Useful notes on the Impact of ‘Industrialisation’ on Society

Read this article to learn about the impact of ‘Industrialisation’ on society!

Industrialisation has resulted in a wide range of changes in society and social institutions, such as family, kinship functions, marriage and community relations.

We shall discuss these changes later. However, the immediate impact of industrialisation was the creation of a new class structure.

This resulted in new social types such as wage workers, entrepreneurs, management, and so on. There was also a great deal of professionalism in managing these institutions. Hence, a cadre of trained managers came into existence.

Expansion & Industrialization

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Industrialisation also resulted in changes in work orientation and the concept of time. Workers working on machines had to keep pace with the way the machines functioned; this is known as machine- pacing. It results in short-cycle work; in other words, the same action is repeated over and over again, keeping pace with the machine. This type of short-cycle work existed even before the industrial revolution.

Women engaged in transplanting of rice performed short-cycle work as their actions were repetitive. Similarly, weavers, potters and other artisans had to repeat the same types of actions in sync with their tools of work. However, all these were controlled by the people concerned; the weavers loom or the potter’s wheel was controlled by the person operating it. Under industrialisation, the short-cycle work is a result of machine-pacing and these machines are controlled not by the worker performing the work, but by the supervisors who operated those through inanimate power (electricity or steam).

Rationality as a Social Value:

An important aspect of industrialisation was the development of rationality as a social value. This meant that human behaviour was interpreted through rational actions rather than blind faith. Rationality also meant that people questioned the existing systems based on tradition or some form of faith in the supernatural.


The role of religion had become important in earlier societies because all actions and thought were determined through religious interpretations. Social hierarchies, inequalities and even injustices which prevailed were attributed to the will of a divine entity. Hence, it was god or some other supernatural power that determined the fates of human beings and not their own actions. For instance, the caste system in India was supposedly not based on inequalities arising out of human actions but was attributed to the workings of a divine being.

Hindu mythology holds that the four varnas sprang out of different parts of Lord Vishnu’s body, which again symbolises what type of work they were to do. Similarly, in nineteenth-century England, there was an Anglican hymn (also popular with other Christian denominations) the third verse of which read:

The rich man in his castle,

The poor man at his gate,


God made them high and lowly

And ordered their estate.

This meant that differences in society were decided by a supernatural power (known as God) and not because of inequalities with a human origin. In such a situation, those who are oppressed will never challenge the system because of the belief that this would mean challenging the word of God. Hence, religion and ‘the fear of God’ determined social stratification and also justified social inequalities.

Industrialisation required a new system of stratification. If the old system of having landlords and serfs in the case of Europe, and upper castes and lower castes in India, was replicated in the industrial system in terms of owners/managers (upper castes or landlords), and workers (lower castes), it would never survive.

We can see that the new class of entrepreneurs/capitalists did not necessarily come from the upper castes or classes, but mainly from the middle ones (like the trading communities in India as also in Britain). Similarly, many from the upper castes could become workers in factories. Hence, the traditional system of stratification started changing.

The old system of conforming to traditional norms was being challenged. This is when rationality as one of the values was developed and the new form of stratification was based on rationally developed ideas. In such a system, the different strata were not rigid or watertight compartments as there could be mobility between them.

The basis for these strata was ability and skill rather than status at birth. This gave opportunities to different strata, especially those lower in the hierarchy, to change their social status. For example, it is possible for a worker to become an industrialist, if they have the potential for it. Similarly, it is possible for an entrepreneur whose venture has failed
to become a paid worker. This was not possible in the traditional system where hierarchies were rigid.

The basis of rationality, in this context, was egalitarianism. The system tried to provide equal opportunity to all, though it may not have happened in reality. Inequalities in such societies were quite high, perhaps even more than the inequalities in the pre-industrial system.

The gap between the rich and the poor increased considerably. In terms of status too there were more layers such as the super-rich, rich, upper middle class, middle class, lower middle class, and the working poor. However, there was a difference between the two systems.

