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The hunter-gatherer way of life is based on the consumption of wild plants and wild animals.
Consequently, hunter-gatherers are often mobile, and groups of hunter-gatherers tend to have fluid
boundaries and compositions. Typically, in hunter-gatherer societies, men hunt wild animals while
women gather fruits, nuts, roots, and other vegetation. Women also hunt smaller wild animals.

The majority of hunter-gatherer societies are nomadic. Because the wild resources of a particular
region can be quickly depleted, it is difficult for hunter-gatherers to remain rooted in a place for long.
Because of their subsistence system, these societies tend to have very low population densities.

Hunter-gatherer societies are characterized by non-hierarchical social structures, though this is not
always the case. Given that hunter-gatherers tend to be nomadic, they generally cannot store
surplus food. As a result, full-time leaders, bureaucrats, or artisans are almost never supported by
hunter-gatherer societies. The egalitarianism in hunter-gatherer societies tends to extend
to gender relations as well.


In a pastoralist society, the primary means of subsistence are domesticated animals (livestock). Like
hunter-gatherers, pastoralists are often nomadic, moving seasonally in search of fresh pastures and
water for their animals. In a pastoralist society, there is an increased likelihood of surplus food,
which, in turn, often results in greater population densities and the development of both social
hierarchies and divisions of labour.

Pastoralist societies still exist. For example, in Australia, the vast, semi-arid interior of the country
contains huge pastoral runs called sheep stations. These areas may be thousands of square
kilometres in size. The number of livestock allowed in these areas is regulated in order to sustain the
land and to ensure that livestock have enough access to food and water.

Horticulturalist Societies

In horticulturalist societies, the primary means of subsistence is the cultivation of crops using hand
tools. Like pastoral societies, the cultivation of crops increases population densities and, as a result
of food surpluses, allows for an even more complex division of labor. Horticulture differs from
agriculture in that agriculture employs animals, machinery, or other non-human means to facilitate
the cultivation of crops. Horticulture relies solely on human labour for crop cultivation. Horticultural
societies were among the first to establish permanent places of residence. This was due to the fact
they no longer had to search for food; rather, they cultivated their own.

Agrarian Societies

In agrarian societies, the primary means of subsistence is the cultivation of crops using a mixture of
human and non-human means, like animals and machinery. In agriculture, through the cultivation of
plants and the raising of domesticated animals, food, feed, fibre and other desired commodities are

In comparison with the previously mentioned societal types, agriculture supports a much greater
population density and allows for the accumulation of excess product. This excess product can either
be sold for profit or used during winter months. Because in agricultural societies, farmers are able to
feed large numbers of people whose daily activity has nothing to do with food production, a number
of important developments occur. These include improved methods of food stores,
labor specialization, advanced technology, hierarchical social structures, inequality, and standing


In an industrial society, the primary means of subsistence is industry, which is a system of

production based on the mechanized manufacture of goods. Like agrarian societies, industrial
societies lead to even greater food surpluses, resulting in even more developed social hierarchies
and an even more complex division of labour.

The industrial division of labor, one of the most notable characteristics of this societal type, in many
cases leads to a restructuring of social relations. Whereas in pre-industrial
societies, relationships would typically develop at one's place of worship, or through kinship and
housing, in industrial societies, relationships and friendships can occur at work.


In a post-industrial society, the primary means of subsistence is derived from service-oriented work,
as opposed to agriculture or industry. Importantly, the term post-industrial is still debated, in part
because it is the current state of society. Generally, in social science, it is difficult to accurately name
a phenomenon while it is occurring.

Most highly developed countries are now post-industrial. This means the majority of their workforce
works in service-oriented industries, like finance, healthcare, education, or sales, rather than in
industry or agriculture. This is the case in the United States .
Hunting and Gathering Societies

For most of human history, our ancestors have lived in hunting and gathering societies. For about 5
million years, this type of society was the dominant form of social organization. Only 10,000 to
12,000 years ago did other types of societies start to appear. In other words, for 99.75% of hominid
history, humans have been hunters and gatherers.

There are still hunting and gathering societies today, but they are rapidly disappearing, displaced by
more complex societies. There are today only about 250,000 people living in such societies, that is,
0.001% of the world’s population.

Hunting and gathering societies are still found among the Aborigines of Australia, the Bushmen of
Southwestern Africa, and the Pygmies of Central Africa.

One can find such societies also in the Amazonian rainforest region. But there too, there subsistence
is threatened by commercial interests involved in clearing the rainforest for a variety of business, be
it tim ber trade or land clearing for cattle raising.

