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Does Quality Admit Dialogue? A Critical Analysis of Total Quality

Fernando Guilherme Tenório

The acritical setting into motion of contemporary technical and managerial innovations by public or private managers is discussed herein, contrasting the total quality paradigm - a technique which has monopolised the attention of administrators in recent years - with Martin Buber’s assumptions regarding a dialogue, or exchange, devoid of intermediation.

Keeping up to date is a major concern for both the business and the public sectors. Thus, efforts are made to adopt conceptual or technical and management innovations which may improve the rationality of production processes. However, this concern is apparently not accompanied by a critical analysis regarding the validity of such innovation.

We must acknowledge the existence of numerous management techniques from Taylor to the present time. In this document, however, the conceptual assumptions of Martin Buber are compared with one of the paradigms currently most in vogue, which is total quality management. Total quality management may be deemed a form of management characterised by the intentionality of the globalising interaction of the various resources that comprise the production process in order to meet the consumer’s needs.

This paper is developed in three parts. The first part identifies Martin Buber’s terminology for explaining his conceptual assumptions regarding the possibilities for dialogue. The second part studies the assumptions established by total quality management as indicative of the promotion of interaction among social actors within organisations. The third part presents the conclusions arrived at from a comparison of Buber’s social philosophy and total quality tenets.

Despite the fact that quality and the possibilities for dialogue are a pair of opposing concepts, this does not mean that total quality, as a management philosophy, does not provide substantial advances for work organisation. The very fact that it departs from Taylor’s individualism and fosters the employee’s expression of his formal or tacit knowledge, mobilising workers to participate, may produce an improvement in communications within the company, thus favouring the development of a more democratic management.

The question posed is that of knowing to what extent democratisation can truly be achieved in labour relations within oreganisations, and whether the existing management culture is able to give up some of its power in favour of lower echelons. In this regard, we must point out that the current management culture is authoritarian, centred on the worker’s tasks rather that on the whole of the work process.

To represent that by means of its techniques, total quality allows for dialogue within the company is a contradiction in terms, which expresses an acritical adoption of its concepts. The worker is not merely a spot in the spatial and temporal network of the universe; he is much more than that: he is a man, an ordinary and irreplaceable creature.

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