Describing and summarizing key aspects in the sociology of work






Describing and summarizing key aspects in the sociology of work

Work in capitalist pre-industrial society circa 1500-1750

No matter the society an individual lives in, all people depend on systems of production in order to survive. Sociologically, work refers to carrying out of or performing tasks that involve the expenditure of both mental and physical effort, with the objective of goods and services that server or cater to human needs (Volti, 2012). Work is what makes up the largest part of people’s lives as it takes up more time than any other human behavior. However, the type of work is different in pre-industrial, industrial and post-industrial era, due to changes in science and technology. Capitalism refers to the recognition of a push or economic motivation in the form of the spirit to achieve maximum benefit. Capitalism began early in 1500-170, which was the first stage of capitalism (Hodson and Sullivan, 2008).

A pre-industrial society is a group with a common territory having a feeling of unity, which is derived from similarities in culture, community of interests and frequent contacts. It is a social group with territorial affiliation with no division of labor or specialization of functions, ruled by tribal officers or hereditary officers. Pre-industrial societies are divided into hunting and gathering, agrarian and horticultural societies. In pre-industrial societies, there is limited production that is artisanship vis-à-vis mass production (Haggerty, 2006). There is also limited specialization of work or division of labor. This is because capitalism in these societies needs a huge amount of skills and knowledge as the complex nature of industrial production cannot be done by a single group or person. This, therefore, means that production in these societies was relatively simple as compared to industrial and post industrial societies. The number of specialized crafts during this period, therefore, was limited during this period. The nature of work in these societies was a result of variation of social classes and limited communications between different societies or communities in pre-industrial societies. This was because of the limited means of transport and communication, allowing only a few people to be able to hear or see beyond their own village (Haggerty, 2006). This was due to the fact that during this period, most of the societies were largely rural communities.

In most pre-industrial societies, the main type of work involved food gathering and food production. In other words, production was mainly done for purposes of consumption. In some other larger societies, however, this period was different from medieval times, due to transformations that were taking place especially in agriculture and industrial sectors. There was also carpentry, shipbuilding and stonemasonry in some societies, but were very simple. The nature of work and occupation was mainly in these sectors, and this played part of improving the economy of most pre-industrial societies during this period. The world we live in was shaped by the economic growth that started in Europe. This was the wool industry, which boosted the economy of Europe in many ways (Goldstone, 2008). The industry was built in rural England as it acted as a empowered people in rural areas, which was beneficial for advancement of British capitalism. The nature of work and occupation during this era also took the form of other businesses such as warehousing, shipping, and other forms of wealth. Capitalism development in this period was also as a result of support from religious groups such as Protestant Calvinism and the teachings of Martin Luther King. Another type of occupation represented in this period, and that played a key role in boosting the economy of pre-industrial societies was mining of precious metals. For instance in Mexico, Bolivia and Mexico, there was mining of gold and silver from the mines in the regions (Goldstone, 2008). This was, however, done in simple forms.

One thing that is clear in this era is that all the work done in most societies took simpler forms as there were no technologies to boost the activities. Although clothing Industry and agriculture existed in some parts, it cannot be ignored that due to lack of advanced machinery, agriculture was agrarian and processes involved were simple. Stones were used instead of metal. This is different when compared to industrial and post-industrial eras, where the type of labor involved, requires some skills and expertise at all levels.

Working practices in capitalist industrial era-circa 1750-1980

Industrial era, on the other hand, is characterized by faster means of communication which led to growth of industrial societies politically, socially and economically. The period is also referred to as industrial revolution era. The other factors that led to growth of capitalism in these societies is the fact that most people had access to information about the world and this allowed the transfer of knowledge and skills as well as cultural diffusion among the societies. This period saw the rise of industrialization, which created employment for many people (Goloboy, 2008). Industrialization refers to the process of economic and social change that transforms people from pre-industrial societies to industrial ones. These both forms of change are related with technological innovation which alters the normal situation to a better one. This period saw forms of philosophical change, where people acquire different attitudes towards the environment in which they live in, and sociological process.

The types of work in this period were factored by favorable legal/political conditions for industry and commerce, plentiful natural resources of different kinds and abundant supplies of skilled, relatively low-cost and adaptable labor. According to Housel (2008), this was a transformation from agrarian economy to an industrial economy. This took place in a few countries of North America and Western Europe, starting in Great Britain, (the first industrialization in the world’s history). In capitalist industrial societies, people work in a wide range of occupations. During this period however, as industrialization was taking place, there was need for people to work in the industries I the production process. In fact, most of works on capitalist industrial society was done by various sociological theorists such as Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber. Karl Marx was the first person to describe the conditions of work in factories, which were coming out during this period. For example, there was transition from independent or personal craftwork to working for another person (boss). According to Marx, this resulted to alienation and deskilling. Weber, on the other hand, was focused on development of new kinds of authority that emerged because of change in occupations brought by industrial revolution. Weber was mostly focused on how these authorities would create stability and social order in society (Housel, 2008).