 Subsistence Technology

Obviously, the main mode of subsistence of these societies is through the hunting of games (or
fishing, for societies living near coastal or Arctic areas) and the gathering of naturally growing plants,
fruits, and vegetables. The subsistence technology is very rudimentary, consisting mostly of spears,
bows and arrows, digging sticks and small traps, all of those made of bone, wood and stones.
Because hunting and gathering are the main activities for members of these societies, they are
almost completely dependent upon whatever game and plants are already available in the
environment for their survival.

 Replacing Members and Caring for the Young

Hunting and gathering societies tend to be small, averaging between 25 and 60 members. A lifestyle
based on food extraction from the environment – rather than food production – cannot sustain a
very large population. These societies tend to be nomadic, that is, without permanent settlements.
After a while, food extraction depletes the resources available in the society’s surrounding. Once an
area has been relatively exploited, the group then has to move to find new sources of subsistence.

Population size is also relatively small because the number of births usually matches the number of
deaths and fertility – the number of children a woman has – tends to be low for several reasons. Low
levels of body fat, prolonged nursing and nomadism – through the increased risk of miscarriage –
decrease women’s fertility. Social and cultural considerations also play a part in low fertility.
Abortion and infanticide tend to be widespread in such societies: it would be difficult for a woman
nursing a young child for several years to have another baby to care for, especially when a group is
constantly on the move, carrying all their possessions. And for all the members of the group,
accidents and disease are common causes of death. As a result of all these factors, population
growth tends to be very low.

Another defining characteristic of hunting and gathering societies is the prevalence of the family and
kinship structure as the basic institution. Most institutional functions we identified earlier as basic
individual and societal needs are fulfilled by the family or kinship. In a hunting and gathering society,
every individual has ties to the other members of the group. The family structure of hunting and
gathering societies can include both nuclear – parents and their unmarried children – and extended
families – where other relatives, beyond just parents and children, are included. Among the family
structure relatively common in such societies are (a) limited polygyny, where one husband has 2 or 3
wives, (b) exogamy, where one marries outside of one’s group in order to foster alliances with
neighboring communities, (c) wife lending, as a means of settling conflicts between groups.

 Teaching New Members

In hunting and gathering societies, there is no formal educational system. Children are raised into
the way of life of the group through informal training and observation of adults’ activities. Because
resources are often scarce, children are soon expected to contribute to the group within the limits of
their abilities. Although children do not go through formal education, their growing up is marked by
rites of passage or initiations that usually mark their transition to adulthood. This lack of formal
education also correlates with valuing children’s independence and self-reliance as more useful
qualities for a nomadic and uncertain lifestyle.

 Producing and Distributing Goods

Hunters and gatherers do not produce food. They collect what is already available in their
surroundings and this constitutes the major economic activity. There is therefore a limited division
of labor and limited distribution of statuses and roles. Division of labor is usually based on gender
and age. In most hunting and gathering societies, men hunt and women gather. This division of labor
relates to prolonged nursing and differential levels of speed and skills. Similarly, children and elders
are expected to contribute to the group according to their abilities, for instance, by gathering

Usually, most of the food that a group gets is based on gathering rather than hunting. However, the
product of the hunt is considered more prestigious than the product of gathering. As a result,
although mostly egalitarian, such societies do value men’s work more than women’s. It may be that
meat is more valued because it is scarce, harder and more dangerous to obtain and requiring more
skills than plant gathering. Good hunting skills are therefore a source of prestige. Apart from these
simple aspects of division of labor, there is limited structured inequality in hunting and gathering

The major mode of food distribution is sharing. Different members of the groups and different
families commonly share what they are able to gather and especially what they hunt. Because meat
is rare, it is expected that lucky hunters of the day share their kill. This emphasis of sharing – as
widespread norm – benefits the group as a whole: if a man kills game one day and shares it, then, he
can expect to receive meat from other men on the days when he is not successful. This cooperation
ensures the survival of the group as a whole. Such a value placed on cooperation goes against the
common sense idea that human beings are “naturally” competitive and selfish. The most basic
human economic system was based on cooperation and sharing.

This characteristic is also related to the fact that there is no opportunity to accumulate wealth:
whatever is killed or gathered is disposable, so, food surplus cannot be created. And because the
group is nomadic and members have to carry their possessions from place to place, there is also
little opportunity to accumulate private property.

