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Industrial Society: Definition & Characteristics

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  • 0:01 What Is an Industrial Society?
  • 1:29 Evolution of Industrialization
  • 3:05 What Defines an…
  • 4:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David White
The industrialization of labor has played a significant role in the development and modernization of Western cultures and societies. Through this lesson, you will learn what defines an industrial society and briefly explore its characteristics.

What Is an Industrial Society?

If you live in the United States, you're probably very familiar with the phrase 'Made in the USA,' which is generally printed on items produced within the United States. You might also know that this phrase has significance well beyond indicating where something was manufactured, like in political speeches, where it is used to emphasize the importance of keeping manufacturing jobs in the United States. The reason that this phrase is so significant in politics is because it reinforces the significance of manufacturing in the development of the United States, which is an industrial society.

In the field of sociology, an industrial society is one that uses advances in technology to drive a strong manufacturing industry that will support a large population. The United States, for example, is an industrial society because a considerable portion of its economy is tied to jobs that involve mechanized labor, like factory farming or auto-assembly plants, which involve a combination of machines and human employees to produce consumer products.

In most cases, the objective of an industrial economy is the mass production of goods, which is the fast and efficient manufacturing of standardized products. For example, if you've ever purchased a car, there is a high likelihood that your car was mass produced because it operates similarly to other models, and its parts can be replaced with other parts because they are identical.

Evolution of Industrialization

The industrialization of societies and cultures began in mid-18th century England when British manufacturers began to look for new ways to increase production of goods in their factories. Prior to this shift in economic structure, products and resources were all made by craftsmen who would create each item by hand or by farmers who would have to plant and harvest using only manual labor.

By harnessing the power of natural elements, like water or steam, manufacturers were able to increase the speed of production by incorporating the use of machines driven by the elements but still operated by human hands. The increased use of new tools and machinery meant that manufacturing jobs no longer required expert skills or brute strength. This created a wealth of new jobs, first in the textile industry, such as boot mills and shirt factories, and eventually spreading into other areas of manufacturing.

Because most factories were located in urban areas, the new jobs created by the industrialization of manufacturing drove up the population of Western cities and raised the standard of living by providing employment opportunities to lower social classes who had previously lacked the skills necessary to obtain such employment.

By the mid-point of the 19th century, advances in science and technology had led to even greater changes in industrial labor, which is often referred to as the Second Industrial Revolution. This era is characterized by the introduction of the steam engine, which led to the boom of the railroad industry and other industrial operations, such as mining and factory farming.

What Defines an Industrial Society?

From a theoretical perspective, an industrial society demonstrates several characteristics that tend to intersect with other areas of society and culture. In this system, industrialization begins with the use of external energy sources, such as steam or fuel, to increase production and minimize a reliance on human labor. This streamlining of the manufacturing process then pushes workers into new or existing sectors, such as manufacturing of textiles or other goods. At this point, the process repeats itself, eventually refining manufacturing until workers are again no longer required in such high numbers and are moved to other employment sectors.

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