Industrial and Post-Industrial Societies


Compact Oxford English Dictionary suggests the following definitions of society: it is “the aggregate of people living together in a more or less ordered community; a particular community of people living in a country or region, and having shared customs, laws, and organizations” (Compact Oxford English Dictionary). There are many types of society that sociology recognizes. The current paper will focus on the two types of it, namely, industrial and postindustrial. The study will seek to examine the essence of industrial and postindustrial societies and the underlying reasons for their emergence, the main differences between industrial and postindustrial societies will be considered. Especial attention will be paid to Daniel Bell’s definition of post-industrial societies and Karl Marx’s idea of changing modes of production to determine how it contributed to creating a new culture in the world.

Main body

Analytically, any society can be divided into three parts: the social structure, the polity, and the culture. The social structure embraces the economy, technology, and the occupational system, this dimension is based on the principle of economizing. The polity regulates the regulation of power and handles conflicting claims and demands of individuals and groups. The axial principle of this dimension is participation. The culture is the realm of expressive symbolism and meanings that is nurtured by a human desire to fulfill and enhance oneself. Basically, the changes in the social structure determine the transformation of one type of society into another. These changes presuppose a different way in which the economy is being transformed and the occupational system reworked and the new relations between theory and empiricism, particularly science and technology (Bell, 1973, p. 12-13).

Industrial societies refer to a group of people that lived in the wake of the industrial revolution. England was the first country that entered the era of economic development by the year 1700s. The era of industrial societies was politically coined as the origin of capitalism. During the early 1700s, the world’s population was rapidly increasing that influenced the demand for basic foods. Due to inefficient means of production, food insecurity was threatening mankind’s survival. The world, therefore, needed some kind of solution and a scientific revolution appeared to be this solution. Powered machines and factory development replaced the natural rhythm of farm life.

At the time of industrialization, in England, in particular, individual rights and freedoms were greatly compromised. In Karl Marx’s works we find that people labored at repetitive mechanical tasks, making goods that they did not own, workers did not have any right to argue their wages or to defend their working conditions (Marx, 1973, p.358). Focusing on the essence of industrial society Karl Marx investigates the concept of a mode of production and claims that it presents a combination of two aspects: productive forces (that consist of three components: human labor power, the means of production and desire) and social and technical relations of production (that imply a set of relations between people and the objects of their works, between social classes, between various types of work and establishing the law that regulates these relations).

Productive forces and social relations – both of which are different sides of the development of the social individual – appear to capital only as a means, and only means to produce on its limited basis. In fact, however, these are the material conditions to blow this basis sky-high (Marx, 1973, p. 593).

The industrial era was characterized by a paradigm shift in production and the nature of work. At the introduction of capitalism, there was a significant and gradual loss of power from the landowners who were deemed powerful within those societies. This era witnessed a different and unique class of people evolving. Those included the industrialists, bankers, and merchants, particularly in the agricultural sector who rose to be powerful. Landowners appeared to be less powerful.

The condition of workers by the year1880s was pathetic. In industrial cities like Manchester, workers faced awful conditions; many families lived in single rooms. Many rooms where workers lived were overcrowded. Environmental degradation was also evident, with domestic, industrial, and urban waste being a major threat to environmental sustainability. It is documented according to Karl Marx that about 25 percent of all the children under the age of 5 years in English industrial cities died of disease and malnutrition (Marx, 1973, p. 123).

In the course of time, capitalists took full control of political power. They thus promoted individualized culture. This distorted the original structure of a community where individuals saw themselves as a family.

Regarding the weaknesses that the industrial community experienced there was an evident need for more evolution to create a better world to live in. Post-industrial society appeared to be a new era that stands to denote this evolution.

The world’s interest today is to achieve a post-industrial level. Post-industrial society exists due to the changes in economic transformation and networking the occupation system. Advancement in scientific research and technological development enhances social and economic reform. The changes in social structures have a direct impact on culture.

Bell characterized post-industrial society through the following dimensions:

  • Economic sector: the change from a goods-producing to a service economy;
  • Occupational distribution: the pre-eminence of the professional and technical class;
  • Axial principle: the centrality of theoretical knowledge as the source of innovation and of policy formulation for the society;
  • Future orientation: the control of technology and technological assessment.
  • Decision-making: the creation of a new “intellectual technology” (Bell, 1973, p. 14).

The transformation from industrial to post-industrial society is impossible without the advance of technical rationality into economic, social, and political spheres. Industrial and postindustrial societies differ in the layers that were dominant. If in the industrial society industrialists dominated, the post-industrial era witnessed the dominance of technocrats, planners, and scientists. Bell states that post-industrial government is more concerned with handling instrumental in the management of the economy and less is left to market forces (Bell, 1973, p. 339).

The post-World War II years symbolize the beginning of the post-industrial society. The first atom bomb and the digital computer were invented at this time. The shift in priorities from the property or political criteria of power to knowledge as its base enhanced technological developments. The very character of knowledge has radically changed: theoretical knowledge has become central. Bell supposes that universities will replace business firms and will become the key organizations of the future. The prestige and status of the communities will depend on their intellectual and scientific competence (Bell, 1973, p. 340).

If technical skills, going by Bell form the base of power, education becomes the mode of access to power. As far as science is concerned Bell suggests two propositions: 1. scientists’ opinion becomes important when it comes to the political process, and 2. science is ruled by a different ethos than other social groups, therefore, scientists differ from another social layer. The increasing intellectual specialization takes place during the era of post-industrial society. The specialization focuses effort, enhances concentration, and, therefore, promotes productivity. This is a societal culture that has been established due to advanced industrial development.

Another unique characteristic of post-industrial society is its labor force. It embraces research, finance, and transport spheres. Service industries such as research institutions were not common during the period of industrial society.

What is also important is that the changes to post-industrial society were not merely economically and socially structured, but they underwent the development of social values and norms. Rationality and efficiency became predominant values in the post-industrial society that continues to arise numerous problems with human morality. The free market dominance that post-industrial society advocates cause other problems such as economic inequality, the outsourcing of domestic jobs, and the like.

On the other hand, post-industrial society partially helped to solve the problem of gender inequality. The traditional culture preferred male persons as compared to the female who was seen as vulnerable. This limited women’s potential to involve actively in economic development. Due to structural social reforms, enhanced by the post-industrial societal dictates, gender equity, and equality are appreciated. Social structure adjusted the realm of modern society to the individual to ensure the achievement of societal objectives.

As for the political framework in the post-industrial society, having appreciated the role of a politician today, professionals such as scientists, engineers are establishing a closer relationship with politicians. This distinguishes post-industrial society from the preceding one. The public opinion of politicians changed as they have now been worshipped by the public. Bells states that “the relationship between the social structure and the political order thus becomes one of the chief problems of power in a post-industrial society.” (Bell, 1973, p. 114).


Thus, the post-industrial society differs from industrial society in many aspects: political, economic, and cultural spheres have undergone significant changes during the transition from one era to another. The technological advancements in Europe and the United States of America served as a springboard for these changes. Up to the present day, Europe and the USA live under a post-industrial work culture while Asia and Africa have developed an industrialized societal work culture.

Works Cited

Bell, D., 1973, The Coming of Post-Industrial Society: A Venture in Social Forecasting, London: Heinemann.

Marx, K., 1973, Grundrisse, Frankfurt: EVA.

Marx, K., 2007, Dispatches for the New York Tribune: Selected Journalism of Karl Marx, Penguin Books.