 Preserving Order and Cooperation Within Society

Since hunting and gathering societies tend not to develop complex political systems. After all, there
is little wealth or power to distribute among the members. There are no formal rulers but
sometimes, a skilled hunter may accumulate prestige and become “big man” or “great man.” Such a
title confers a few privileges but no extensive power over other members. In such societies,
collective decision making is made over group meeting and by consensus. Similarly, social control is
exercised informally, either through blood revenge, where the victim punishes the offender, or

 Maintaining a Sense of Purpose and Cooperation

Like all human societies, hunting and gathering communities have struggled with the need to explain
the world around them and events for which there are no easy answers: people do get sick and die,
but what causes illness? Why are there good hunting days and bad hunting days? Because these
societies had limited amounts of knowledge to rely on, they developed their own system of
explanation. This resulted in the rise of a religious form known as animism: the belief that spirits
inhabit all natural elements, that they interfere with human affairs, and that they can be
manipulated to a certain extent by individuals with specific skills, called Shamans or medicine men.
This spiritual aspect of hunting and gathering life has been made famous by cave paintings
excavated in different parts of the world, as well as sculpture and other artistic forms.

Horticultural and Pastoral Societies

The period between 12,000 and 7,000 years ago marks the end of the hunting and gathering era and
the emergence of the era of horticultural and pastoral societies. Although this shift is referred to as
the first social revolution, it was actually gradual and unfolded over thousands of years. However,
the changes were so deep in the major areas of social life that this shift truly was revolutionary.

According to Lenski and Nolan, research now shows that hunters and gatherers did not simply
decide one day to abandon their traditional lifestyle to become horticulturalists and pastoralists.
Hunting and gathering societies had belief systems and structures that made them resistant to
change. A more likely explanation is that they were compelled to do so for several reasons: (a)
population growth, (b) environmental change, and (c) change in technology. As population grows,
more food is needed to sustain the group. Consequently, hunting and gathering societies became
more efficient in weapon technology which resulted in the accelerating extermination of game. At
the same period, the global warming that marked the end of the last ice age provoked a rise in ocean
levels and a corresponding shrinking in available land.

Those societies that lived in dry and mountainous areas with low rainfall turned to pastoralism, the
domestication of herd of animals for food. Those that lived in areas with more rainfall turned to
horticulturalism, that is, the cultivation of gardens for food using hand tools, such as hoes. Pastoral
societies remained nomadic whereas horticultural societies established permanent settlements.
A good example of a contemporary horticultural and pastoral society are the Masai people, who live
mostly in Kenya. Below is a video the author shot. The Masai live without electricity. In order to cook
and heat, they need fire and this is how they get it, the old-fashioned way.

 Subsistence Technology

Horticulturalist involves slash and burn cultivation. When groups settled in an area, they would clear
the land by burning the existing vegetation using the resulting ash as fertilizer. Once the nutrients in
the ash are consumed and the land loses its fertility, it would be abandoned to wild vegetation and
people would establish a new garden. The major tools for this are the hoe and the digging stick. The
first region to adopt this mode of subsistence was a Middle Eastern area called the Fertile Crescent,
an area spreading from Jordan to Iraq.

Pastoral societies are also called herding societies. They rely on the domestication of animals
present in the environment for food. These societies tend to remain nomadic to find grazing land for
their herds. The major pastoral societies are still found in the Sahara desert, among the Tuareg

 Replacing Member and Caring for the Young

The switch from a hunting and gathering lifestyle to a horticultural or pastoral economy had far-
reaching consequences. Human societies were no longer dependent upon whatever food sources
were available in the environment. Human beings, from now on, were producing it with greater
efficiency. The result was the production of a food surplus. The first consequence of the availability
of a food surplus is the increase in population size. Horticultural societies support hundreds of
people. As people enjoy greater food security, fertility increases and mortality in general and infant
mortality in particular decrease. Consequently, population grows. Additionally, living in permanent
settlements means that women do not have to wait for a child to be autonomous before having
another one. And as life expectancy increases, so does a woman’s average number of reproductive

 Teaching New Members

In horticultural and pastoral societies, the family and kinship group remain central but they tend to
be more complex than in hunting and gathering societies. Because of the population growth,
extended family networks grow larger and constitute clans. Kinship still fulfills most of the basic
social and human needs. The concept of kin is also extended to include dead ancestors who come to
take the place of spirits as supernatural forces intervening in the affairs of the living.

 Producing and Distributing Goods

As the food supply becomes more secure, the economic structure is radically transformed since not
everyone needs to be involved in this activity. This allows individuals to get involved in economic
activities not related to food production, such as crafts, jewelry, pottery, weaving, and religious
functions. As food production increases, so does specialization.
In horticultural societies, women are largely responsible for food production. Men are usually in
charge of clearing the land but women do the planting and harvesting. As a result, men have more
time to be involved in non-food related activities.