Even though the extent of inequalities may have been less in the pre-industrial system and there were greater differences in the industrial system, the latter operated on the basis of inequalities but within the framework of egalitarianism, for all had an even chance, at least in theory.

Industrialisation and social institutions:

Industrialisation has an impact on the structure of the family. Since industrialisation led to migration, the structure of the family changed from joint or extended families in the rural areas to nuclear families in the urban centres. The need for the nuclear family in the industrial age was stressed by sociologists like Emile Durkheim, Ferdinand Tonnies, Georg Simmel and Karl Mannheim.

They viewed families as isolated units which were important centres of socialisation for the young as well as for providing emotional support to the working males. Parsons (1980) stated that the nuclear family was necessary to meet the needs of industrial urban society.

When a person from a rural background migrates to urban areas for employment, he finds himself in an alien environment. His source of support was earlier his extended family in a rural area. It was not possible to bring the entire family to his new place of work for reasons of space and economy. Instead, his nuclear family (comprising husband, wife and unmarried children) becomes the unit of migration.

Urban areas have larger numbers of nuclear families. This helps the working male to adjust to his new environment. It also provides him emotional support in terms of his wife and children being with him. Parsons stresses on the traditional roles in the family as being functional. He argues that the urban nuclear family demarcates these roles clearly.

This would include the male breadwinner as head of the household, and the female, the wife, as the caretaker of the home and the children. Parsons further explains that in the earlier system, tasks performed by women such as household work and childcare were shared by all the women in the family.

In the nuclear family, the wife performs the specific role of the homemaker and takes care of the initial socialisation of the child. These are the skills that she acquires within the nuclear family. Though this argument may sound traditional and may be flawed, the positive side of it is that, for the first time, a sociologist talked about separate skills within the family. This could be interpreted as the starting point for a discussion on issues such as unpaid family work performed by female members.

The other argument is that since the family does not perform its traditional roles, its necessity as a social institution decreases considerably. The traditional roles of the family include:

i. Socialisation;

ii. Marriage and legitimacy of children;

iii. Sexual gratification and emotional support;

lv. Economic dependence of the wife on her spouse; and

v. Domestic work performed by women in the family such as cooking, cleaning and childcare.

Each of the above could be met outside the family. As far as socialisation is concerned, the family does play a role even now. However, its role was much more important in the traditional system because children learnt the social norms and rules of behaviour from elders in the family. In other words, a Dalit child was taught to behave in different ways with different castes not by people of other castes but by his own family and community.

The skills and knowledge of occupations which existed for each caste group were passed down by the elders in the family to the young. In other words, the son of a potter or a farmer learnt the skills of his trade only from the elders in his family.

The role of the family in socialisation has been reduced considerably. The main institution of socialisation for children now is not the home but the school. Parsons stresses the importance of school for the role it plays in preparing children for citizenship. When the child is in the family, it feels that it is at the centre of all the love and affection.

The child also feels that they are different from others because of the love and care they receive from parents. However, when the same child goes to a day care centre, primary school or some other educational institution, they realise that there are other children similar to them. This experience becomes the first step towards a sense of citizenship. Further, the school also lays down the guidelines not merely for accumulation of knowledge but also behaviour in public.

Durkheim in his work, Moral Education, argued that the discipline and the values taught in school are important for the student when they go out to seek a living. Apart from imparting knowledge, the school also teaches the child to respect elders (teachers), be punctual, and so on. These qualities are essential for citizenship.

Durkheim also says that the spirit of nationalism and national pride is inculcated through the subjects taught in school, such as history, civics, etc. In fact, schools are important institutions for inculcating values such as secularism and multiculturalism.

Sexual gratification can be found even outside marriage which is not its only source, and it is not uncommon for urban people in particular to have extra-marital relationships. The issue of legitimacy of children too, is not very important in most developed countries, which has witnessed the growth of the phenomenon of single mothers.