According to Wallerstein (1986), there is a big comparison between work in pre-industrial capitalist and work in industrial capitalist societies. For instance, in industrial societies, there are tools or machines, inanimate energy such as gas, coal, and oil in the production system. This is different from the production system in pre-industrial capitalist societies, where hand tools and human or animal energy were use in the production system. The units of production in industrial societies are adults or large-scale organizations as compared to the family household in pre-industrial societies (Wallerstein, 1986). Work in industrial societies involves a high degree of specialization (division of labor), which is different in pre-industrial societies where there is no specialization of work. In industrial societies, there is skill requirement and work is rewarded in wages and salaries. In addition, production is not specifically meant for consumption, as there exist an economic system and market that require the goods and services. It is, therefore, important to note all these differences between the two types of society (Goloboy, 2008).

Work in the capitalist post-industrial era-circa 1980 to the present day

A post-industrial society, on the other hand, is one in which a transition in the economy has occurred from a manufacturing based economy to an economy based on service. This reflects a diffusion of national and global as well as mass privatization (Castles, 2010). The factors that influence capitalism growth in this era are liberalization and processes of industrialization, which spur reconstruction of the society as a whole. This period exhibits social and economic attributes, which include a transition from production of goods to the services industry. In these societies, production of goods such as steel and clothing decline as services industries such as selling hamburgers and offering financial advice increase. Services in this era predominate in a wide range of sectors with the most decisive services for a post-industrial society being education, research, health and government services.

The types of occupation during capitalist post-industrial era have more to do with professional work. There is a decline in the importance of ‘blue collar’ manual labor such as line workers and assembly, which are replaced by professionalism and technical work, which predominate the society. For instance, there is increase in the number of accountants, lawyers, architects and even computer programmers who offer services required in their professions. Due to high levels of science and technology in this era, there is the rise of scientists who are specialized in their work, and these include engineers, electric or genetic, who have a high degree of skill and competence in their work (Roulleau, 2003). The nature of work in this era creates a new relationship in the post-industrial society between new technologies and science. This, in turn, leads to the need for more higher learning institutions as they are crucial to the post-industrial society. This is because higher learning institutions such as universities produce experts who can create, guide, and control the new and changing technologies. According to Castles (2010), this era is represented by a number of countries around the world such as the United States, Canada, Japan, and Western Europe.

Science and technology plays a significant role in capitalism. This is described by the transformation of societies in terms of social, economic, as well as, political growth. Work, being an important aspect in individual’s lives, requires skills and knowledge if the economic system is to be improved since a positive change in the economy leads to improvement in people’s welfare (Hodson and Sullivan, 2008). A post-industrial era is a dream of many societies around the world. According to Sweet and Meiksins (2008), this requires embracing science and new technologies if societies are to achieve this.




HODSON, R., & SULLIVAN, T. A. (2008). The social organization of work. Belmont, CA, Wadsworth.

VOLTI, R. (2012). An introduction to the sociology of work and occupations. Thousand Oaks, Calif, Sage.

SWEET, S. A., & MEIKSINS, P. (2008). Changing contours of work: jobs and opportunities in the new economy. Thousand Oaks, CA, Pine Forge Press.

HAGGERTY, S. (2006). The British-Atlantic trading community: 1760-1810 : men, women, and the distribution of goods. Leiden [u.a.], Brill.

GOLDSTONE, J. A. (2008). Why Europe?: the rise of the West in world history, 1500-1850. New York, McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

WALLERSTEIN, I. M. (1986). Africa and the modern world. Trenton, N.J., Africa World Press.

HOUSEL, D. J. (2008). Industrial revolution. Huntington Beach, CA, Teacher Created Materials.

GOLOBOY, J. L. (2008). Industrial revolution: people and perspectives. Santa Barbara, Calif, ABC-CLIO.

CASTLES, F. G. (2010). The Oxford handbook of the welfare state. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

ROULLEAU-BERGER, L. (2003). Youth and work in the post-industrial city of North America and Europe. Leiden [u.a.], Brill.

Use the order calculator below and get started! Contact our live support team for any assistance or inquiry.