There are also economic consequences to living in permanent settlements: it becomes possible for
people to accumulate material possessions, small, such as decorative items, or large, such as pottery.
This flourishing of material objects also results in the development of trade and private property to
be defended against potential theft.

Finally, this increase in material goods and food production generates greater inequalities. Some
families will get better crops than others, and therefore greater wealth which leads to greater power
and prestige. This accumulated wealth can be passed onto the next generations, contributing to a
reproduction of inequalities. With this comes the practice of marriage for economic interest:
because women contribute so greatly to food production, they are a valuable asset that can be
exchanged into marriage for a bride price – goods that the groom’s family has to provide to the
bride’s family in exchange for their daughter – thereby creating ties between the families.

 Preserving Order and Cooperation within Society

Political governance remains simple. Power is usually exercised by clan leaders whose influence is
based greater wealth. A significant difference between hunting and gathering societies and
horticultural and pastoral societies is the more extensive presence of warfare in the latter. It seems
that warfare, waged by men released from food production activities, becomes a substitute for
hunting but it also serves other functions.

Warfare serves as population control through direct loss of life as well as female infanticide. Clans
may practice infanticide on their own girls in order to be able to devote more resources to raising
boys to become warriors. Warfare also serves to acquire more land for a clan thereby increasing that
clan’s power and prestige. This is accompanied by the added benefit of using captives as slaves to
work the land. Slavery tends to be widespread in horticultural and pastoral societies.

 Maintaining a Sense of Purpose and Cooperation

As was the case for hunting and gathering societies, purpose and cooperation are promoted through
religion and spirituality. However, horticultural and pastoral societies give rise to specific types of
religion. Horticultural societies believe in ancestor worship – dead relatives that still exercise
influence over their descendents’ affairs. This may be due to the fact that, in permanent settlements,
the dead are buried nearby and therefore remembered more strongly by their relatives.

Pastoral societies developed beliefs systems based on gods or God conceived as a shepherd guiding
his flock; in either cases, the divinity also takes an active part in the life of believers. The major
monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam were all religions of pastoral societies.

Agricultural Societies
5000 years ago started a very fertile period of innovation in human history. The large number of
innovation again radically changed most aspects of human life and societies throughout the world.

 Subsistence Technology

The innovation in subsistence technology with the greatest impact on the organization of societies
was the plow. Unlike the hoe or the digging stick, the plow is able to control the growth of weeds
and to maintain and renew the fertility of the soil. Settlements become permanent since soil
nutrients do not get depleted, as they would in a horticultural system. The use of the plow also
made cultivation possible on different types of soil. And with the harnessing of animal power,
cultivation became possible on much larger areas, thereby producing agriculture, that is, the
cultivation of fields (as opposed to gardens). Using oxen or cattle to pull the plow allowed for greater
food surplus. The discovery of irrigation techniques also contributed to greater productivity by
making it possible to extract several crops during the year.

The production of a food surplus had far-reaching consequences for the rest of society and triggered
further innovation beyond food production. For instance, the invention of the wheel that could be
attached to wagons improved transportation technology so that it became easier to get the food
surplus to urban areas. The invention of writing and number allowed careful record keeping of
harvest quantities. The discovery and mastery of various metals gave birth to money which replaced
the bartering system in favor of monetary trade.

And as the food surplus increased greatly, societies became larger, even more complex and
differentiated. Agrarian societies were the societies of the great Empires (such as Egypt,
Mesopotamia, China, Greece, and Rome) whose architectural and cultural accomplishments we still
admire today.

For instance, the map on the left (source) shows the Roman Empire at the peak of its expansion.
Romans controlled significant parts of Europe, almost all of North Africa and the Western part of

Maintaining this Empire required not only military forces but a state bureaucracy to ensure
compliance with Roman rule. It also required a legal code that defined the rights of citizens and non-
citizens living under Roman rule.

 Replacing Member and Caring for the Young

The most direct result of great food productivity is the dramatic increase in population size, increase
in numbers of communities as well as the development of urban centers which became the first
identifiable large cities unified under a single political authority or ruler. Such empires had
populations numbering in millions.
Because of the dominance of agriculture and the greater availability of food, both urban and rural
families had an interest in large family size, especially families with sons. Children became valued
because they were a source of cheap labor, as well as old age insurance (especially for peasants
living in poverty). Religious values came to regard large numbers of children as a sign of God’s favor.
All these reasons for favoring large families are still present today in traditional societies in Africa.

However, if agrarian societies numbered in millions, it is also an effect of territorial expansion, and
not simply because of high fertility because mortality was also extremely high, and infant mortality
especially so. In years of bad crops, for instance, infanticide and abandonment were common. Also,
those very large cities had no sanitation systems proper. As a result, epidemics – the Black Plague
being an extreme case – were commonplace and life expectancy short.