This was more apparent after WWII in places where the population of males declined. Many women who could not get married opted for motherhood by having a child outside marriage and as single mothers. This in turn led to a decline in the sanctity of marriage.

Moreover, women have become independent earners, which in turn reduces their economic dependence on their spouses. A married couple, both of whom have jobs, and who together contribute to the family income is substantially different from traditional society where males and females in the family combined to perform the work.

In that case, it was joint work which fetched joint returns, whereas in the case of the husband and wife who are both independent individual workers, the income of one is in no way influenced by that of the other. The so-called domestic work which is supposed to be the wife’s prerogative may not be something sacrosanct because this can be done by hiring employees or it can be shared with the husband, and childcare can be delegated to childcare centres.

Role of the Family in Indian Society:

In the section above, we have shown how industrialisation affects the nature of the traditional family. There is a preference for the nuclear family in urban centres. This may hold true in the case of developed industrial countries such as USA, UK and other European countries. In the case of India, where industrialisation developed in a limited way due to colonialism, the situation may not be the same.

Industrialisation in India was restricted to only certain areas because the products were meant for the colonising country (Britain), rather than for domestic consumption. Industrialisation in India began in the 1850s with the establishment of textile mills in what was then Bombay and jute mills in what used to be Calcutta. Those industries were situated in port cities to facilitate their exports. There was little or no industrialisation in other parts of the country as colonial rule did not permit this to happen.

Around this time, there was large-scale pauperisation in the rural areas because import of goods from Britain had replaced the need for traditional village artisans. These people joined the ranks of agricultural labourers. The industries were started precisely because there was a possibility of cheap labour from these impoverished sections.

The wages were so low that it was not possible for families holding no land to migrate to urban centres. Hence the first workers to join the textile mills in Mumbai were those who had small, low-productivity portions of land, which perhaps provided the basic food requirement in the family and nothing else. In these circumstances it was possible for one member of the family to migrate to the city and work there on the low wages offered.

A major part of these wages would go for consumption of the worker, but he could save a small part for his family in the village for purchasing other essential commodities. It was possible for fairly large-scale migration to take place mainly because of the joint or extended families which these workers came from. The worker’s wife and children were looked after by the extended family back in the village.

The above holds true not just for workers migrating to Mumbai and Kolkata, but also in other areas such as the coal mines in Bihar/ Jharkhand. Jan Breman (1998) discusses the specific role of the extended family in promoting industrial labour by citing the works of Kalpana Ram on labour in the coal mines.

We find that in all cases, whether jute, textile industry or coal mines, the joint/extended family in the villages actually promoted the growth of a labour force in the urban centres. It is also found that when workers fell ill, they went back home for treatment (instead of depending on their employers for medical care).

In many cases, workers also brought a sack of food grains from their villages when they returned to their workplaces. These factors made it possible for the workers to exist under the prevailing low wages. Therefore in India, it is the extended family that provided for migration as opposed to the nuclear family in the West.

It is also because of the extended family in the village that the industries were able to get their supply of cheap labour. Therefore one must keep in mind the basic differences in the roles of the family in developed countries and India. This does not mean that there are no nuclear families in urban areas. They do exist, but these families too have strong ties with the larger extended families in the village. One should not mechanically presume that rural areas have joint families and urban areas have nuclear families.


It can be argued in the same way as in the case of the family that kinship ties tend to loosen with migration under industrialisation. The loosening of kinship ties can be due to

i. Distance:

Kinship ties are strongest when there are face-to-face interactions. When kin members migrate to far-off places, these ties tend to be disrupted.

ii. Wealth of individual opportunities:

Employment in the industrialised societies is based on the skills and merits of a person and not on their ascribed status. Hence the support of kin groups for procuring employment will not be very strong, because individual capacities are more important than kinship support.

