The Industrial Revolution was conceived in Britain during the 1700s and soon after spread to other parts of Europe and to North America in the early 1800s. The industrial revolution had immense effects creating an unprecedented amount of change as well has having great implications on modern society. Where the once meticulous art of making goods and items by hand was the norm, this was quickly replaced with engine manufacturing allowing goods to be produced in large quantities and bringing about the development of factory organization. The emergence of the nuclear family as well as work force diversifications, are all but some of the implications of the industrial revolution. This paper will discuss the impact that the industrial revolution has had on our society by looking at various ways in which our society has been shaped and formed by the long-lasting effects of the industrial revolution which has served as a key to the origins of modern western society. As Harold Perkin observed, “The Industrial Revolution was no mere sequence of changes in industrial techniques and production, but a social revolution with social causes as well as profound social effects” (Society for the Study of Labour History,1986:63).
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Today’s large and urbanized cities are a reflection of the mass-migration that took place during the industrial revolution in which people needed to leave their families and communities in order to join the workforce moving from rural areas to urban areas This was further encouraged by government incentives which also led to the centralization of wealth. A dramatic change was therefore seen in the social structure of society. Prior to the industrial revolution Evans observed that “life would be lived within limited geographical boundaries, survival itself dependent on the success or failure of the harvest, and the organization of everyday existence dictated by natural light and the seasons” (Evans, 2006:46). Moreover, the industrial revolution was unconditionally helpful to the development of the world from the 1800s all the way to the present day. Mass-production led to an abundance of goods. The textile industry improved due to faster manufacturing processes such as coal and steam power and other new machinery that led to an increase in the production of woven fabrics as well as an increase in the production of raw materials such as cotton, which led to the availability of inexpensive and affordable clothing (Beniger, 1986).
The expansion of factories meant that a larger workforce was needed in order to meet industry demands. Employment opportunities were suddenly vast, permitting some of the less privileged classes in society to have a chance of being recruited and earn a living. For instance, women became increasingly members of the workforce. Mary Wollstonecraft had demanded that women be given the same education as men and the same opportunities for earning a living. “That wish was to be granted, less by any agreed social policy than by the transformation of the social organization of industry and what we call it the industrial revolution” (Evans, 2006:51). This made it even more possible due to the developments in medicine and in particular antiseptics which allowed women to survive an otherwise excruciating child labour “Medical science gave to women the increased likelihood of surviving” (Evans, 2006:68). Child birth was thereafter no longer regarded as an obstacle to a woman’s aspirations in being part of the workforce. The developments made in the field of medicine also lowered prices, making essential medication accessible to the lower and middle classes of society. This coupled with the need to increase the workforce in order to meet the industry’s demands led to women having a much stronger presence in the workforce. Although under-paid, this may have been the first step in the long battle for gender equality. Although inequality is still to a certain extent evident today, women have a nevertheless strong and influential role in today’s society.
Furthermore, corporations expanded creating a division between those who worked for the companies and those who managed it and owned the factories. The rise of these large companies is what really advanced the wage labor-based capitalist system which created markets where buyers and sellers of goods and services agreed on a price. Then came the businesses that follow their own self by challenging for the consumer’s money. Each business tried to do better by producing goods or services that are better and less costly than those of its competitors (Evans, 2006). Today the existence of competition laws around the world and particularly within the EU as set out by the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU is essential and necessary to promote healthy competition between companies so as to provide consumers with various products and choices at competitive prices as well as preventing and deterring companies from abusing or colluding with its competitors (Bellamy and child, 2008). The rapid increase of corporations and capitalism quickly led to world trade and changes in transportation and communication such as the shipping of goods by sea and advanced and more liable modes of communication.
The success and growth of the industrial revolution rested on the capability to transport goods and materials over long distances. Therefore, the use of traditional carriers such as horse carriages quickly proved ineffective and costly (Stern, David I; Kander, Astrid, 2012:128). Consequently, such modes of transport became practically redundant calling for the need to invent and create faster and more efficient means of transport. This spurred about new modes of transport seen to this day such as waterways, roads and railroads. Suddenly, there was a “massive rise in the scale of road transport” (Wrigley, 2010:31). The industrial revolution used electricity to power machines, the improvement of electricity established light and sources for the people and communications improved as a result of electricity. The telephone and telegraph were invented and were the principal communicational strategies that were for community use. With the growth of technology, radio waves were revealed. Currently, messages could be sent over long distances in almost no time.
The industrial revolution did not only encourage invention but it also introduced improvements in social and government strategies. For instance, in England citizens were given a voice in government, by having an elected British Parliament. Furthermore, the government implemented laws and regulations to protect employees as well as illegalizing child labour. This led to the organization of labour and trade unions, and subsequently to the development of the concept of socialism. Socialists such as Robert Owen, became outspoken and wanted to construct a better life for all people by improving working conditions and fighting against the employment of children under eleven years of age. The socialistic campaigning of Robert Owens contributed to the decrease in work related crime and improvement in working conditions which reduced the levels of disease and hence improved people’s lives (Owen, 1817).
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The effects of the industrial revolution are therefore immense and long-lasting which have shaped our modern society and improved our lives in many ways. However, along with the many improvements of the industrial revolution, the side-effects of industrialization are also evident today. With energy playing a vital role in powering the industrial revolution the end-result has been the inevitable consequence of pollution bringing about the start and conception of global warming due to carbon emissions, which is more evident today than ever. Prior to the industrial revolution the earth’s atmosphere had a balanced amount of carbon dioxide compared to today. However, in today’s growing economy the burning of fossil fuels for the provision of energy has been deemed necessary, making a change to the atmosphere inevitable. Global warming is increasingly becoming a global issue with its effects becoming more visible today than it was fifty years ago. This is seen in the increase of natural disasters and extreme weather conditions all stemming from climate change induced by global warming. Due to the need for mass-production coupled with the increase in population, agricultural methods have been transformed with the introduction of pesticides, insecticides and other chemicals posing potential threats to health and well-being. New agriculture methods also increased soil degeneration as well as destroying animal habitats to make room for more agricultural land (Orgcle Think Quest, 1999). However, the most prolific evidence of the Industrial Revolution’s impact on the modern world is seen in the global growth in population during the twentieth century. The world population would take on exponential proportions, growing to six billion people just before the start of the twenty- first century which is a four hundred percent population increase in a single century. It has been two hundred and fifty years since the start of the industrial revolution and the world has seen the population increase by six billion people (Ecology, 2011). This population growth has led to poverty, increased levels of air pollution, limited housing due to densely populated areas and limited food supplies.
One can easily recognize the negative aspects of the revolution but if we view the revolution as a whole we will see that the positive aspects entirely outweigh the negative aspects. The industrial revolution brought about low-priced goods, an improvement in transportation, medical science, and communication, thus it can be seen that the industrial revolution has been a huge force in improving standards of living for working class. It provided an enormous number of jobs and gave an opportunity for women to work. Moreover, it has led to several significant changes in government bringing about the rise of communism, socialism, labour unions and government regulations. Sacrifices were made which led to technological developments, which in return shaped happiness, life openings and a complete and definite improvement of life. The industrial revolution formed modern society to what is today. As Rousseau accurately observed, “Civilization spoils people” (Rousseau, 1770)
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