postindustrial society

postindustrial society

a conception of late-20th-century society which highlights the declining dependence of the societies on manufacturing industry, the rise of new service industries, and a new emphasis on the role of knowledge in production, consumption and leisure.

As formulated by Daniel Bell in The Coming of Post-Industrial Society (1974), modern societies, such as the US and many European societies, are seen as increasingly information societies, i.e. societies centred on knowledge and the production of new knowledge. An indication of this is the increased importance of HIGHER EDUCATION within these societies. According to Bell, knowledge is becoming the key source of innovation and the basis of social organization in these societies. This being so, new knowledge-based professional and occupational groups are also seen as increasingly achieving dominance within the class structures of these societies (see also TECHNOSTRUCTURE).

On this view, postindustrial societies may also be seen as a species of POSTCAPITALIST SOCIETY in which the owners of capital have conceded power to professional managers (compare MANAGERIAL REVOLUTION, SEPARATION OF OWNERSHIP AND CONTROL; see also CONVERGENCE). Although it finds some support, Bell's concept has also been widely criticized as failing to demonstrate that the undoubted increase in the importance of knowledge in modern societies actually does lead to a shift of economic power to a new class, especially to a new non-capitalist class.

In more general terms, there is relatively little acceptance that modern societies have moved beyond industrialism in any of the senses suggested. For example, if primary and manufacturing industry may seem to have declined in importance, this is deceptive, since much service production is production for manufacturing industry. Similarly, according to many commentators, the society of affluence and abundant LEISURE, often suggested as part of the idea of postindustrialism, remains a long way off (see also LEISURE SOCIETY).

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Postindustrial Society


in modern bourgeois society and “futurology,” a designation widely applied to a new stage of social development that supposedly follows industrial capitalist society. The concept of the postindustrial society represents a further development of theories that were popular in the 1960’s: the French sociologist R. Aron’s “industrial society” and the American sociologist W. W. Rostow’s “stages of economic growth.”

The most prominent spokesmen of the concept of the postindustrial society are D. Bell, H. Kahn, and Z. Brzezinski of the USA and J. J. Servan-Schreiber and A. Touraine of France. The basic principles of the concept are accepted by many other bourgeois sociologists, economists, political scientists, and futurologists. However, various authors attach different meanings to the concept of the postindustrial society. The adherents of the concept claim that it is a general sociological theory of the forward development of mankind. Based on the level of technology in production and on the division of labor by sector and occupation, D. Bell and other sociologists divide world history into preindustrial (agrarian), industrial (capitalist and socialist), and postindustrial society. (Brzezinski prefers the term “technetronic society.”) At the same time, the significance of social relations, property, and the class struggle is minimized. The concept of the postindustrial society is a patent effort to formulate a theoretical alternative to the Marxist doctrine of socioeconomic formations, to replace social revolutions with technological revolutions, and to oppose communism with a different social ideal. This explains the concept’s popularity among bourgeois ideologists.

The concept of the postindustrial society is based on technological determinism: depending on the level of technology, society is dominated successively by a “primary” sphere of economic activity (agriculture) and a “secondary” sphere (industry). Society is now entering a “tertiary” sphere of services, in which science and education will play the leading role. Each of the three stages is associated with a specific form of social organization and with the dominant role of a particular social estate. Agrarian society is linked with the church and the army and is ruled by the clergy and feudal lords. Industrial society, which is associated with the corporation, is dominated by businessmen, and postindustrial society, which is associated with the universities, is dominated by scholars and professional specialists. In effect, this conception of society seeks to perpetuate antagonistic social relations, inasmuch as a number of features of class antagonistic society persist in postindustrial society: social heterogeneity; inequality and alienation of the individual; division of the population into the ruling, technocratic elite and the governed masses; private property; and political conflicts. Thus, in the final analysis, postindustrial society is not a “new stage” in social progress but merely state-monopoly capitalism projected into the future, modernized, rationalized, and idealized. Of course, such a society cannnot be an attractive social ideal for the working people.

The concept of the postindustrial society capitalizes on the relative autonomy of the modern scientific and technological revolution and expresses the interests of the elite of the scholarly intelligentsia, which is striving to become part of the ruling class of capitalist society. The theory of the postindustrial society is one of the extreme forms of bourgeois liberal reformism evoked by the contemporary conditions of the general crisis of capitalism, the coexistence of two systems, and the scientific and technological revolution. As V. I. Lenin once observed with regard to similar theories, the theory of the postindustrial society is characterized by a readiness to repudiate capitalism for effect only and simultaneously to refuse to acknowledge that capitalism’s historical successor is socialism and communism (Poln. sobr. sock, 5th ed., vol. 33, p. 68).


Ostrovitianov, Iu. K. “‘Postindustrial’naia tsivilizatsiia,’ ili kapitalizm ν 2000 godu?” Voprosy filosofii, 1969, no. 7.
Ikonnikova, G. I. “Kontseptsiia ‘postindustrial’nogo obshchestva’— nesostoiatel’naia al’ternativa teorii nauchnogo kommunizma.” In Filosofskie problemy obshchestvennogo razvitiia. Moscow, 1971.
Arab-Ogly, E. A. V labirinte prorochestv. Moscow, 1973.
Krasin, Iu. A. “Apologeticheskaia sushchnost’ teorii ‘postindustrial’nogo obshchestva.” Voprosy filosofii, 1974, no. 2.
Toffler, A. “Stolknovenie s budushchim.” Inostrannaia literatura, 1972, no. 3.
Kahn, H., and A. J. Wiener. The Year 2000. New York, 1967.
Touraine, A. La Société post-industrielle. Paris, 1969.
Brzezinski, Z. Between Two Ages. New York, 1970.
“Post-Industrial Society.” Survey, winter 1971; spring 1971.
Kahn, H., and B. Bruce-Briggs. The Things to Come. New York, 1972.
Bell, D. The Coming of Post-Industrial Society. New York, 1973.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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