Post-industrial society  

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“Modern architecture died in St. Louis, Missouri on July 15, 1972 at 3:32 pm when the infamous Pruitt-Igoe scheme, or rather several of its slab blocks, were given the final coup de grace by dynamite.” -- Charles Jencks
Modern architecture died in St. Louis, Missouri on July 15, 1972 at 3:32 pm when the infamous Pruitt-Igoe scheme, or rather several of its slab blocks, were given the final coup de grace by dynamite.” -- Charles Jencks

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A post-industrial society is a society in which an economic transition has occurred from a manufacturing based economy to a service based economy, a diffusion of national and global capital, and mass privatization. The prerequisite to this economic shift is the processes of industrialization of liberalization. This economic transition spurs a restructuring in society as a whole.



Daniel Bell popularized the term through his 1974 work The Coming of Post-Industrial Society. Although some have credited Bell with coining the term, French sociologist Alain Touraine published in 1969 the first major work on the post-industrial society. The term was also used extensively by social philosopher Ivan Illich in his 1973 paper Tools for Conviviality and appears occasionally in Leftist texts throughout the mid-to-late 1960s.

The term has grown and changed as it became mainstream. The term is now used by admen such as Seth Godin, public policy PhDs such as Keith Boeckelman, and sociologists such as Neil Fligstein and Ofer Sharone. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton even used the term to describe Chinese growth in a round-table discussion in Shanghai in 1998.

Cultural aspect of post-industrial society

Daniel Bell emphasized the changes to post-industrial society are not merely socially structural and economic; the values and norms within the post-industrial society are changed as well. Rationality and efficiency become the paramount values within the post-industrial society. Eventually, according to Bell, these values cause a disconnect between social structures and culture. Most of today's unique modern problems can be generally attributed to the effects of the post-industrial society. A large number of people may find themselves with no clearly defined role. These problems are particularly pronounced where the free-market dominates. They can include economic inequality, the outsourcing of domestic jobs, etc.

The post-modern and post-marxist idea that the economic base (manufacturing and agriculture) and ideological superstructure (art, religion, philosophy, science, etc) are the same thing, akin to a monocoque bodied car (Such as a Hudson Hornet), is a common thread in post-industrial thinking. For example, emphasis on the arts as an important economic sector rather than just a means of exploring spiritual themes and political ideas, or a means of personal expression is a case in point. Actor and artistic director of the Old Vic Theatre, Kevin Spacey, has argued the economic case for the arts in terms of providing jobs and being of greater importance in exports than manufacturing (as well as an educational role) in guest column he wrote for The Times. It can be argued that the creative sector has taken a more prominent role in the wake of manufacturing's decline and that, in some countries, it produces more exports than manufacturing alone.

Another more obvious example of this monocoque argument is the internet. While used for e-commerce and other economic activities, it can also be used to promulgate poetry, give practical advice over being jilted by your boyfriend and inform you of the latest football results as part of the ideological superstructure. They effectively become monocoqued by using the same apparatus and software.

However, this argument of base and superstructure being indistinguishable from each other can also be used retrospectively throughout history. It can be used to argue that pre-Christian fertility cults were economic as well as ideological constructs because their economies were depedent on the fertility they worshipped, especially as they were pre-industrial agrarian economies where food was often scarce.


Post-industrialism is criticized for the amount of real fundamental change it produces in society if any at all. A mild view held by Alan Banks and Jim Foster contends that representations of post-industrial society by advocates assume professional, educated elites were previously less relevant than they have become in the new social order, and that changes that have occurred are minor but greatly embellished. More critical views see the entire process as the highest evolution of capitalism, wherein the system produces commodities as opposed to practical goods and is determined privately instead of socially. This view is complemented by the assertion that “the characteristic feature of a modern [that is, post-industrial] society is that it is a technocracy.” Such societies then become notable for their ability to subvert social consciousness through powers of manipulation rather than powers of coercion, reflective of the “ideology of the ruling class [as] … predominantly managerial.”

In line with the view that nothing fundamental has changed in the transition from industrial societies to post-industrial societies is the insistence of lingering problems from past development periods. Neo-Malthusian in essence, this outlook focuses on post-industrial society's continuing struggle with issues of resource scarcity, overpopulation, and environmental degradation, all of which are remnants from its industrial history. This is exacerbated by a “corporate liberalism” that seeks to continue economic growth through “the creation and satisfaction of false needs,” or as Christopher Lasch more derisively refers to it, “subsidized waste.”

Urban development in the context of post-industrialism is also a point of contention. In opposition to the view that the new leaders of post-industrial society are increasingly environmentally aware, this critique asserts that it rather leads to environmental degradation, this being rooted in the patterns of development. Urban sprawl, characterised behaviourally by cities “expanding at the periphery in even lower densities” and physically by “office parks, malls, strips, condo clusters, corporate campuses, and gated communities,” is singled out as the main issue. Resulting from a post-industrialist culture of “mobile capital, the service economy, post-Fordist disposable consumerism and banking deregulation,” urban sprawl has caused post-industrialism to become environmentally and socially regressive. Of the former, environmental degradation results from encroachment as cities meet demands on low-density habitation; the wider spread of population consumes more of the environment while necessitating more energy consumption in order to facilitate travel within the ever-growing city, incurring greater pollution. This process evokes the neo-Malthusian concerns of overpopulation and resource scarcity that inevitably lead to environmental deterioration. Of the latter, “post-industrialism’s doctrine of … mobility and malleability” encourage a disconnect between communities where social belonging falls into the category of things considered by the “post-Fordist disposable consumer[ist]” attitude as interchangeable, expendable, and replaceable.

Post-industrialism as a concept is highly Western-centric. Theoretically and effectively, it is only possible in the Global West, which its proponents assume to be solely capable of fully realizing industrialization and then post-industrialization. Herman Kahn optimistically predicted the “economic growth, expanded production and growing efficiency” of post-industrial societies and the resultant “material abundance and… high quality of life” to extend to “almost all people in Western societies” and only “some in Eastern societies.” This prediction is treated elsewhere by contentions that the post-industrial society merely perpetuates capitalism.

Recalling the critical assertion that all modern societies are technocracies, T. Roszak completes the analysis by stating that “all societies are moving in the direction of technocracies.” From this, the foremost “suave technocracies” reside in the West, whereas all others are successively graded in descending order: “vulgar technocracies,” “teratoid technocracies,” and finally “comic opera technocracies.” This view importantly presumes one transition and furthermore one path of transition for societies to undergo, i.e. the one that Western societies are slated to complete. Much like the demographic transition model, this prediction does not entertain the idea of an Eastern or other alternative models of transitional development.


When historians and sociologists considered the revolution that followed the agricultural society they did not call it a "post-agricultural society". "Post-industrial society" signifies only a departure, not a positive description.

One of the word's early users, Ivan Illich, prefigured this criticism and invented the term Conviviality, or the Convivial Society, to stand as a positive description of his version of a post-industrial society.

Social critique

A group of scholars (including Allen Scott and Edward Soja) argue that industry remains at the center of the whole process of capitalist accumulation, with services not only becoming increasingly industrialized and automated but also remaining highly dependent on industrial growth.

Some observers, including Soja (building on the theories of the French philosopher of urbanism Henri Lefebvre), suggest that although industry may be based outside of a "post-industrial" nation, that nation cannot ignore industry's necessary sociological importance.

See also

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