leave the skyscrapers, the streets are empty and inert, and the hand is unseen again.

{49} The office may be only a bundle of papers in a satchel in the back of somebody's car; or it may be a block square, each floor a set of glass rabbit warrens, the whole a headquarters for a nation-wide organization of other offices, as well as plants and mines and even farms. It may be attached to one department, division, or unit, tying it to another office which acts as the command post for all the offices in the enterprise as a whole. And some enterprises, near the administrative centers of the economic file, are nothing more than offices.

{50} But, however big or little and whatever the shape, the minimum function of an office is to direct and co-ordinate the activities of an enterprise. For every business enterprise, every factory, is tied to some office and, by virtue of what happens there, is linked to other businesses and to the rest of the people. Scattered throughout the political economy, each office is the peak of a pyramid of work and money and decision.

{51} 'When we picture in our minds,' says an earnest assistant general manager, 'the possibility for absolute control over the multitude of individual clerical operations through a control of forms . . . the most important items . . . arteries through which the life blood flows. . . Every function of every man or woman in every department takes place by means of, or is ultimately recorded on, an office or plant form.'

Section 4: The New Office

{52} The modern office with its tens of thousands of square feet and its factory-like flow of work is not an informal, friendly place. The drag and beat of work, the 'production unit' tempo, require that time consumed by anything but business at hand be explained and apologized for. Dictation was once a private meeting of executive and secretary. Now the executive phones a pool of dictaphone transcribers whom he never sees and who know him merely as a voice. Many old types of personnel have become machine operators, many new types began as machine operators.

* * *

{53} I. The rise of the office manager, from a 'chief clerk' to a responsible executive reporting directly to the company treasurer or vice president, is an obvious index to the enlargement of offices and to the rise of the office as a centralized service division of the entire enterprise. It is under him that the factory-like office has been developing. Specializing as he does in the rational and efficient design and service of office functions, the office manager can obviously do a better job than a detached minor supervisor.

{54} The office manager had begun to appear in the larger companies by the late 'twenties. Many early office managers were 'detail men' holding other positions, perhaps in the accounting department, but at the same time 'handling' the office force. But as the office increased in importance and in costs, it grew into an autonomous unit and the office manager grew with it. He had to know the clerical work and the routing of all departments; he had to be able to design and to adapt to new administrative schemes and set-ups; he had to train new employees and re-train old ones. The all-company scope of his domain gave room for his knowledge and prestige to increase, or at least his claims for prestige vis a vis 'other department heads.' By 1929, about one-third of one large group of office managers came from non-office executive positions, whereas half worked up through the office, and some 17 per cent came up through other offices, so that one may assume the position already had a recognized status.

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{55} II. As office machinery is introduced, the number of routine jobs is increased, and consequently the proportion of 'positions requiring initiative' is decreased. 'Mechanization is resulting in a much clearer distinction between the managing staff and the operating staff,' observed the War Manpower Commission. 'Finger dexterity is often more important than creative thinking. Promotions consequently become relatively rare. . . Some large office managers actually prefer to hire girls who are content to remain simply clerks, who will attempt to rise no higher than their initial level.'

{56} As we compare the personnel of the new office with that of the old, it is the mass of clerical machine-operatives that immediately strikes us. They are the most factory-like operatives in the white-collar worlds. The period of time required to learn their skills seems steadily to decline; it must, in fact, if the expense of introducing machines and new standardized specializations is to be justified. For the key advantages of most mechanical and centralizing office devices are that, while they permit greater speed and accuracy, they also require cheaper labor per unit, less training, simpler specialization, and thus replaceable employees.

{57} These interchangeable clerks often punch a time clock, are not allowed to talk during working hours, and have no tenure of employment beyond a week or sometimes a month. They typically have no contact with supervisors except in the course of being supervised. In large ofiices these people are the major links in the system, but in their minds and in those of their managers, there is rarely any serious thought of learning the whole system and rising within it. Even in the middle 'twenties 88 per cent of the office managers questioned in one survey indicated that they definitely needed people 'who give little promise of rising to an executive status,' and 60 per cent stated that there was 'Very little opportunity' in their offices to learn, and hence rise, by apprenticeship.

{58} The rationalization of the office, on the one hand, attracts and creates a new mass of clerks and machine operators, and their work increasingly approximates the factory operative in light manufacturing. On the other hand, this new office requires the office manager, a specialized manager who operates the human machinery.

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{59} III. The bookkeeper has been grievously affected by the last half century of office change: his old central position is usurped by the office manager, and even the most experienced bookkeeper with pen and ink cannot compete with a high-school girl trained in three or four months to use a machine. It is like a pick and shovel against a power scoop.

{60} The bookkeeping or billing machine posts, enters, totals, and balances; from the accumulated postings control accounts are made up. And such a machine is a simple sort of apparatus, although it is still second only to the typewriter in offices today. Other new machines displace ten of the old, and their operatives, at one stroke. Just as the high-school girl with her machine has displaced the pen-and-ink bookkeeper, so the big new machines promise, in due course, to displace the high-school girl. At the top of the new 'bookkeeping' world are the professional accountants and electronic technicians. But their predominance on any practical scale is still largely to come. In the meantime, the stratum of older bookkeepers is demoted to the level of the clerical mass.

