In sociology, industrial society refers to a society driven by the use of technology to enable mass production, supporting a large population with a high capacity for division of labour. Such a structure developed in the west in the period of time following the Industrial Revolution, and replaced the agrarian societies of the Pre-modern, Pre-industrial age. Industrial societies are generally mass societies, and may be succeeded by an Information society. They are often contrasted to with the traditional societies.
Industrial society is characterized by the use of external energy sources, such as fossil fuels, to increase the rate and scale of production. The production of food is shifted to large commercial farms where the products of industry, such as combine harvesters and fossil fuel based fertilizers, are used to decrease required human labor while increasing production. No longer needed for the production of food, excess labor is moved into these factories where mechanization is utilized to further increase efficiency. As populations grow, and mechanization is further refined, often to the level of automation, many workers shift to expanding service industries.
Industrial society makes urbanization desirable, in part so that workers can be closer to centers of production, and the service industry can provide labor to workers and those that benefit financially from them, in exchange for a piece of production profits with which they can buy goods. This leads to the rise of very large cities and surrounding suburban areas with a high rate of economic activity.
These urban centers require the input of external energy sources in order to overcome the diminishing returns of agricultural consolidation, due partially to the lack of nearby arable land, associated transportation and storage costs, and are otherwise unsustainable. This makes the reliable availability of the needed energy resources high priority in industrial government policies.
Some theoreticians—namely Ulrich Beck, Anthony Giddens and Manuel Castells—argue that we are located in the middle of a transformation or transition from industrial societies to post-modern societies. The triggering technology for the change from an agricultural to an industrial organisation was steam power, allowing mass production and reducing the agricultural work necessary. Thus many industrial cities are built around rivers. Identified as catalyst or trigger for the transition to post-modern or informational society is global information technology.
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