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post-industrial society

  A concept widely used, and now often lacking the specificity of its original formulation by Daniel Bell (see below). At its current and general level, postindustrial society describes an occupational transformation, noted first in the United States, toward a white-collar, service-oriented workforce in advanced nations, with specialized information (and information technology) playing a key role in the shaping of economy and society. Some authors see the development of post-industrial society in an evolutionary context with nations passing through successive economic and social phases dominated first by the extraction of raw materials (agriculture, logging, fishing, mining), second by the processing of raw materials (manufacturing), and finally by the provision of services of a wide variety. The privileging of western, specifically American, trends in such a schema has been challenged; in addition, due to automation and increasing productivity, occupational transformation may not be followed by an equal diminution in the importance of raw materials or manufacturing in national economies (see services, geography of).

Around this basic set of propositions, there are several more or less related theoretical departures. In the early 1970s, coinciding with the initial dissemination of the concept, Alaine Touraine (1971) proposed that the holders of specialized information were becoming a class in ascendancy, a technocracy extending its alienating control over ever-expanding domains of everyday life. Touraine\'s views repeat a good deal of the intellectual and political preoccupation of the French student movement of the 1960s and its antagonism toward over-centralized and inaccessible state bureaucracies. In North America these antipathies were directed at the \'military-industrial complex\', one of the early manifestations of private-public partnerships. The critique of the rationalization of society also has a strong tradition in German literature, and the work of Touraine\'s contemporaries, Habermas (1970) and Marcuse (1964), carried forward Max Weber\'s pessimistic portrait of the \'iron cage\' of bureaucracy. A second theoretical departure discusses more centrally the emergence of a new middle class of professional and managerial workers who hold in common their deployment of theoretical knowledge, though, including both the intelligentsia and professionals in the private sector, they occupy several political positions and hold varying shares of economic and cultural capital (Gouldner, 1979; Bourdieu, 1984). More recently, this group has been highlighted because of its substantial contribution to new job creation over the past 25 years. Hamnett (1994) has emphasized the professionalization of the workforce in large European cities, and the same trend is observable in North America (Ley, 1996). In Canada, for example, the professional-managerial sector added more than 3 million jobs between 1961 and 1991 and rose from 12.6 to almost 30 per cent of all employment. The metropolitan concentration of the new middle class has led to their identification in a number of contemporary forms of urban restructuring, and notably in gentrification (Sassen, 1991; Ley 1996). A third theoretical departure is represented by a range of authors who have posited the pervasive part played by the generation and transmission of electronic information in advanced societies; perhaps Castells (1989, 1997) has carried the possible theoretical implications of this transition the furthest in his discussion of a society shaped by nodes and flows of information. (Cf. information economy.)

The most influential writer on post-industrial society has been Daniel Bell (1973) who, if he did not coin the term, is certainly responsible for its wide dissemination. In an ambitious synthesis, Bell attempted to chart the forward trajectory of advanced societies, primarily the United States, in the three interlocking domains of social structure, culture and politics. Bell envisaged theoretical knowledge to be the driving force in production in post-industrial society, so that the R&D laboratory and the university became its central institutions, replacing the factory, the dominant institution of the industrial era. Moreover (and here Bell and Habermas seem to be in agreement), a knowledge theory of value replaces a labour theory of value (cf. critical theory). Consequently (and its best recognized characteristic) a post-industrial society shows a tendency toward service employment and the growth of a knowledge class in the privileged professional-managerial employment sector. In the political realm, Bell both anticipated and hoped for the maturation of the public household, with a managed economy and governance that favoured communal rather than individualistic social policy. In contrast, in the realm of culture he was pessimistic of antinomian tendencies he identified both in the arts and in popular culture (Bell, 1976). Indeed, part of the complexity of his argument, which is too rarely observed by critics, is the disjuncture he discerns between a steadily more disciplined economy and a regressively less disciplined culture. This asymmetry extends to his own position, as he describes himself as a liberal in economics, a socialist in politics, and a conservative in culture.

The breadth and influence of Bell\'s treatise has inevitably attracted considerable commentary. During the 1970s much of that commentary was critical. Writers challenged his labour force projections, his optimism concerning a middle-class future, and his anxieties about the condition of American culture. He was labelled unproblematically as a neo-conservative (albeit as Habermas, 1989, observed, a neo-conservative to be taken seriously) — although it was the centralizing imperatives of neo-conservatism in the 1980s that undid both his prediction and his predilection for the public household. Nonetheless if the post-industrial thesis is a good deal more subtle than its critics often imply, Bell\'s original thesis, like all social theory, was also a child of its times. Published in the year that the post-war boom ended, it is written from an optimistic middle-class and western perspective, where conflict and scarcity do not provide too serious a deflection of a vision of upward social mobility. Ironically, in these terms the thesis is not nearly sociological enough.

In contrast to its initial critical reception, the past decade has seen a significant rehabilitation of the post-industrial thesis and renewed respect for its breadth and foresight. Bell\'s frequently despised review of the state of public culture now concurs with the views of critics of the postmodern condition. David Harvey, for example, finds Bell\'s treatment of American culture in the 1970s \'probably more accurate than many of the left attempts to grasp what was happening\' (1989, p. 353). So too his labour force projections have aged far better than the opposing deskilling thesis of the 1970s favoured by Braverman, Wright and others. In a re-examination of employment data in the 1980s, Wright admitted the superiority of Bell\'s forecast (Wright and Martin, 1987), while a second investigation showed that in Canada during the 1961-81 period \'skilled jobs expanded at an accelerating rate\', while \'a significant part of this upgrading was a result of growth in new middle-class professional and managerial occupations\' (Myles, 1998). Though it may not always be credited, and its insights are far from complete, the post-industrial thesis has proven a seminal source for subsequent research; as a heuristic it is now routinely alluded to in discussions of social, economic and urban restructuring (e.g. Clement and Myles, 1994; Waldinger, 1996). (See also post-industrial city.) (DL)

References Bell, D. 1973: The coming of post-industrial society. New York: Basic Books. Bell, D. 1976: The cultural contradictions of capitalism. New York: Basic Books. Bourdieu, P. 1984: Distinction. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Castells, M. 1989: The informational city. Oxford: Blackwell. Castells, M. 1997: The power of identity. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell. Clement, W. and Myles, J. 1994: Relations of ruling: class and gender in postindustrial societies. Montreal: McGill-Queen\'s University Press. Gouldner, A. 1979: The future of intellectuals and the rise of the new class. New York: Seabury Press. Habermas, J. 1970: Toward a rational society. London: Heinemann. Habermas, J. 1989: The new conservatism. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Hamnett, C. 1994: Socio-economic change in London: professionalisation not polarisation. Built Environment 20: 192-203. Harvey, D. 1989: The condition of postmodernity. Oxford: Blackwell. Ley, D. 1996: The new middle class and the remaking of the central city. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Marcuse, H. 1964: One-dimensional man. Boston: Beacon Press. Myles, J. 1988: The expanding middle: some Canadian evidence on the deskilling debate. Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 25: 335-64. Sassen, S. 1991: The global city: New York, London, Tokyo. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Touraine, A. 1971: The post-industrial society. New York: Random House. Waldinger, R. 1996: Still the promised city? African-Americans and new immigrants in postindustrial New York. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Wright, E. and Martin, B. 1987: The transformation of the American class structure, 1960-1980. American Journal of Sociology 87: 1-29.

Suggested Reading Bell (1973).



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