 Teaching New Members

In agrarian societies, the vast majority of the population is still composed of peasants, children work
alongside adults in gender-differentiated tasks. Men and boys are generally in charge of plowing and
care of the animals whereas women and girls are in charge of weeding and seeds, as well as
domestic chores. In urban areas, because of the greater specialization, some formal training in
different crafts, in the form of apprenticeships, becomes widespread.

 Producing and Distributing Goods

With a greater food surplus, agrarian reached levels of economic complexity, social differentiation
and specialization, and inequality never achieved before. One of the most important innovations is
the emerging use of standardized means of exchange that paved the way for metal currencies. The
rising use of money stimulates trade and comes to replace the traditional bartering system. In a
bartering system, if your neighbor has something you need, you try to find something he needs and
you make a fair exchange or roughly equivalent value. If your neighbor has nothing you need, you
simply don’t engage in bartering with him. The use of money greatly expands trade because now,
you and your neighbor do not need to have something that other wants in order to do business.
Money can be exchanged. In addition, the notion of fair exchange is replaced with the notion of

Now that more people can be involved in non-food producing activities, the amount of goods and
services available for purchase increases dramatically, along with a new class of people whose task it
is to acquire good not for their own use but to sell to others: the merchant class.

Such merchants, in turn, rely on another class to actually manufacture the goods they intend to sell:
artisans. Artisans are specialized craftsmen who sell their products to merchants who then put them
on the market. Artisans themselves then need skilled and unskilled laborers for the different tasks
involved in manufacturing goods.

In the rural areas, a feudal system develops. Feudalism is an agrarian system where a small minority
of the population own most of the land and landless peasants have to work the land in exchange for
a small share of the harvest. This landowning agrarian elite also employs a sizable number of
domestic servants and a new class of professional entertainers (gladiators, for instance).

Dramatic inequalities exist between the rulers and the elite on the one hand, and the large masses
of peasants at the bottom of the social ladder. However, agrarian societies are also more complex
and a wide range of new classes are created to fulfill different economic functions between these
extremes of wealth and poverty.

Agrarian societies also mark the degradation of the status of women. Since men are now in charge of
plowing and animals, that is, the tasks that are central to food production, women’s tasks take
secondary status. In all the different classes, women become means of forging alliances between
families and kinship networks as wealth is passed from fathers to sons.

 Preserving Order and Cooperation within Society

Politically, the agrarian era marks the beginning of a structured organization managing collective
affairs: the state. When territories and population become so large and diverse as a result of
conquests, the need emerges for some degree of political integration under a single political
authority. The emergence of a governing class marks the relative decline of kinship ties. Indeed,
most agrarian societies are ruled by hereditary kings or emperors whose titles are passed to their

Large-scale conquest and warfare cannot rely on private militia. Agrarian rulers create professional
armies, thereby creating a military class in society. These armies are used both against foreign and
internal threats.

Once a territory has been expanded or conquered, its administration is turned over to bureaucrats
to manage civil affairs, such as payment of taxation and tribute to the ruler, as well as administration
of justice. Indeed, agrarian societies give rise to the first formal codes of law and the corresponding
legal occupations.
The major political characteristic of agrarian societies is what Lenski and Nolan (2004) call the
proprietary theory of the state: rulers of agrarian societies do not manage their empire for the
common good or in the name of the public interest, but as a piece of property they own and can do
with as they please.

 Maintaining a Sense of Purpose and Cooperation

If agrarian societies are so unequal and exploitative for the vast majority of the population, why do
people put up with this state of affairs? Why do peasants turn most of the food surplus they produce
over to indifferent and contemptuous elite? They do so because these societies also provide a moral
system of justification of the gross inequalities anchored in religious ideology. Most rulers are
religiously defined as ruling “by divine right” – such as the European monarchies – or as gods
themselves – such as the Egyptian Pharaohs. Their wealth, power and privileges are therefore part of
a divine design and ordering of the world. Any challenge to the organization of societies, especially
its unequal class structure, is a challenge to God or the gods.

Such an ideology is actively promoted by a rising clergy and priestly class that rely on the generosity
of rulers. In agrarian societies, religion becomes a powerful and universal force. Gods are no longer
local deities or ancestors but omnipotent entities that control what goes on in the whole world and
regulate human moral conduct, as in Christianity and Islam. The priestly class also contributes to the
exploitation of the peasant class by requiring tributes, constructions of temples, and labor in order
to properly serve God.

