Sociology Index


Post-Industrial Thesis is the theory that modern economies in the Western world have moved from a focus on goods production (an industrial base) to a new foundation of knowledge economy and sophisticated services.

This new post-industrial economy is assumed to demand different kinds of workers, to allow for more job satisfaction and to foster less labour conflict.

The rationale for the post-industrial thesis was announced in Bell's 'The End of Ideology', the text in which he first announced the exhaustion of utopian political ideologies: The end of ideology is not - should not be - the end of utopia as well.

There is now, more than ever, some need for utopia, in the sense that men need - as they always have needed - some vision of their potential, some manner of fusing passion with intelligence. Yet the ladder to the City of Heaven can no longer be a faith ladder, but an empirical one: a utopia has to specify where one wants to go, how to get there, the costs of the enterprise, and some realization of and justification for the determination of who is to pay. (Bell, 1962, 405).

'Post-Industrial Society' and the Psychology of the American Far Right, 1950-74.
Kendrick Oliver, Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Oct., 1999)

Managing Professionals: Ideological Proletarianization and Post-Industrial Labor 
Charles Derber, Theory and Society, Vol. 12, No. 3 (May, 1983), pp. 309-341

AIM: The aim of this unit is to outline the concept of the information society as set out by Daniel Bell and to introduce Manuel Castells concept of the Network Society.
By the end of this unit you should be able to:
Differentiate between the terms post-industrial society and the information society.
Compare Bell's concept of post-industrial society as outlined in the previous unit with his more recent analysis of the policy issues which emerge from the growth of IT; outline the six issues he considers central to the question.
Summarise Castell's vision of the information society - Network Society

In the previous unit I outlined the concept of the post-industrial society as developed by Daniel Bell and indicated the grounds upon which this theory has been criticised by other sociologists. In this unit I introduce the concept of the information society and indicate how this concept was influenced by the growth of IT. I will again be drawing from the work of Daniel Bell; you'll see how his views have progressed from his early utopian viewpoint to a more circumspect approach. As a contrast to Daniel Bell's outline of the problems which will face an information society, we will introduce the views of Castell's on Information society; the Network society POST-INDUSTRIAL SOCIETY AND THE INFORMATION SOCIETY
Even before public awareness of the potential of microelectronic technology had developed, it was being argued, as we saw in Unit 5, that the historical era inaugurated by the industrial revolution was over.
Changes taking place in the occupational structures of the advanced societies were so fundamental, it was said, that these societies should now be regarded as being post-industrial in nature. This post-industrial thesis was contested by its critics, however. They concluded that close scrutiny of the type of evidence put forward in support of the thesis revealed deficiencies. They argued from this that the various contentions of the thesis were a long way short of being convincingly proven.
On this side of the Atlantic, at least, Krishan Kumar has been the most prominent of these critics. But his book is now ten years old and these ten years have witnessed the increasingly rapid diffusion of IT and the growth of IT awareness. There is a growing feeling among sociologists -exemplified by the debate between Robin Fincham and David Lyon in the August 1987 issue of the journal Sociology - that their literature needs to be updated to take proper account of IT.
Thus, IT has indeed contributed a new element to the debate. Certainly, the use of IT has increased the prevalence of the belief that a major social transformation is under way, or that we stand on the brink of such a transformation. The post-industrial world, has, for many of its supporters, been made flesh in the shape of IT. In particular IT has given a definite and positive social content to a concept which was originally defined in negative terms.
Let's consider the terms used in the debate: when we look at the terms post-industrial society and information society the change of emphasis is clear.
When it is applied to society, the term post-industrial tells us what it used to be, but no longer is. It tells us, in other words, that we are living in something which is not an industrial society. But this is not a very strong statement about the character of the present: all it says is that the present is unlike the immediate past in a number of ways and that the differences between the state of things now and the state of things then ought to be regarded as being of fundamental importance. The term information society, on the other hand, gives change a definite character. It tells us that while the manufacture of things was at the centre of the old industrial order, the processing of information will be a crucial feature of its successor.

From Pierre Veltz article - Business Services in the Global Service Economy -
It is a commonplace to distinguish different stages in the pathway of a national economy: after the agricultural stage comes the industrial stage, and then the so-called post-industrial stage, characterized by the predominance of information (rather than material) processing sectors, knowledge (rather than cost) based competition and a dramatic shift in the occupational structure. So, the US and the European economies are supposed to be post-industrial: 85 % of jobs in the US belong to the service sectors (either personal or business services), 75 % in France. 
The post-industrial thesis has different roots and relies on a vast literature. D. Bell, an American sociologist, has coined the term in 1973, emphasizing not only the changes in the occupational system in advanced economies (and mainly in the US) but the fact that knowledge and science based technology replaces progressively the physical energy of human labor (and traditional machinery) as the real basis of growth and as the core process of social development. Sauvy, a French demographer, explained how the increase of productivity generated by the growing automation in the manufacturing sectors results, through a complex process he called productivity overspill”, in the creation of new jobs in the sectors of services where automation is impossible. Many economists, like Baumol in the US, have emphasized this distinction between two sectors: a sector characterized by high productivity (broadly speaking: manufacturing) and a sector where the productivity is by nature stagnant. Finally, the rather universal division existing in the statistical taxonomy between manufacturing and services gives this division the status of a quasi-natural dichotomy. So, why should we prefer the idea of a hyper-industrial society to the idea of a post-industrial one? For several reasons:
The economy as a whole is shifting to a service economy.
The descriptive and organizational approach showing the close and intertwined links between different sectors catches only one aspect of the economic reality. The most important point is to go beyond the dichotomy between goods and services, putting apart traditional distinctions that seem relevant only in a very superficial view, and to understand the deep convergence between manufacturing and services at the level of the process of wealth-creation itself, considered as a whole. This convergence is generally summarized under the terms of service economy. And this thesis is of course compatible with the idea of “hyper-industry” (so we should characterize the present economy as a hyper-industrial service economy).

The post-industrial thesis would particularly highlight the following causes, all of which it regards as being closely linked to one another within the context of post-industrial change:

  • the emergence of a post-industrial society

  • the decline of working-class mobilisation networks

  • the decline of traditional middle-class mobilisation networks and the growth of leisure-based advocacy and single issue campaign networks

  • the lack of influence citizens have over political decisions

  • the out-dated methods of democratic participation

  • the rise of a socially excluded group in society.

Bell, D. (1962) The End of Ideology: on the exhaustion of political ideas in the fifties. N.Y.: Free Press.
Bell, D. (1967) ‘Notes on the Post-Industrial Society (Pt 1)’. The Public Interest 6: 24-35.
Bell,D. (1989) ‘Communication Technology: for Better or for Worse?’. In The Information Society: economic, social, and structural issues. Ed J.Salvaggio, Hillsdale, N.J.: LEA.
Bell,D. (1999a) The Coming of Post-Industrial Society. N.Y. Basic Books. First published 1973.
Bell,D. (1999b) The Axial Age of Technology: foreword 1999’. In Bell (1999a).