The emerging concept of lean construction is considered from an overtly critical perspective. It is contended that the current debate is based on a highly selective interpretation of the available literature. The extent to which methods of lean production are applicable beyond the Japanese context remains hotly debated. An extensive body of critical opinion argues that the application of lean methods depends upon the hegemony of management over labour. Whilst the lean rhetoric of flexibility, quality and teamwork is persuasive, critical observers claim that it translates in practice to control, exploitation and surveillance. The accepted research agenda for lean construction is primarily confined to the limited domain of instrumental rationality. Little attention has been directed at the externalities that lie beyond narrow definitions of technical efficiency. In this respect, the activities of construction researchers are seemingly shaped and controlled by the prevailing ideology of neoliberalism. The funding agencies continually exert an insidious pressure to generate outputs that are ‘relevant’ to the needs of industry. The result is an inevitable conservatism whereby the only research that is valued is that which preserves the status quo. This widespread failure to challenge the propaganda that shapes and controls the research community serves to dis-empower the workforce and erode the industry’s intellectual capital. Industry and society at large are becoming increasingly impoverished as dogma triumphs over thoughtfulness.
Lean construction, human resource management, total quality management, critical theory, customer responsiveness, technocratic totalitarianism.