Industrial Societies

The three different types of societies we have examined so far are referred to as preindustrial
societies. In all of them, the main source of energy was human or animal muscle which inherently
placed limits on productivity. It is the discovery and use of alternate sources of energy that would
spark the next social revolution: the Industrial Revolution. With industrial societies, we see the
emergence of societies we, in the West, are familiar with. Indeed, most of our contemporary
lifestyle has its roots in technological and societal innovations brought about by industrialization.

The essence of industrial society was powerfully captured by Charlie Chaplin, in his movie, Modern

 Subsistence Technology

It is indeed the harnessing of new energy sources that marked the next leap in subsistence
technology that is at the heart of the Industrial Revolution. This Revolution started in Great Britain
around the 1750s with the use of the steam engine and fuel to power industrial machinery. When
applied to subsistence production, fuel-powered machinery transformed agrarian production into
agribusiness: farming becomes less the business of slam to medium family farms and more the
business of very large agricultural companies that need a very small workforce.

At the same time, emerging industries such as steel, automobile, and textile, have increased needs
for an abundant workforce driven by a more complex division of labor in the productive economy.
The illustration below (source) represents scientific management or Taylorism. Rather than one
skilled individual completing all the steps of the production process, the engineer Frederick Taylor
conducted time-motion studies in which he timed how long each step took, then assigned each
simple step to an individual worker. Since the steps are simple, they do not require specific skills (see
the Modern Times clip above) and can be reproduced many times over per hour, leading to higher

As a result, industrialization involves a massive transfer of population from the rural areas to the
cities. And because agriculture becomes a form of industrial production, it is possible for a very small
agricultural workforce to support and predominantly urban and industrial societies.

 Replacing Members and Caring for the Young

If urban living conditions for the working class were initially appalling with high death rates due to
infectious disease, the increase in scientific, biological and medical knowledge progressively
extended longevity. As death rates gradually declined and birth rates remained high, a population
explosion resulted. However, throughout the 20th century, thanks to more reliable methods of
contraception, birthrates started to drop. Additionally, for urban families, there were fewer
incentives to have large families as women started to work outside the home and as child labor
became illegal.

Although still a main function of the family, caring for the young became the business of other social
institutions as well: the government would progressively oversee the wellbeing of children; the
educational system would take care of formal schooling. This contributed to an undermining of the
traditional authority of the family.

 Teaching New Members

An industrial economy needs an educated workforce. Progressively, all industrial nations institute
formal systems of schooling, elementary, secondary, and universities. By the beginning of the 20th
century, most industrial countries have some form of compulsory education. The educational system
therefore becomes a major social institution at the expense of the family.

 Producing and Distributing Good

Industrial economies are distinct from previous economic systems in several other characteristics:

 Economic production shifts from labor-intensive – production that uses a lot of labor power,
workers or animals – to capital-intensive – production that needs a lot of initial investment
in machinery and technology.
 The family shifts from a unit of economic production to a unit of economic consumption.

 In order to improve their standard of living, workers start organizing labor unions to defend
their collective rights.

The most dramatic change in the economic structure is the rise of an economic system never seen
before: capitalism. Hunting and gathering societies’ system of production was a subsistence
economy, where self-sufficiency was the goal. Agrarian societies’ system of production was a
command economy where the ruling elite made the economic choices and enjoyed the wealth
generated by the economic surplus. Industrial societies’ system of production is private, and based
on a market economy where producers are free to exchange their goods and services and prices are
set by supply and demand.

However, it is important to note that industrialized countries never had a truly market economy. By
the end of the 19th century, most industrialized nations had put in place welfare systems and ways
of redistributing wealth in a less unequal fashion and to alleviate some of the harshest effects of
capitalism on the working class. Social inequality does remain a problem along gender and racial
lines with the persistence of wage gaps.

 Preserving Order and Cooperation within Society

On the political front, industrialization brought about two major changes: democracy and the nation-
state. As industrialization makes farming a less profitable activity and land a less valuable asset,
traditional elite lose both economic and political power. Industrialists and merchants become the
major beneficiaries of the new system. This new elite reject hereditary and monarchical power. As a
result, in most European countries, the 19th century is the century of revolutions where monarchies
get overthrown and replaced with democratic regimes and political rulers are ideally supposed to
exercise power on behalf of and for the benefit of society as a whole.

Of course, early democracies were democracies in name only since significant categories of people –
first, poor men, then women and people of color – were excluded from basic political rights. On
most western European countries, full democratic participation is only achieved after World War II,
and in the United States, one would have to wait for the Civil Rights in the 1960s for African
Americans to enjoy full citizenship rights. The very concept of “citizen” is born of industrialization
and this democratic trend. In the agrarian era, common people were “subjects.” The concept of
citizen implies membership in a nation-state that guarantees certain rights (political, civil and social)
and imposes certain duties (such as respect for the law, taxation, and possible draft).

