It is widely held that modern society currently dwells in the information age, which is characterised with a rapid growth of the white‐collar workforce and prevalence of theoretical knowledge. While, some of these observations are true, it could be suggested that the popularity of the post-industrial society results from the propaganda of the capitalist elite, which desires to maintain the status quo, rather than allow an establishment of the new social order. Therefore, it could be argued that modern society is not radically different in structure from the industrial age. Consequently, the essay will examine the leading theories of the post-industrial society thesis, explore their shortcomings and illustrate the impact of the capitalist power relations on the economy and current social structure.
It is widely believed that the modern society currently resides in the new evolutionary stage, as the media emphasises the world’s entrance into the post-industrial era (Webster, 2002b). It is also known as the information age, whereas the modern ‘weightless economy’ is driven by information, and constitutes a part of the bigger ‘global information economy’ (Webster, 2002a). In this context, news reports portray information as the transformative attribute of the modern societal structure – an idea that occupied human minds for other than forty years (Webster, 2002a). As a result, Karim (2001) has noted that mass media became a common celebrator of the ‘new economy’, where that technology and information will undoubtedly result in the “perfect state in which all desires of consumers will be fulfilled” (p. 118).
Originally, the popularity of the post-industrial and the information society concepts was propagated by Daniel Bell, whose interpretations remain the predominant for conceiving relationships between information and society (Schement & Curtis, 1995). Bell (1973) has introduced the analytical construct of the ‘post-industrial society’ (PIS), where theoretical knowledge becomes a herald of a radical economic and social departure from industrial era (Kumar, 1978). Notably, Bell’s core argument is centred on the observable shift from goods to a service economy. For example, the service sector grew by nearly 20% from 1941 to 1980 (Duff, 1998). Arguably, such trends lead to a change of the occupational distribution, which is one of the most important of class determinants. Bell (1973) argued that the expansion of the service economy encourages higher employment rates within information-handling services, such as science, IT, research and development, teaching and banking, thus bringing the shift to white-collar occupations. Consequently, this professional and technical class, particularly scientists and engineers among it, will replace industrials and entrepreneurs of the industrial society, thus giving the rise to the new social structure (Kumar, 1978). Notably, Bell showed that the scientific population of the United States had increased from 2.7% of to 4% the workforce from 1963 to 1970s, and continues to grow faster than the total labour force (Bell, 1973; National Science Foundation, 2010). This means that, PIS will subsequently be organised around knowledge and technological advancements will be used for the purposes of social control and planning of innovation. Moreover, work among the professional class will involve more affluence, leisure and investment will be aimed at human rather than material capital (Marien, 1977).
Additionally, Bell has emphasised that theoretical knowledge is a strategic resource of PIS, and will substitute property and become the underpinning nexus of social fabric and its order (Ferkiss, 1979). Therefore, professionalism, as the distinguishing feature of the new intelligentsia, will become a new norm, thus departing from the standards of economic self-interest (Bell, 1973). This means that innovation will become increasingly dependant on theoretical knowledge, where universities and research organisations will grow into being the core institutions, superseding business organisation of the industrial age (Kumar, 1978). Finally, Bell (1973) has also argued that the technological improvements will allow more precise economic forecasting, allowing to avoid economy stagnation. Consequently, steady growth would be achieved through developments of rational action plans and means to achieve them using computing technology (Bell, 1973). Finally, Bell has ascertained that the described advancements will take place from 1970s and onwards, stating that “post-industrialism will be a major feature of the twenty-first century” particularly in the social systems of the Western Europe, Japan and the United States (Bell, 1973, p. x).
Nevertheless, it could still be argued that the observed tendencies simply indicate a development of the previous industrial mode. Notably, Bell was criticised for using quantitative data to justify the sociological significance of the alleged trends without conducting a more thoughtful analysis (Kumar, 1978). Bell claims that in the PIS model people will require more services, due to the increased productivity and profits in agricultural and industrial areas due to the technological advancements, which lead to the growth of the service (tertiary) sector. As a result, the statistics of the rising service workforce is interpreted and the society is indeed moving into the post-industrial stage (Bell, 1973). However, Bell’s classification of services does not account for the white- collar workers in the industrial sphere, such as an accountant working in an electronics factory, or manual labour force inside the hospitality or transport sectors (Kumar, 1978). Moreover, a business enterprise may expand its white-collar staff within the marketing department to boost business’ productivity (Webster, 2002a). As a result, Gershuny and Miles (1983) have discovered that approximately the half of the growth in service occupations results from such “intra-sector tertiarisation” (p. 125). Consequently, it can be observed that the white-collar jobs originally grew from the marketing, clerical and managerial departments in the industrial sector due to the continuous process of rationalisation, thus undermining the idea of the ‘white-collar revolution’ (Kumar, 1978).
