Pre-industrial society  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Pre-industrial society refers to specific social attributes and forms of political and cultural organization that were prevalent before the advent of the Industrial Revolution and the rise of Capitalism.



The concept of "pre-industrial society" is widely used across the social sciences and it is preferred over similar concepts that are ideologically loaded. Pre-industrial society can be said to be "value free" as opposed to others (see objectivity). For example, it is commonly used and interchanged with the term: "traditional society", a term coined by Emile Durkheim in The Division of Labor in Society. One objection to this term is that tradition implies "stagnation". Durkheim himself used it to describe the logic by which community norms were governed.

Karl Marx, who gave the theoretical foundations to the concept, used the term "pre-capitalist society". However, it is not a neutral term since it implies that a transition to capitalism was a progressive or inevitable development (in Marx's view, necessary for a transition to communism). His followers (i.e. Louis Althusser) used "pre-industrial society" interchageably with that of Marx.

Other synonyms are "agrarian society" and "pre-modern society". All of these concepts are related as they derive from Marx and Hegel's ideas. Nonetheless, each of these are not strictly "synonyms". Each has their own ideological and intellectual lineage, and deserve independent treatment.

Theoretical foundations

There are several ideas that gave way to the term: "Pre-industrial society"":

  • The Marxist and Hegelian idea that history progresses forward; always towards the improvement of the spirit (as in Hegel) and/or the social conditions (as in Marx).
  • The Marxist idea that history progresses in stages of development. Although this notion of gradual movement was implied by Marx (The Grundrisse); it was explicitly developed by Friedrich Engels in 'his 'Dialectics of Nature and in The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State.
  • The Pre-industrial stages proper are:

The Industrial or Modern stages are: capitalism, Socialism (a transitional stage) and communism.

Contemporary political theory claims that capitalism, avoiding socialism and communism, has already transcended the industrial stage. Daniel Bell called the current stage as the "post-industrial society"; others (in example Foucault) call the actual stage as "post-modern."

Some attributes of the pre-industrial societies

  • Limited production (i.e. artisanship vs. mass production)
  • Primarily had an agricultural economy
  • Limited division of labor- i.e. Capitalism needs a vast amount of specialized knowledge and skills due to the complex nature of industrial production. In pre-industrial societies, production was relatively simple and, thus, the number of specialized crafts was limited.
  • Parochialism- Social theories hold that communications were limited between human communities in pre-industrial societies. Few had a chance to see or hear beyond their own village. In contrast, industrial societies grew with the help of faster means of communication, having more information at hand about the world, allowing knowledge transfer and cultural diffusion between them.
  • Pre-industrial societies developed largely in rural communities. Capitalism developed largely in urban areas.


See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Pre-industrial society" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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