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Industrial society

  Industrial society (a society composed of industrielles, industrious workers), in political science and the social sciences, was a term first coined by the French socialist Saint-Simon. However, the prototype of the idea of industrial society was developed in the work of the Scottish political economists who distinguished ‘commercial society’ as the most advanced state of human history. Explicit recognition of the distinctiveness of industrial society, as compared with agrarian society (or feudalism) was widespread among the classical 19th-century sociologists (Herbert Spencer, Auguste Comte, Émile Durkheim, Max Weber and Karl Marx). Any distinct conception of industrial society is normally part of a philosophy of history in which industrial society is contrasted with its predecessors, tribal and agrarian societies.

The most distinctive feature of industrial society is that material production of goods and services is its outstanding social activity. Agriculture gives way to industry as the key source of employment and social stratification. Industrial societies are characterized by an extensive division of labour, historically unprecedented social and geographical mobility among their workforces, explosive urbanization, the breakdown of caste hierarchies in favour of egalitarianism (or at least ‘substitutability’ among workers), and the centrality of an impersonal and large-scale market or planning mechanism in organizing the production and exchange of goods and services. Industrial societies are also literate, and thereby, at least according to some social theorists, prone to democratization. Above all industrial societies are characterized by the systematic application of cognition, especially the natural sciences, to the organization of work and other social activities.

Theorists of industrial society agree that industrial society fundamentally shapes all economic, social and cultural relations, even if it does not determine them. They focus on five debates: (1) whether industrial societies are subject to breakdown and transformation through class conflict (as Marx hoped and Durkheim feared); (2) whether industrial societies are more militant, or warlike, than agrarian societies (the evidence of our century does not seem to favour Saint-Simon or Spencer\'s view that they are naturally pacific); (3) whether industrial society is naturally democratic or hierarchical; (4) whether all industrial societies (be they capitalist or communist) must converge on a single type; and (5) whether industrial societies are being displaced by a novel electronic, information-based, postindustrial (or postmodern) order, which some think is emerging in our own time, in which services displace industry, and the social class structure is considerably modified; others see these allegedly novel trends as merely the completion of the logic of industrial principles. BO\'L

See also capitalism; convergence theory; democracy; environmentalism; historical materialism; modernization; nationalism; mass society; urbanism/urbanization.Further reading R. Aron, Eighteen Lectures on Industrial Society; , E. Gellner, Plough, Sword and Book: the Structure of Human History.



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