There are various definitions of the industrial revolution. According to Richards “the industrial Revolution has been defined as the series of changes by which hand craftsmanship in the home or small workshop gave place as the general mode of industry to machine-work in factories.”
The Industrial Revolution was a period from the 18th to the 19th century where major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, and transport had a profound effect on the socioeconomic and cultural conditions starting in the United Kingdom, then subsequently spreading throughout Europe, North America, and eventually the world. The onset of the Industrial Revolution marked a major turning point in human history; almost every aspect of daily life was eventually influenced in some way.
The industrial revolution was a phenomenon that knows its origins in the late 18th century. It was kick started in Britain and was first seen in developments in the manufacturing of textiles. The first factories were created throughout the Industrial Revolution. The first machines of this technological revolution were water powered, factories were built near streams. However, the first major development occurred which would help to spur the revolution on, the invention of the steam engine by James Watt in the 1770s. Coal and iron became key factors in the Revolution. Coal was used to create steam in order to work heavy machinery in factories. Iron was used to build machinery which is precise and which lasts long. In the early stages of the revolution machines were built out of wood, but it was not as precise and as strong as iron. These were also vastly used in transportation. Coal was used to propel steamships and steam trains. While iron was used in order to build these new modes of transportation which would be key factors in the industrial revolution as they would transport goods and people at speeds which nobody had dreamt of before. The industrial revolution made Britain more wealthy and powerful. Britain was the pioneering country in industrialisation. Many European countries would then follow its footsteps.
The industrial revolution led to an increase in the population. This was not because of the increase in birth rate but rather due to the decrease in the infant mortality rate. This increase in the population was further aided by the Agrarian Revolution in the 1820s. The Agrarian revolution helped sustain the increases in the population. This increase in population “helped the industries by providing labour and a market.” This revolution transformed society as it led to urbanisation. Many workers moved from the countryside to the urban centres such as Paris, London and Manchester in order to find work in the factories. They were actually better paid but weren’t paid enough to maintain an adequate standard of living. Thus many social problems were created. This rapid movement from the countryside to the urban areas did not give any chance for proper planning and development of these urban areas. Therefore, this led to a lot of confusion and residences with few basic amenities.
This revolution also created further class division with the rise of the middle classes. The wealth was in the hands of the few, who in turn took advantage of the many by paying them low wages for their labour. Generally working conditions were harsh and they had long working hours. Richards concisely described the social effects of the industrial revolution: “The new terraces, the factories and even the fields nearby were soon blackened by the prevailing smoke of industrial neighbourhoods. All the problems of urban areas without proper sanitation or recreational facilities (other than too many pubs) soon appeared: disease, squalor, drunkenness, crime. In time local improvement commissions and elected town councils brought some cleanliness and order to the expanded towns; but half the nineteenth century passed before the worst was over.”
Social Change in Terms of Social Theorists
The industrial revolution is characterised by a rapid change in the social structure and so it is necessary to start with a brief description of social change in the first place. In fact, according to the Britannica Encyclopaedia, social change “is the alteration of mechanisms within the social structure, characterized by changes in cultural symbols, rules of behaviour, social organizations, or value systems.” However, this notion was developed in further arguments by social theorists namely Spencer, Durkheim, Weber and Marx. Eventually from these theories, 2 models were created: the first one being Spencer’s Model by means of which it is argued that social change is a gradual and cumulative process and is in turn determined by internal factors. Moreover Spencer argued that this process helps in creating a coherent heterogeneity. On the other hand, the second model is that of Marx in which he argues that every society, being dependent on the economy, consists of internal conflicts and eventually the latter leads to discontinuous change. Marx also stressed the fact that there are connections between societies and therefore changes happening in one society can easily be diffused to other societies. Moreover, Weber, although attempted to avoid using the term ‘evolution’, he still insisted that social change is a gradual process and is irreversible. He also believed that this system leads society to more complex structures, like for example Bureaucracy. On the contrary, Durkheim believed in social change as happening in evolutionary terms. However, similarly to Weber, he acknowledges the fact that through this process, social structures become more complex.