Marvin B. Sussman and Lee G. Burchinal (1980) in their study on kinship networks in USA show that the above assumptions are not necessarily correct. In fact they argue that it is because of distance and isolation that kinship ties become necessary. Normally, kinsfolk keep in touch with each other through exchange of gifts during certain festivals and they also exchange greeting cards and brief notes which keep each other updated on the developments within the family.

Money may also be given to younger members of the family. The authors find that such ties exist more among the middle and lower- middle classes. They observed that when a person needs money, it is their kinsfolk from different parts of the country that contribute.

Hence they argue that though America has nuclear families, they do not exist as isolated atomised bodies. The nuclear family exists within the kinship network. Hence we can see that kinship ties do not wither away due to industrialisation.

The situation may be slightly different in India. Sociologist David Pocock developed the concept of a rural-urban continuum in the context of India. The concept was originally developed by Robert Redfield in his study in Mexico. Pocock argued that the fundamental structural features such as caste and kinship find full expression among the migrant urban population.

The migrants feel insecure in the urban environment and they depend on their caste and kinship ties for their basic requirements such as employment and help during times of illness. Another study by anthropologist Mark Holmstorm (1976) on industrial workers in Bangalore shows that when workers come to an alien environment they depend on their kinsfolk for support.

He argues that the ritualistic aspects of kinship (such as observing common festivals and religious ceremonies) may slacken due to distance. However, the other aspects such as providing emotional and financial support in an alien environment continue. His study shows that many of the workers have got their jobs in factories due to kinship ties.

They may have a relative who is already working in the factory and puts in a good word for them. Normally, when questioned, no worker will admit that he got the job because of his networks: he will insist that he got it because of his abilities. Holmstorm spent several months in the residences of the workers and got his information because of this closeness to them.

Social Control: Growing Role of the State:

The growth of urban centres under industrialisation necessitated new types of social control. Urbanisation as a result of industrialisation led to large-scale migration from rural areas to the urban centres. In traditional societies, social control was exercised through fixed agencies like the community, caste panchayats, and the village panchayat. In the urban areas, the system had to change because migration meant that diverse types of people were settling in these areas. They had their own notions of social control based on the areas from where they had migrated.

Moreover, this complexity required that there should be an independent central authority to deal with the various issues of control. Control is much more complicated in industrialised societies because there are several dimensions involved. Firstly, there is a need to control the diverse types of people who settle in the industrial centres in terms of law and order.

The industries, too, need to be regulated and also there should be some planning for urban development. All these necessitate a centralised authority for governance. This institution came to be known as the state. As society progressed, there was greater need for this type of a centralised regulation, and hence the significance of the state increased.

The normative structure laid down by traditional societies in the institutions mentioned above exerted control in a region or more specifically in a village. The state exercises greater control over a larger area. It occupies a territory, and its defining feature is their exclusive rights of using coercive methods for making its citizens comply with its rules.

Max Weber referred to this as rational legal authority. Coercion could be used outside the state too, but this would not be legal. It would amount to non-legitimate behaviour which could be punishable, as the law says that only the state has the authority to apply force.

Herein lays the difference between power and authority. Power is the ability of a person to impose their will on others even in the face of opposition, and can be legal or illegal. When it is legitimate power, i.e., power derived from a body like the state, it becomes authority.

The role of the state can be seen in different aspects of our lives. The state regulates business, industry, education, etc., through the laws that it lays down. Even individual action comes under the purview of the state. The rules within the family, the legitimacy of marriage and social relations are all regulated by the state.

For instance, if a parent cannot take care of their child, the state is obliged to do so, through its orphanages or other such institutions. Even violence within the family is illegal, which means that a parent cannot use coercive measures against their children.

Earlier, these issues were decided locally according to the traditional laws which were oral and not codified. In modern times, however, all laws are codified and the state has a separate branch to interpret the implementation of these laws. This is known as the judiciary. The other branches of the state include the legislature which frames laws, and the executive which comprise the bureaucracy which is expected to enforce the laws.

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