According to Lenski and Nolan, the rise of these two political changes were brought about by
industrialization but also by other causes as well:

 Protestant rejection of the Church’s authority and hierarchy;

 Increase in literacy and standard of living which renders people more politically active and

 Urbanization also makes people more politically sophisticated, as opposed to rural areas
where people tend to lack such sophistication and tend to follow traditional authorities;

 The rise of the mass media (initially, in the form of cheap daily newspapers) which increased
the general level of political awareness. Of course, the rise of the mass media also produced
the first media mogul who could control how much and what kind of information people
were exposed to, as brilliantly illustrated by Orson Welles’ movie “Citizen Kane.” (See video

Industrialization also means the growth of government alongside the growth of corporations.
Industrial societies are territorially large and comprise tens of millions of people. There are therefore
the social and economic that only a government can take care of such as sanitation, roadways,
transportation infrastructure, and education.

 Maintaining a Sense of Purpose and Cooperation

According to Lenski and Nolan, industrialization also gave rise to new ideologies that influenced
society. Although religion remains a strong institution, several new secular ideologies emerge that
challenge religious and supernatural worldviews:

 Republicanism – the rejection of the hereditary character of monarchies and of the

proprietary view of the state;

 Capitalism – the promotion of market economy as outlines by Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into
the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, published in 1776;

 Socialism – in its democratic form, it promotes the reform of the economic system toward
more equality; in its revolutionary form, promoted by Karl Marx, it promotes the overthrow
of the capitalist system;

 Nationalism – a view that shifts sources of loyalty and identity from the clan or the tribe to
the larger nation; it is also referred to as patriotism;

 Pragmatism – a philosophical view that is non-political and just prescribes that we do what
works and reject what does not;

 Hedonism – a view that emphasizes the pursuit of pleasure.

What is distinctive about all these secular ideologies is that they all assume that human beings (not
God, or gods, or ancestors, or spirits) are in control of individual and collective destinies. As a result,
modern and industrial societies are more receptive and even encouraging of rejecting of traditions,
change and innovation through the application of scientific knowledge and use of technology.

Post-Industrial Societies

According to sociologist Daniel Bell (1973), postindustrial or information societies have emerged in
the past three decades in the United States, Western Europe and Japan and represent the latest
social revolution. Since postindustrial societies are still developing, it is hard to describe them along
the same lines we have reviewed the previous societal type.
However, we can outline the basic structure of such societies. Economic production is no longer
based on industrialism and the mass production of manufactured goods. Rather postindustrial
societies are based on the production, storage, and use of information which is why the post-
industrial economy is often also called the Information Age, humorously and midly criticized in the
comics below (source):

This decline in industrial economy is accompanied by the rise of a service economy, such as banking
and financial services, law, education, and health care. In a service economy, people sell their
knowledge and expertise to others. Because postindustrial societies and their occupational structure
are based on knowledge, education, especially higher education, maintains a key institutional role

Computer technology becomes an essential component of practically every aspect of people’s lives
and the social structure as a whole.

Communication technologies, such as the World Wide Web, emails as well as satellite
communications, have expanded dramatically, connecting people throughout the world. Just as the
Industrial Revolution gave rise to the nation-state, such technologies gave birth to the Global Village.

Of course, other forms of production (agriculture and manufacturing) do not disappear but we now
witness a global division of labor where different regions of the world engage in different forms of
production (fruits from the Caribbean area, electronic manufacturing from Southeast Asia, high tech
software from Silicon Valley).

Politically, we witness the decline of the nation-state and the rise of global institutions, such as the
United Nations, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization, and of a global civil society
through multiple Non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International or Greenpeace.

Agricultural Societies

Agricultural societies developed some 5,000 years ago in the Middle East, thanks to the invention of
the plow. When pulled by oxen and other large animals, the plow allowed for much more cultivation
of crops than the simple tools of horticultural societies permitted. The wheel was also invented
about the same time, and written language and numbers began to be used. The development of
agricultural societies thus marked a watershed in the development of human society. Ancient Egypt,
China, Greece, and Rome were all agricultural societies, and India and many other large nations
today remain primarily agricultural.

