Industrial Societies Research Paper Starter

Industrial Societies

(Research Starters)

With the rise of industrial societies come the spread of mechanization and technology, an increase in manufacturing processes, and the urbanization of communities that are more and more centered on industrial life. Industrial societies experience profound changes to family life as communities begin to reflect the changing labor patterns of factory and industrial work and as work opportunities for women outside the home increase. In addition, in early industrial societies children often work in mills and factories. Industrial societies are generally characterized by rising economic affluence, although this new wealth is not evenly distributed throughout all social classes. Wealthy factory owners and suppliers of raw materials become enormously wealthy, while a middle class emerges as a growing consumer base, bolstered by education, skills, and technological advancements. Meanwhile, the lower classes struggle to work some of the most difficult jobs for the least amount of pay. In developed societies, these economic inequities frequently prompted organized labor to fight back against managers and owners to secure social and labor reforms through government regulation.

Keywords Achieved Status; Ascribed Status; Bureaucracy; Capitalism; Class; Collective Conscience; Economy; Industrial Revolution; Industrial Societies; Industrialization; Information Society; Means of Production

Societies: Industrial Societies


Industrial societies are characterized by the emergence of industrialization as the primary means of labor, business, and commerce. Industrial societies differ markedly from agricultural societies, wherein members are primarily involved in plant cultivation for their own subsistence. Industrialization emerged first in England in the mid eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and then swept through Europe and the United States, replacing these formerly agrarian societies with industrial societies centered on the use of machines and non-animal sources of energy to produce finished goods. Industrial societies have continued to develop as a result of technological innovations, leading to high levels of productivity and population growth in cities and urban areas.

With improved technology, labor in industrial societies has become more specialized. In addition, better working conditions and higher wages have resulted in improved standards of living for highly skilled or educated workers. However, not all workers have benefited from these improvements in technology and efficiency. Workers who lack the skills, education, or ability to compete in industrial societies often fall into the lower socioeconomic classes. Thus, while industrial societies experience improved work and productivity efficiencies through the use of machines and technology, they also face growing social inequalities between those who benefit from the industrialization process and those who do not. In response to this tension, a number of secondary groups, such as non-profit organizations, political parties, charities, government agencies, labor unions, and community associations, have been formed to address these inequalities.

Rise of Industrial Societies

The industrial mode of production began with the mechanization of the textile industry in Britain and from there it spread to the entire world. The term "industrial society" originated from the emerging central role of the manufacturing industry in contrast to the previously agrarian society. In its most basic form, an industrial society is a social system in which the mode of production is primarily centered on finished goods manufactured with the aid of machinery. In industrial societies, the largest portion of the workforce is involved in labor activities that involve the mechanized production of goods and services. The following sections will explain the central characteristics of an industrial society: the spread of industrialization, the growth in manufacturing capabilities, and the rise of urbanization.

Spread of Industrialization

The process by which a society becomes highly industrialized generally occurs in stages. These stages are frequently marked by shifts in the demand for raw manufacturing materials. For instance, the demand for coal rose significantly during the early industrialization of Britain as machines and industrial efforts were fueled by vast quantities of coal, marking a significant shift in a society that had previously been heavily dependent upon wood for warmth and power. The abundant coal reserves in Britain helped shift the tides toward coal as a primary fuel source.

In the United States, industrialization also created an increased demand for coal. In addition, however, population growth also led to an increased demand for raw materials such as sugar, cotton, grain, and timber, and this increased demand spurred the mechanization of these industries. This industrialization process prompted the invention of machines that radically transformed the American economy and society, such as the power loom and cotton gin.

Increase in Manufacturing Capabilities

The process of industrialization does more than just replace agrarian modes of life with manufacturing and industry. Industrialization reframes families, housing, leisure activities and even social thought to incorporate industry and efficiency as a major feature of existence. Thus, the social institutions, aspirations, beliefs, and attitudes of industrial societies reflect the importance of industry, work, efficiency, and achievement.

However, a common trait of industrial societies is the displacement of agriculture with manufacturing and industry. As the level of manufacturing increases within a society, the number of people engaged in agriculture decreases. Over time, a working class society is independent of the agricultural process; the society emerges and works for wages to buy products that were once made by hand and in homes in agrarian societies.

As manufacturing capabilities increase, industrial societies begin consuming more manufactured products and goods. And as demand for these goods increases, urban areas become connected through the various means of transportation that facilitate the flow of commerce between manufacturers and consumers and cities and towns. With the development of a society's transportation infrastructure, trade in raw materials and manufactured goods can grow and thereby facilitate the continued rise of the society's economic and industrial strength.


