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File:Zeche Mittelfeld Ilmenau.jpg

A factory in Ilmenau (Germany) around 1860

Industrialisation (also spelled Industrialization) or an Industrial Revolution is a process of social and economic change whereby a human group is transformed from a pre-industrial society (an economy where the amount of capital accumulated per capita is low) to an industrial one (a fully developed capitalist economy). It is a part of wider modernisation process, where this social and economic change is closely related with technological innovation, particularly the development of large-scale energy and metallurgy production. Industrialisation also introduces some form of philosophical change, or to a different attitude in the perception of nature.

The lack of a large industry sector is widely seen as a major handicap in a country's economy, pushing many governments to encourage or enforce industrialisation through artificial means.

The world's industrialisation started with the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century in northwest and midlands of England.[1]

When capitalised, Industrial Revolution refers to the first industrial revolution, which took place in Britain during the 18th and 19th centuries. The Second Industrial Revolution describes later, somewhat less dramatic changes which came about with the widespread availability of electric power, the internal-combustion engine and assembly lines.


In history many times people found themselves changing and tinting their true goals in life to suit the natural flow taken by main stream companies. They moved out of the city and started smaller businesses. Many had small coops in the middle of the country side because this helped them produce a product that fit more of the consumers needs. The products became more intimate and things such as lace, wood carvings and other intricate home furnishings. These were sold throughout the country side and best selling items were shipped to larger cities for assured success.

Most pre-industrial economies had standards of living not much above subsistence, meaning that the majority of the population were focused on producing their means of survival. For example, in medieval Europe, 80% of the labour force was employed in subsistence agriculture.

Some pre-industrial economies, such as Ancient Athens, have had trade and commerce as significant factors, enjoying wealth far beyond a sustenance standard of living. Famines were frequent in most pre-industrial societies, although some, such as the Netherlands and England of the 17th and 18th centuries, the Italian city states of the 15th century and the ancient Greek and Roman civilisations were able to escape the famine cycle through increasing trade and commercialisation of the agricultural sector. It is estimated that during the 17th century Netherlands imported nearly 70% of its grain supply and in the 5th century BC Athens imported 75% of its total food supply.

Industrialisation has spawned its own health problems. Modern stressors include noise, air, water pollution, poor nutrition, dangerous machinery, impersonal work, isolation, poverty, homelessness, and substance abuse. Health problems in industrial nations are as much caused by economic, social, political, and cultural factors as by pathogens. Industrialisation has become a major medical issue world wide. Justin Guyton


Industrial Revolution in Western Europe


Industrial output in 2005

In the 16th and 17th centuries Great Britain experienced a massive increase in agricultural productivity known as Agricultural Revolution, which enabled an unprecedented population growth, freeing up a significant percentage of the workforce, and helping, thereby, drive the Industrial Revolution.

The new manpower couldn't dedicate to agriculture due to the lack of land; besides, this was not needed neither because the higher productivity mechanised farming granted allowed a single peasant to feed a bigger number of otherwise employed workers. On the other hand, new agriculture techniques increased the demand for machines and other hardware, traditionally provided by the urban artisans. Artisans, collectively called bourgeoisie, employed rural exodus' workers to increase their output and meet the country's needs. The growth of their business coupled with the lack of experience of the new workers pushed to a rationalisation and standardisation of the duties the in workshops, thus leading to a division of work, that is, a primitive form of Fordism. The process of creating a good was divided into simple tasks, each one of them being gradually mechanised in order to boost the productivity, therefore the income. The accumulation of capital allowed investments in the conception and application of new technologies, enabling the industrialisation process to self-sustain.

The mechanisation of production spread to the countries surrounding England in western and northern Europe and to British settling colonies, making those areas the wealthiest since, and shaping what is now know as the Western world.

Incidentally, the possession of exploitation colonies eased the accumulation of capital to the countries that possessed them, speeding up their development. The consequence was that the subject country integrated a bigger economic system in a subaltern position, emulating the countryside who demands manufactured goods and offers raw materials, while the metropole stressed its urban posture, providing goods and importing food. A classical example of this mechanism is the triangular trade, who involved England, southern United States and western Africa. This polarity still affects the world, and deeply retarded the industrialisation of what is now known as the Third world.

