Social Mobility & the Postindustrial Society
As the economies of developed nations have changed over the past few decades, so too have their labor bases. Globalization has ushered in changes in technology and labor migration that have changed the landscape of economic output. As the post-industrial era is beginning, a change in the nature of social mobility is also occurring. This paper will assess the ways in which social mobility has changed in developed nations as the world economy has become more interconnected, or globalized.
Keywords Manufacturing Industry; Multinational Corporation; Outsourcing; Service Industry; Social Mobility; Stratification
In 1992, one of the world's largest and most well-known companies was on the ropes. Hemorrhaging money, laying off thousands of workers, and rapidly losing business to its competition, IBM had no strong leadership, long-term goals, or strategies. When Louis Gerstner arrived as chairman in the early 1990s, IBM was considering splitting into smaller, independent units, signaling an end to the company's long, storied history. Gerstner, however, had other plans. One of his first acts as chairman was to undertake an extensive tour through the company, soliciting thoughts and ideas not just from employees but from clients as well. When asked by one of his colleagues for his vision of IBM, Gerstner replied somewhat flippantly, "The last thing IBM needs right now is a vision" (anecdotage.com, 2008).
Gerstner famously led IBM, an icon of the industrial age, into the twenty-first century with a combination of entrepreneurial flexibility and open-mindedness. His accomplishments with the company in the face of a changing business environment are the stuff of legend. In many ways, IBM's reemergence coincided with the Western world's transition from an industrial and manufacturing economy into an economy of service and information. Sputtering machine plants and factories are not nearly as prevalent as they once were in the United States, as blue-collar jobs have replaced by web-commerce, consultancies, and other white-collar jobs. The industrialized world has entered the "post-industrial" era.
As the post-industrial era is beginning, a change in the nature of social mobility is also occurring. This paper will assess the ways in which social mobility has changed in developed nations over the past few decades. By casting a light on the changes in how people pursue upward mobility in this new era, it will seek to understand how these societies are transforming along with the new political economy of the twenty-first century.
The Post-Industrial Era
After two centuries of innovations in manufacturing productivity, the economies of the developed world has shifted dramatically. Since the mid-eighteenth century, every European and North American economic infrastructure has been industrialized, and the twentieth century as seen the Eastern Asian and Indian economies following suit. Innovations as the cotton gin, the steam engine, vulcanized rubber, automobiles, and airplanes have given billions of people jobs in a variety of manufacturing industries.
In the late twentieth century, however, Western economies began to change and become more global. Multinational corporations could now reach virtually every corner of the world, and the spread of the Internet gave rise to a new way of doing business: e-commerce. Because of these changes, service industries like research and development, financial services, software design, and cellular communications have become the dominant economic drivers of the Western world (Hermelin, 2007).
Of course, the need for large manufacturing plants and factories has not diminished. International commerce means that a corporation may maintain its headquarters in one country, while large-scale plants may operate in another country where labor is cheaper and the cost of real estate is low. This practice, known as "outsourcing," has contributed both to business development (as corporations save on operating costs by running factories in less-developed countries) and to local, often impoverished societies (whose labor bases often welcome the opportunity to go to work). In addition, fears that government intervention can hinder successful business has led the post-industrial world to be characterized by a free-enterprise approach in which government controls are removed and the industries that once made significant contributions to the economy are increasingly privatized.
Indeed, the world of the twenty-first century is markedly different from the world of only a few decades ago. The industrialized nations of the world are rapidly transitioning from a manufacturing base to a service industry base. Formerly less-developed nations (known as "LDCs") are becoming heavily manufacturing-oriented, and the majority of their industrial bases now comprise factories and assembly plants.
It is difficult to encapsulate or predict the effects the post-industrial era will have. Still, it cannot be dismissed that this evolving order will have an impact on humanity for generations to come. These political and economic changes are already having strong impacts on society.
This paper seeks to focus on the sociological aspects of the post-industrial era. However, it cannot be denied that social behavior in this period is closely linked with the economy. In most modern societies, one's occupation is closely linked to one's social status, and since economic changes can have a severe impact on one's occupation they can also impact one's status.
Post-industrialism has significantly changed society due in part to the shift toward a service-based economy. As the way the industrialized world does business changes, so too does the face of the worker. As US industries becomes more specialized and technological, workers must be more educated and more skilled. Careers in medical research, computer science, web marketing, and international business all call for advanced degrees and specialized training. The individuals who have the education and skills to hold these positions are now considered to occupy the top social stratum. Those who are less skilled, however, have fewer opportunities to gain a higher status and may even be pushed down into a lower status. Thus, social status is becoming increasingly dependent on an individual's occupation and his or her skill level (Sarossy, 1996).
In light of this fact, stratification does not necessarily occur on a national societal level - rather, it occurs on an international level. The simple reason for this trend is that people go to where the jobs are: if the job in question, such as a manufacturing position, is sent overseas to a less-industrialized nation, then the individual must either go along with it, or become unemployed.
In the case of Russia, the post-industrial world has created a new system of social stratification. Previously, the heavily industrialized Soviet Union used its satellites states, such as Ukraine and the Baltic states, as bases for major manufacturing operations. When the USSR dissolved, so too did the countless factories that it had built in those countries. When these industrial complexes closed their doors, thousands of workers lost their jobs.
Meanwhile, although the post-industrial era has been increasingly beneficial for many Russian citizens, there is still a need for less-skilled workers in plants and lower-paying jobs. Many of those who are taking these jobs are immigrants from former Soviet countries. Hence, Russian society is experiencing a new form of stratification, with immigrants from such former Soviet satellites as Tajikistan and Azerbaijan entering Russian society as minority groups. Lacking the skills and education necessary to move into higher social strata, these immigrants have very little social mobility. Exacerbating matters is the fact that these extraterritorial workers are being discriminated against by Russian citizens who are either on the same socio-economic level or belong to strata (Mukomel, 2007). This example raises an important point about social mobility as a whole: as upper and lower social strata become increasingly divergent in the post-industrial era, upward social mobility means not only escape from financial hardship, it can also mean an escape from being the target of prejudice.
The Shrinking Middle
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