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Impact of Industrialisation on the Growth of ‘Individualism’

Read this article to learn about Impact of Industrialisation on the growth of ‘Individualism’!

Industrialisation has witnessed the growth of individualism among the population. Individualism can be criticised because it can be interpreted as a person’s being interested in their own self as opposed to the family or community interests.

In the pre-industrial period, social institutions such as family, kinship and community played important roles in shaping behaviour and social interaction.

It also influenced the thought processes of people. The concept of individualism is largely a result of the nature of work under industrialisation. Earlier, work was collective in nature, and could be based on family, kin or community. For instance, a weaver would produce cloth through division of labour within the family, his wife would spin the thread, and the children too would be assigned some activity, such as removing the seeds from the cotton or helping their parents generally; hence, the production of cloth was a joint effort of all the members of the family.

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This kept the family integrated as a social unit. The family did not operate as an isolated unit because the weaver had to depend on other people or groups such as those engaged in dyeing of cloth and shaping the cloth into garments. The same could apply to a farmer producing grain.

His production was done through division of labour within the family or kin group, where the male members ploughed the field and sowed the seeds, the females were engaged in transplantation (in the case of rice) and threshing the grain after the harvest, and the children were also engaged in the different stages of agricultural production; this was a training period for them, before they could take up the gendered roles of their parents.

Though the work was collective, it was not necessarily egalitarian. In other words, all who engaged in work did not have the same social status. There was a grading of work based on who performed it. For example, in agriculture, ploughing and sowing of seeds which are tasks performed by males were considered superior to the activities performed by women. This was also true of all other types of work such as pottery, weaving, washing clothes, etc.

Factory production has changed the nature of work. Work is now done by individuals and not by social groups. The textile mill employs individual workers in its different production processes. There is now greater division of labour. The work in textile mills is broken into smaller parts, such as spinning, weaving, dyeing, folding, etc.

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Each of these sections (known as shops) in the factory is interlinked to each other though they are run as individual units. The worker in each of these units performs work as an individual and not as a collective though work in the factory is a joint and interlinked effort. In other words, though the shops function independently, their outputs have to be synchronised or else the total output will be affected. For example, if workers in the weaving section are efficient and produce large outputs of cloth but the dyeing section is inefficient and is unable to process the cloth on time, the total production will suffer.

A worker is employed as an individual irrespective of his social status, and a textile worker cannot take his family along to work in the textile mill as was done in the pre-industrial phase. This implies that a worker is paid a wage accordingly.

In such a situation even if his wife works in the same textile factory, it is not regarded as family employment as she is a separate employee. One can see that this situation is quite different from the earlier situation of dependence on collective work.

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Growth of individualism helped shape the views of society. Most importantly men and women were regarded as independent workers drawing separate wages. This sowed the seeds for the demand for equality between the sexes and challenged existing social divisions that were ascribed at birth.

Since the new system demanded that workers be paid according to their skills and as individuals, it contrasted with the earlier system where the status and occupation of a person were determined at birth. Hence this system underwent what Talcott Parsons described as a shift from ascribed status to achieved status.

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