Chapter 14:  Industrializing societies

Despite the rapid growth and spread of industrialization during the last 2 centuries, less than a quarter of the world’s population today lives in societies that can be considered fully industrialized.  Although it is sometimes convenient to refer to all of nonindustrial societies today as LDCs or the Third World, this practice should not obscure the many important differences among them (372).

Types of industrializing societies

Much of the diversity among these societies results from circumstances that are unique to individual societies.  But some of their most important differences reflect a single underlying variable:  their traditional subsistence technology.  This fundamental distinction has had enormous consequences, for both their current situations and their future prospects (372-373).

Industrializing Agrarian Societies

Industrializing agrarian societies comprise most of Latin America, southern and eastern Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, and are also found in parts of southern and eastern Europe.  Although different in many ways, they all combine elements of both the agrarian past and the industrial present (373-374).

Approximately 70% of the world’s population lives in these societies (374).

These societies have been struggling with problems that often threaten to overwhelm them.  Despite partial industrialization, many of their citizens are as poor as the common people ever were in traditional agrarian societies.  At the same time, improved education and the exposure to western mass media have raised their hopes and given them an awareness of the possibility of a better life (374).

Industrializing Horticultural Societies

Industrializing horticultural societies, with a median size of 8.1 million, are much smaller than industrializing agrarian societies, with a median size of 17.7 million, and they are much more concentrated geographically.  Only about 10% of the world’s population live in industrializing horticultural societies today.  These societies are found in only 3 places:  Sub-Saharan Africa, Papua New Guinea, and Haiti.  They also flourished until recently in Latin America and Southeast Asia.

There are important differences between these 2 kinds of industrializing societies that stem from their dissimilar histories.  Compared to societies with an agrarian heritage, those with a horticultural heritage are badly handicapped in the industrial era.  Their social and cultural heritages have not equipped them and their people to cope with the modern world as effectively as the heritages of agrarian societies.  Many of the cultural elements that are essential in the industrial era--such as urbanism, governmental bureaucracy, standardized monetary systems, and literacy--were either absent in horticultural societies or were far less developed than in agrarian societies.  Thus, horticultural societies have been poorly prepared for the highly complex and competitive world system created by the IR (375).

Technology and Productivity

Two of the best measures of a society’s level of development are its energy consumption and gross national product.  Energy consumption since it measures the extent to which nonliving sources of energy are harnessed by a society, reflects a society’s technological power.  GNP, reflects its economic power.  Dividing these two by the number of people, or amount of land, that was used to produce them, produces measures of technological and economic efficiency (375-376).

What explains discrepancies between rates of growth in GDP and per capital GDP?  Differences in the rates of population growth in these different types of societies (377). Thus, because of high rates of population growth, industrializing horticultural societies have been unable to raise the standard of living of their people significantly (378).

Population growth and its consequences

The demographic transition that accompanied industrialization in the developed world was gradual.  Death rates slowly declined as sanitation improved and as developments in transportation made food supplies more reliable.  At first, birthrates remained high and population increased, but after a time this process slowed.  The process took more than a century to complete, and rates of European population growth, though unprecedented historically, were generally around 1%.  There was also a sparsely settled New World to which large numbers of the growing surplus population migrated and found land and work to support themselves (379).

Developing societies today are in a very different situation.  Although the outline of the process is very similar, its pace has been greatly accelerated and there is no New World.  Birthrates and populations have declined in industrializing agrarian societies but have remained high in industrializing horticultural societies (379).

When societies grow this fast it is difficult for them to find the resources needed to satisfy even the most basic needs of all their members.  Rapid population growth also impacts negatively on other critical aspects of the development process.  Another factor retarding economic development is the poverty of the excess population.  Because people cannot afford to buy anything but the basic necessities, they fail to generate a demand for the kinds of products that are essential components of the economy of every industrial society (380-382).


The economies of industrializing societies consist of 2 very different components:  traditional and industrial.  The traditional component is similar to the economy of the typical agrarian or horticultural society of the past.  The industrial sector of the economy is not simply a scaled-down version of the economy of a typical industrial society, however.  It is not likely to contain a representative sample of industries.  Instead, it is often one-sided in its development with one or two key industries heavily represented (382-383).

Because today’s developing societies are industrializing in a world that is dominated politically and economically by already industrialized societies with which they are interdependent, developing societies enter into an established and often saturated market where the most advanced and largest competitors have the greatest advantage.  As a result, many of the industrializing societies have been forced into a distinctive and precarious ecological niche:  they have become producers of raw materials for the world economy (383-384)

Industrializing horticultural societies face especially serious obstacles to industrialization.  Because the urban sector of their economies has historically been so much less developed than in agrarian societies, urban populations in industrializing horticultural societies have had less experience with such fundamentals of modern life as money, specialization, literacy, and bureaucracy.  This makes it difficult for modernizing governments and businesses to find skilled personnel to staff their organizations (386).