As a society's factories, mills, and other manufacturing facilities grow, individuals and families from rural areas flow into the cities seeking work. Thus, the spread of industrialism and manufacturing stimulates a corollary grown in urban areas. Slowly, industrial societies shift from a primary dependence on land, plant cultivation, and animal husbandry to an economy that is based on manufactured and finished goods produced by machines or in factories in a highly efficient manner. And with the growth in population and economic power, cities begin to expand, and patterns of living change to accommodate the workday.

While cities can be disruptive to families and relationships (for example, a family may leave relatives in rural settings to pursue work in urban areas), city life can also foster the development of relationships and social circles based on shared experiences. Thus, while relationships in rural or agrarian communities may be maintained out of necessity because individuals are often forced to share labor or resources to survive, relationships in urban areas may evolve from shared work responsibilities, residence in the same neighborhood, or the pursuit of common leisure activities. Over time, then, industrial societies become less centered on the relational ties based on family connections and more strongly based on small communities of individuals or acquaintances bound by shared experiences or common interests (Reissman, 1964). Thus, while urbanization can weaken traditional societal bonds, cities can also bring people together into communities of diverse individuals.

Social Organization

In a traditional rural or agrarian economy, the scales of production are small enough that economic power remains centered in homes, communities and cities, with the production of goods generally occurring within the family home. The primary purpose of household production in these societies is to provide for the subsistence of the family; producing goods for trade or sale is only a secondary purpose. Also, in traditional households, men and women are typically responsible for different tasks. Men are primarily involved in managing and cultivating crops and herds, while women oversee domestic responsibilities.

The rise in industrialization effected dramatic changes to the traditional family structure. Men worked longer hours outside the home. Likewise, women also began to work in outside jobs. This enabled families to enjoy a higher standard of living, challenged traditional gender roles, and required families to seek assistance for domestic chores and childrearing. In early industrial societies, before child labor laws were widely enacted, children also worked long hours in manufacturing jobs.

Changes in Family Life

Throughout history, people have largely been dependent upon families and extended kin for safety, physical and emotional support, and labor for gathering food and securing shelter. However, the process of industrialization had a dramatic effect on family units. With it, the family was displaced as the basic unit of society and replaced by the individual (Rosen, 1982). The ties and allegiances to families and lineage began to thin as people sought individual prosperity, freedom, and expression.

In addition, as men and women worked longer hours outside of the home, the distinction between work and family life grew sharper. No longer were men working in family fields and accessible during the day. As a result, family members began to lead increasingly separate lives. Middle- and upper-class men became the dominant providers and were honored for characteristics such as self-improvement, discipline, and a robust work ethic rather than traits that were grounded in concern for community responsibilities and social traditions (Rosen, 1982). In addition, when women entered the workforce, they began to experience a greater degree of autonomy and financial independence. As a result, the dynamics of many families began to shift from being centered around the home to being focused on external involvements, efforts, and influences.

Increased Opportunities for Women

The process of industrialization created increased work opportunities for women. However, for women with children, these same opportunities presented special challenges for childcare. Before, women could perform household chores while rearing children, but as industrialization proceeded and women began working outside of the home, they had to seek suitable alternatives for childcare. Thus, while some married women opted to stay home to care for the children and look after household duties, single women often worked outside the home or sought work doing the domestic duties of married women who left their homes for outside employment.

While women initially worked in domestic and light manufacturing jobs, over time they increasingly entered factories and learned production processes that were once largely under the purview of men. However, the vast majority of women worked in industries, textile mills, garment manufacturing facilities, bakeries, schools, and hospitals. Further, women's access to jobs gave them greater oversight over their earnings and the spending patterns of family incomes. Thus, women became a unique market that manufacturers began to pursue, targeting them through advertisements for clothing, cosmetics, household goods, and food items. In addition, families began to enjoy a higher standard of living as their budgets increased substantially with a secondary income.

Child Labor

Poor and working-class children had performed household chores and assisted in family enterprises long before industrialization. As early as the Middle Ages, children spun thread for their parents to weave on looms (Tuttle, 2001). Children performed a variety of tasks that were critical to the family economy. Thus, the interdependence of work and family relationships, coupled with a household's labor needs and subsidence requirements, constituted the family economy.

With the dawn of the industrial society, many children were forced to work in factories to contribute to family support. These children often worked in...

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