Furthermore, Bell highlights ‘economising’, which is the rationalisation of the resource allocation for the purposes of work optimisation and societal improvement (Bell, 1973). However, the progressive logic of the rationalisation also results in the division of labour, boosting the number of service occupations (Webster, 2002a). Subsequently, the majority of the service workers are clerks, who are involved in the routine and unskilled tasks (Kumar, 1978). This is due to the successful model of Taylorism, which has proved its success in the factory manufacturing and has found applications within offices as well (Cooper & Taylor, 2000). Following the logic of economies of scale, even the jobs within the service sector have been rationalised, specialised and routinized, resulting in exploitation and a greater power distance between workers and their supervisors (Kumar, 1978). For example, the study of the accounting professionals has discovered that philosophy of Taylorism and scientific management have led to a removal of decision-making capacities and information load from their occupations, with the prospect of further reduction of mental labour and long-term dehumanising effects (Cooper & Taylor, 2000). Consequently, a hypothesis is the more empowered and skilled workforce is subject to doubt. Moreover, scientists and engineers, who are meant to constitute the core of the new intelligentsia, are largely employed by the private sector organisations (Webster, 2002a). Due to the increased employment rivalry in knowledge sector, professionals are eager to find a market niche rather than exert any counteractive impact (Webster, 2002a). Consequently, science is used as a mere force of production, which is subject to the division of labour and hierarchal division, similar to the production process of any other commodity (Gorz, 1980). This leads to an unavoidable proletarization of the white- collar workers, which along with Taylorism reinforces the existent class structure, rather than establishes a new social order (Braverman, 1974).
What is more, one of the fundamental flaws of the Bell’s theory is that he examined PIS developments solely as the societal change discarding the realms of politics, culture and the underlying power relations, ascertaining that they independent of one another (Bell, 1973). However, Castells (1989) has argued that political, economic and social attributes should be examined as interconnected components. Consequently, Castells (1989) has recognised the impact of the capitalistic economic relationships, which underpin the industrial social order. As the result, former capitalistic relationships still prevail and even got extended with the emergence of ICT (Webster, 2002b). Castells has observed that principles profit-seeking, market principles and private ownership still dominate, while the communication networks developments result in a greater flexibility and global reach (Webster, 2002a). Consequently, Scott (1997) has observed that due to the reinforced network relationships and global intertwined shareholdings, the members of the capitalist class reinsure their positions through “constellation of interests” and form a pool, from which new corporate managers are recruited, subsequently preventing organisational and societal changes (p. 73). Furthermore, capitalistic pressures also have had an impact on universities and research institutions, which Bell has regarded as the core establishments of the knowledge society (Bell, 1973)
In the 1980s and 1990s, the university sector has experienced a reduction of public subsidy, which resulted in the prevalence of the market principles and resource management techniques (Peters, 1992). Elliott (1990) thus argued that this operation model led to 'methodological dogmatism' of capitalism in the educational sector. As a result, Slaughter and Leslie (1997) contend that these trends have lead to commercialisation and commodification of knowledge, transforming research institutions into ‘business establishments’. Moreover, commodification of knowledge has severe implication on Bell’s claim that technology is an agent of structural change, which is detached from the power relations of the social world. For example, current deregulation trends accommodate the increasing control over new technologies by corporate organisations, thus becoming subject to commercial interests (Tager, 2014). For instance, Charles Ferguson (2010) has found that the Financial Crisis of 2008 was preventable and occurred due to the high-risk bank lending driven by profit pursuit instead of implementing means of technological planning. Moreover, governments indeed use computing technologies and data about population growth and ozone layer state to make more practical environmental policies, however research has shown that nations’ competing epistemologies tend to greatly infringe the scientific approach (Webster, 2002b; Cohen, 1997).
Nevertheless, the theory of post-industrial still prevails and the idea that technology will solve most of economic and social problems remains popular. According to Tager (2014) this is a techno-utopian vision, which is purposefully propagated in the marketplace as a kind of endless promise. This serves as the useful ideology that support and justifies the existing state of affairs and satisfies aspirations of common citizens (Ferkiss, 1979). Karim (2001) has referred to this as a type of propaganda, which is technique to mobilise masses. Therefore, “dominant discourses of the technological state are based upon the interpretations of the myth of science in order to maintain consensus about the continuing viability of the status quo” (Karim, 2001, p. 125). Ellul (1978) explains that this is done to depict the functioning of the current economic system as the normal state of the information society. As a result, this induces people to continue performing the assigned tasks with a promise of ultimate satisfaction if one fully integrates in the system, which benefits only the corporate elite. Therefore, the propaganda of the current age reinforces the belief of the coming of the post-industrial society, yet prevents social restructuring.
It can be concluded that the post-industrial society thesis predicts a coming a new society, which is radically different to the industrial era, while a number of theorists believe that the process has already begun. However, this essay has demonstrated that there is little convincing evidence to either support the mechanics of this theory or the idea that the social order has began its transformation. The quantitative expansion of the service sector does not account for the general tendency of rationalisation and deskilling of workers, similar to the practices of the ‘industrial’ age. Moreover, the capitalistic power relationships impede the further social changes due to the profit and power imperatives of the industrialists, who nevertheless promote the notion of knowledge society to maintain the status quo. Consequently, the current society is not radically different from the past but is simply developing under the same capitalist constraints and priorities