In developed societies, as industrialization progressed, economic resources and political power shifted from agrarian elites to commercial classes and better educated labor forces began to demand greater political rights.  In industrializing agrarian societies, one of the greatest hindrances to development of democracy has been the kind of governing class they inherited from the past.  In contrast, because of their newness and cultural heritage, one of the most serious barriers to democratic institutions in industrializing horticultural societies has been the internal divisions rooted in traditional tribal loyalties, some of which are partly a legacy of colonial rule.  Colonial powers seldom destroyed the older tribal groups but preserved them as instruments of administrative control (386-387).

Social stratification

Systems of stratification in industrializing agrarian societies are as varied as the polities and economies to which they are linked.  In a number of them, the class structure is still much as it was in the past, though modified to some degree by industrialization.  In effect, however, there tend to be 2 separate systems of stratification in these societies.  One is dominant in rural areas and reflects the old order; the other is dominant in urban areas and reflects the new.  With the passage of time, the new system of stratification, which is based on the industrial economy, tends to become dominant throughout the country as a whole.  The major variations in the composition of the lower classes in these societies result of differences in levels of economic development (389).

It must be noted that although it has been abolished legally, by some estimates, there are still as many 100 million slaves in the Third World today (393).

cleavages and conflicts

Few societies in history have had such serious internal divisions as the majority of those now undergoing industrialization.  Most of them are torn not only by ancient cleavages inherited from preindustrial past, but also by other that are peculiar to societies trying to industrialize today.  The most basic of the older cleavages in industrializing agrarian societies is the one that separates the few who control the nation’s resources form the vast majority who supply the labor and get little more than the bares necessities in return (393).

As the monarchial political system in these societies has broken down, many new groups have become politically active and many new issues have become politically relevant.

Finally, the rapid rate of change characteristic of industrializing societies invariably creates a cleavage between generations.  This appears to be more serious than the generation gap in societies that have already industrialized, as indicated by the frequency and the bitterness of conflicts between students and political authorities in these nations and by the frequency of revolutionary activity in the younger generations (393-395).

The consequences of tribalism have been even more serious for industrializing horticultural societies.  Civil wars based on tribal divisions nearly destroyed Zaire in the early days of its independence,.  In Angola, Rwanda, Burundi, Nigeria, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and others, the fuse burned more slowly but the results were worse.  In most African countries, tribalism remains a divisive force, often with the potential for civil war.  With increasing urbanization, with the establishment of schools that cultivate national loyalties, and with the growth of mass media, tribal loyalties will probably disappear in time (395-396).


The importance of education for economic growth is abundantly clear:  the most prosperous nations are those that have invested heavily in education (396).

ideologies old and new

Most leaders of modernizing movements are aware that social and economic progress requires more than increased capital and improved techniques of production.  New creeds and new gods are needed to arouse and mobilize the common people who, after centuries of frustration, are often apathetic and fatalistic.  Today, in all but the most backward parts of the industrializing agrarian world, there is an intellectual ferment and a clash of ideas between the advocates of traditional belief systems and the proponents of newer ones (397).


In horticultural societies of the past, kin groups were extremely important.  Now the historic bases of power of the kin group are being undermined in these societies.  IN the modern sector of the economy, the kin group no longer controls its members access to the means of livelihood, which it traditionally did through its control of the land.  Similarly, the family plays a smaller role in the political system.  And the once-important cult of the ancestors, centered in the kin group, has declined in importance as Christianity and Islam have expanded (401-402).

The status of women

For people accustomed to the role and status of women in industrial societies, the situation of women in the Third World today is surprising and shocking (402).

Industrializing Societies in Theoretical Perspective

Not many years ago, the prospects for industrializing societies looked bright.  All they had to do, it appeared, was to follow the path blazed by the societies that had already industrialized.  In fact, some people believed that because developing societies had the experience of other to draw on, they would be able to avoid many of the problems of modernization and speed up the process.  Today, that prediction seems hopelessly naive.  Why?

1.         Dependency Theory:  blames difficulties on western industrial societies.

2.         Modernization Theory:  focuses on the attitudes and values of the members of the Third World as the chief deterrent to industrialization.  The difficulties are due to the persistence of ideologies and institutional systems which were inherited from the preindustrial past and are incompatible with the needs and requirements of industrialization (403).

In any attempt to evaluate either theory, it is important to keep in mind 2 things.  First, there is little evidence to support the claim of many dependency theorists that life was better in most Third World societies before the industrial era.  Two, there is no reason to assume that the source of problems in the Third World is primarily internal or external.  On the contrary, EET asserts that the characteristics of human societies are the product of both internal and external forces, and that the emergence of technologically more advanced societies reduces the prospects and competitiveness of less advanced societies (404).

The greatest deficiency of both dependency and modernization theory is their failure to focus more closely on the distinctive demographic situation of the Third World (404).

From the perspective of EET, the demographic peculiarities of Third World societies, as well as those characteristics of ideology and social structure that work against the resolution of their problems, all stem from a more basic underlying source.  IN most societies throughout human history, all of the basic components of their sociocultural systems--population, technology, ideology, social structure, and material products--evolved more or less in concert with one another.  In contrast, societies industrializing today, selected elements of an enormously powerful industrial technology have been introduced into sociocultural systems that are still geared to much less potent agrarian or advanced horticultural technologies.  Not surprisingly, these societies have had enormous difficulty in coordinating technological advance with changes in other areas of life (404).