We have already seen that the greater food production of horticultural and pastoral societies led
them to become larger than hunting and gathering societies and to have more trade and greater
inequality and conflict. Agricultural societies continue all of these trends. First, because they produce
so much more food than horticultural and pastoral societies, they often become quite large, with
their numbers sometimes reaching into the millions. Second, their huge food surpluses lead to
extensive trade, both within the society itself and with other societies. Third, the surpluses and trade
both lead to degrees of wealth unknown in the earlier types of societies and thus to unprecedented
inequality, exemplified in the appearance for the first time of peasants, people who work on the
land of rich landowners. Finally, agricultural societies’ greater size and inequality also produce more
conflict. Some of this conflict is internal, as rich landowners struggle with each other for even greater
wealth and power, and peasants sometimes engage in revolts. Other conflict is external, as the
governments of these societies seek other markets for trade and greater wealth.

If gender inequality became somewhat greater in horticultural and pastoral societies than in hunting
and gathering ones, it became very pronounced in agricultural societies. An important reason for
this is the hard, physically taxing work in the fields, much of it using large plow animals, that
characterizes these societies. Then, too, women are often pregnant in these societies, because large
families provide more bodies to work in the fields and thus more income. Because men do more of
the physical labor in agricultural societies—labor on which these societies depend—they have
acquired greater power over women (Brettell & Sargent, 2009). [3] In the Standard Cross-Cultural
Sample, agricultural societies are much more likely than hunting and gathering ones to believe men
should dominate women (seeFigure 2.22 "Type of Society and Presence of Cultural Belief That Men
Should Dominate Women").

Figure 2.22 Type of Society and Presence of Cultural Belief That Men Should Dominate Women
Source: Data from Standard Cross-Cultural Sample.

Industrial Societies

Industrial societies emerged in the 1700s as the development of machines and then factories
replaced the plow and other agricultural equipment as the primary mode of production. The first
machines were steam- and water-powered, but eventually, of course, electricity became the main
source of power. The growth of industrial societies marked such a great transformation in many of
the world’s societies that we now call the period from about 1750 to the late 1800s the Industrial
Revolution. This revolution has had enormous consequences in almost every aspect of society, some
for the better and some for the worse.
On the positive side, industrialization brought about technological advances that improved people’s
health and expanded their life spans. As noted earlier, there is also a greater emphasis in industrial
societies on individualism, and people in these societies typically enjoy greater political freedom
than those in older societies. Compared to agricultural societies, industrial societies also have lower
economic and gender inequality. In industrial societies, people do have a greater chance to pull
themselves up by their bootstraps than was true in earlier societies, and “rags to riches” stories
continue to illustrate the opportunity available under industrialization. That said, we will see in later
chapters that economic and gender inequality remains substantial in many industrial societies.

On the negative side, industrialization meant the rise and growth of large cities and concentrated
poverty and degrading conditions in these cities, as the novels of Charles Dickens poignantly remind
us. This urbanization changed the character of social life by creating a more impersonal and less
traditional Gesellschaftsociety. It also led to riots and other urban violence that, among other things,
helped fuel the rise of the modern police force and forced factory owners to improve workplace
conditions. Today industrial societies consume most of the world’s resources, pollute the
environment to an unprecedented degree, and have compiled nuclear arsenals that could undo
thousands of years of human society in an instant.

Postindustrial Societies

We are increasingly living in what has been called the information technology age (or
just information age), as wireless technology vies with machines and factories as the basis for our
economy. Compared to industrial economies, we now have many more service jobs, ranging from
housecleaning to secretarial work to repairing computers. Societies in which this is happening are
moving from an industrial to a postindustrial phase of development. In postindustrial societies, then,
information technology and service jobs have replaced machines and manufacturing jobs as the
primary dimension of the economy (Bell, 1999). [4] If the car was the sign of the economic and social
times back in the 1920s, then the smartphone or netbook/laptop is the sign of the economic and
social future in the early years of the 21st century. If the factory was the dominant workplace at the
beginning of the 20th century, with workers standing at their positions by conveyor belts, then cell
phone, computer, and software companies are dominant industries at the beginning of the 21st
century, with workers, almost all of them much better educated than their earlier factory
counterparts, huddled over their wireless technology at home, at work, or on the road. In short, the
Industrial Revolution has been replaced by the Information Revolution, and we now have what has
been called an information society (Hassan, 2008). [5]

As part of postindustrialization in the United States, many manufacturing companies have moved
their operations from U.S. cities to overseas sites. Since the 1980s, this process has raised
unemployment in cities, many of whose residents lack the college education and other training
needed in the information sector. Partly for this reason, some scholars fear that the information age
will aggravate the disparities we already have between the “haves” and “have-nots” of society, as
people lacking a college education will have even more trouble finding gainful employment than
they do now (Wilson, 2009). [6] In the international arena, postindustrial societies may also have a leg
up over industrial or, especially, agricultural societies as we move ever more into the information