{61} 'When recruiting new employees for this operation,' says the manager of a bookkeeping operation in a large company, 'we seek girls about seventeen years minimum age, at least two years' high school or its equivalent, with no previous business experience and good personal qualifications. We prefer inexperienced girls and those who have some economic incentive to work as we have found they make the steadiest workers; so we select from our recruits what we classify as the semi-dependent or wholly dependent applicant. . .'

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{62} IV. The secretary has been the model of aspiration for most office girls. The typewriter has, of course, been the woman's machine, and in itself it has not led to factory-like effects. In and out of the office world, it has been a highly respectable machine. Its operator, equipped with stenographer's pad, has managed to borrow prestige from her close and private contact with the executive.

{63} The standard girl-hierarchy in offices has been formed around the typewriter in the following way: (1) The private secretary, as someone's confidential assistant, in many cases can actually act for him on many not always routine matters. She takes care of his appointments, his daily schedule, his check book - - is, in short, justifiably called his office wife. If her boss's office warrants it, she may even have stenographers and typists working for her. (2) The stenographer is a typist who also takes dictation. (3) The typist works only with the machine; because her work is a straight copying matter, her most important traits are speed and accuracy at the keyboard. Unlike the secretary, and to a lesser extent the stenographer, she is usually closely supervised.

{64} In the new, rationalized office, this hierarchy - - graded in income, skill, degree of supervision, and access to important persons - - has begun to break down. There is now a strong tendency to limit the number of secretaries; many $15,000-a-year executives do not have private secretaries and never see a shorthand stenographer. Instead they dictate to a machine, whose cylinders go to a pool of typists. Although this pooling of stenographic services took place in many big offices before dictaphone equipment was installed, usually the two went together. Systematic studies clearly revealed the wastefulness of individually assigned stenographers, the alternate periods of slack and of frenzy rather than a smooth and efficient flow.

{65} Since its beginnings in the 'twenties, the centralization of the stenographic operation has spread continuously, being limited only by size of office and inertia. The trend is for only the senior executives to have private secretaries and for both stenographers and typists to become pooled as transcribing typists. In one large insurance company's home office less than 2 per cent of the employees are assigned as secretaries to persons above the rank of Division Manager. The junior executive has his stenographer on his desk in a metal box, or may even dictate directly to the transcribing pool via inter-office telephone.

{66} The centralized transcribing pool has further advantages: for the 'poor dictator,' the machines allow adjustments in audibility; they eliminate over-time imposed by late afternoon dictation, and also the strain of reading hurriedly written notes. 'They hear it automatically and have only to punch the keys to get the results,' the managerial literature states. 'Girls with speed and accuracy' are what are wanted in the new office.

{67} The skill of shorthand becomes obsolete; the white-collar girl becomes almost immediately replaceable; work in offices becomes increasingly a blind-alley. The new white-collar girl cannot know intimately some segment of the office or business, and has lost the private contact that gave status to the secretary and even the stenographer. The work is regulated so that it can be speeded up and effectively supervised by non-executive personnel. In short, the prized white-collar spot for women is becoming more and more the job of a factory-like operative. By the early 'thirties, Amy Hewes was observing, 'The shadowy line between many . . . clerical tasks and unskilled factory occupations is becoming more and more imperceptible.'

{68} The new office is rationalized: machines are used, employees become machine attendants; the work, as in the factory, is collective, not individualized; it is standardized for interchangeable, quickly replaceable clerks; it is specialized to the point of automatization. The employee group is transformed into a uniform mass in a soundless place, and the day itself is regulated by an impersonal time schedule. Seeing the big stretch of office space, with rows of identical desks, one is reminded of Herman Melville's description of a nineteenth-century factory: 'At rows of blank-looking counters sat rows of blank-looking girls, with blank, white folders in their blank hands, all blankly folding blank paper.'

Section 5. The White-Collar Hierarchy

{69} . . . In the enormous file, smaller hierarchies fit into larger ones and are interlinked in a dozen ways. There is a formal line-up expressed by titles, and beneath these, further gradations in status and rank. Rank does not always correspond to skill or salary level; in general, it is expressed in the authority to give orders. . . .

{70} Status inside the hierarchy is not always in line with formal participation in management; a fictitious closeness to authority may bring prestige. Private secretaries, as well as other confidential assistants to managers, thus often stand out. Only in rare cases do they actively show or have authority, but their position requires close contact with authority and they handle and even help to shape its secrets. By inner identification, they often have a strong illusion of authority and, by outward manner, impress it on others. This is by no means discouraged by the managers, for the gap between the confidential employee and 'the girls' is a guarantee of loyalty, and moreover a reciprocal influence in the increased prestige of the managers themselves. . . .

{71} Titles and appurtenances, which are related in intricate ways to formal authority, are outward and crucial signs of status. To have a telephone on one's desk, to use one lavatory or another, to have one's name on the door or even on a placard on a desk all such items can and do form the content of the employee's conscious striving and hope. A great deal has been made of such distinctions. Carl Dreyfuss alleged that they form 'an artificial hierarchy' which is encouraged and exploited by the employer who does not wish solidarity. When many small gradations in status exist, the employee can more often experience the illusion of 'being somebody' and of ascending the scale.

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