Some have stressed the importance of natural or financial resources that Britain received from its many overseas colonies or that profits from the British slave trade between Africa and the Caribbean helped fuel industrial investment. It has been pointed out, however, that slave trade and the West Indian plantations provided less than 5% of the British national income during the years of the Industrial Revolution.[2]

Other developed countries

After the Convention of Kanagawa, issued by Commodore Matthew C. Perry, forced Japan to open the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate to American trade, the Japanese government realised that drastic reforms were necessary in order to stave off Western influence. Japanese leadership abolished the feudal system. The government instituted military reforms to modernise the Japanese army and also constructed the base for industrialisation. The government vigorously promoted technological and industrial development which eventually brought Japan to become a modern wealth power.

In a similar way, after the stranger's invasion Russia suffered during its civil war, Soviet Union's centrally controlled economy decided to invest a big part of its resources to enhance its industrial production and infrastructures in order to assure its own survival, thus becoming a world superpower.

The other European communist countries followed all the same developing scheme, albeit with a less emphasis on heavy industry.

Southern Europe countries saw a moderate industrialisation during the period from the fifties to the seventies, reached through a healthy integration of the European economy, though their level of development, as well as those of eastern countries, doesn't match the western standards.

The third world

A similar state-led developing program was pursued in virtually all the third world countries during the Cold War, including socialist ones, but specially in Sub-Saharan Africa after the decolonisation period. The primary scope of those projects was to achieve self-sufficiency through the local production of previously imported goods, the mechanisation of agriculture and the spread of education and health care. However, all those experiences failed bitterly due to lack of realism: most countries didn't have a pre-industrial bourgeoisie able to carry on a capitalistic development or even a stable and peaceful state. Those aborted experiences left huge debts toward western countries and fuelled public corruption.

Petrol producing countries

Oil-rich countries saw similar failures in their economic choices. The oil being both important and expensive, regions with big reserves have huge liquidity income. However, this was rarely followed by economic development. Experience shows that local elites are unable to re-invest the petrodollars obtained through oil export, and currency is wasted in luxury goods. This is particularly evident in the Persian Gulf states, where the per capita income is comparable to those of western nations, but where no industrialisation has started. Apart from two little countries (Bahrain and United Arab Emirates), Arab states have not diversified their economies, and no replacement for the upcoming end of oil reserves is envisaged.


A totally different pattern was followed in East Asia, which is experiencing an accelerated industrialisation. In the sixties a network of small privately-owned factories spread across four small countries known as the Asian tigers, focusing their activities on the export of low value added goods to rich countries. This specialisation, allowed by the existence of stable governments and well structured societies, was favoured by a low cost workforce, a favourable exchange rate, and low custom duties. Because of the success of those initial policies the Asian tigers have recently been trying to step forward in this stage and diversify their economies.

This starting model was afterwards successfully copied in all eastern and Southern Asian countries, including communist ones. The success of this phenomenon has led to a huge wave of offshoring, that is, western factories or tertiary corporations choosing to move their activities to poor countries where the workforce is less expensive and less collectively organised.

China and India, while roughly following this development pattern, were forced to adopt, because of their weight, specific policies. China's government is actively investing in expanding its own infrastructures and securing the required energy and raw materials supply channels, is supporting its exports by financing the United States balance payment deficit through the purchase or US treasure bonds, and is strengthening its military in order to endorse a major geopolitical role. India's government is investing in specific vanguard economic sectors such as bioengineering, nuclear technology, pharmaceutics, informatics or technologically-oriented higher education, openly overpassing its needs, with the goal of creating several specialisation poles able to conquer foreign markets. China and India, also, started to make huge investments in third countries, making them active actors of today's world economy.

Other countries


The countries in green are considered to be the current industrialising nations (see: Newly industrialising countries). China and India (in dark green) are special cases.

In recent years, other countries like Mexico, Brazil or Turkey have experienced a moderate industrial growth, fuelled by exportations to bigger economies like United States, China or the European Union respectively. They are sometimes called newly-industrialised countries. Also most African and Latin American nations seem to follow a similar scheme. Despite this trend being artificially influenced by the oil price increases, the phenomenon is not entirely new nor totally speculative (for instance see: Maquiladora). Most analyst conclude in the next decades the whole world will experience industrialisation and international inequality will disappear and be replaced by merely social inequality.

Current situation

In 2005, the USA was the largest producer of industrial output followed by Japan and China, according to International Monetary Fund.

Currently the "international development community" (World Bank, OECD, many United Nations departments and some other organisations) endorses development policies based on merely poverty reduction, and giving access to poor populations to basic services like drinkable water or primary education. It does not recognise traditional industrialisation policies as being adecuated to the Third world or beneficial in the longer term, with the perception that it could only create inefficient local industries unable to compete in a free-trade dominated world.

See also



  • Hobsbawm, Eric (1962): The Age of Revolution. Abacus.
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