- Paperback: 618 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books; New Ed edition (21 July 1976)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0465097138
- ISBN-13: 978-0465097135
- Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 3.6 x 20.3 cm
- Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (1 customer review)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 454,909 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Coming Of Post-industrial Society Paperback – 21 Jul 1976
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About the Author
Daniel Bell is the Henry Ford II Professor of Social Sciences Emeritus at Harvard University and Scholar-in-Residence at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is the author of editor of 17 books, two of which, The End of Ideology and The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, were listed among the 100 Most Influential Books since the Second World War (TLS, October 1995).
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Daniel Bell is a renowned sociologist and post-Marxist, his prophetic book was first published in 1976 and republished in 1999 accompanied with a new foreword by the author. Since 1976 many of the concepts, theories and phrases Bell pioneered have become naturalised, universal conventions, and thus Bell should, most definitely, be considered a futurist.
This definitive book explores the `coming age' and evaluates how this new Post Industrial Society will alter the structure of society. As Bell openly concedes `the sociologist is always tempted to play the prophet and if not the prophet the seer' (Chapter 1). He does, however, explain that the `forecasting' he attempts is different from predicting. For, forecasting is only possible where there are `regularities and recurrences of phenomenon (and these are rare). It is only possible where one can assume a high degree of rationality on the part of the man who influences events-agreement to follow the rules'. And it seems that Bell's sociological background has given him the required understanding.
The new foreword shows considerable contemplation of the books success. Bell explains how there has been an unprecedented increase in the use of the phrase `post industrial society' but he is not complacent, rather he underlines the lack of `specificity as to what is connotes'. He describes how the general usage of the phrase, which is often used in reference to the decline in manufacturing and industry, does not acknowledge the parallel changes in social structure, social organisation and the new classes that will be, and have been created, specifically the class of knowledge (this theme is further explored in chapter 3, entitled The New Class Structure of the Post Industrial Society).[ Bell adamantly argues that his vision of the Post Industrial Society does not see the old one displaced by the new, rather a synthesis emerges in which the new society will overlay the old one in profound ways, much as industrialisation continues to coexist within the agrarian sectors of our society.] Thus it seems that Bell does not merely use the new foreword to hail his work a success but to redress, the misunderstood, misinterpreted or inadequately adopted parts of his social forecast.
Bell explains how it is inadequate to define the new society primarily by the services but he does see the productive nature of them. While society naturally embraces the three distinctions of industry as primary, secondary and tertiary in the new foreword Bell makes further distinctions by suggesting `quaternary' (covering trade and finance) and `quinary' (health and education), these are the involved in the economics of information not goods or labour. And thus it seems that while Bell has pioneered he wants to pioneer further. He further states that the central and novel feature of the Post Industrial Society is the `codification of theoretical knowledge and new relation of science to technology'. Major developments of the 20th century came from revolutions in physics and biology as opposed to the `inspired and talented tinkerers' like Alexander Graham Bell. This suggests the increasing dependence on science as a means of technical and social change, and science is wholly dependent on knowledge and information.
The notion that the U.S. and the rest of the world are becoming more firmly science-based and technology intensive has been with us at least since the the early 1900's. The judgment that attainments of all kinds are becoming more dependent on ever-higher levels of educational achievement is almost as old. The claim that our society -- perhaps the entire world! -- is being divided into functional classes according to the skills and knowledge we have and the kind of work we do has been with us at least as long. Little if anything is gained by gathering these observations under the rubric of "information society."
At least since he wrote The End of Ideology in the early 1950's, Bell has been a proponent of the convergence hypothesis. According to this view, the world, driven by disinterested developments in science and science-based technology, is becoming increasingly homogeneous. All societies, with little long-term variation, are moving toward a de-politicized technocratic meritocracy. Capitalism, socialism, communism, fascism -- these labels are being rendered meaningless by the dominance of science and technology, applied in much the same way, even if at differing speed, from one place to another.
This commonplace judgment completely avoids the fact that most of the development of science and science-based technology is funded by and directed toward ends sought by private interests. For the most part, science and technology are not autonomous of their circumstances, but determined by them. In our world, this means that they are directed toward maximizing profits for large international organizations. As a result, the bifurcated class-based nature of modern capitalist societies becomes even more intensified as science and technology facilitate out-sourcing, down-sizing, the internationalization of capital, the automation of labor, and various other means of reducing labor costs.
There is nothing in the nature of science and technology that promises that they will be directed toward the common good. Instead, they add to the wealth and contribute to the power of the social entities that foster their development and control their use. Seen in this way, there is no such thing as neutral information, only information that serves particular interests.
In fairness to Bell, the Era of the Capital/Labor Social Contract, from 1946 until 1972, persuaded many brilliant people in all lines of endeavor that the convergence hypothesis, manifest in emergence of a meritocratic-technocratic world, was inevitably valid. It fit so well with the way the world seemed to be working that it was virtually undeniable, occasioning claims as to "the end of history." Only since then have we been able to see that this brief interregnum of prosperity and equity was sure to be short-lived.
Given the foregoing, The Coming of Post-Industrial Society is best seen as an historical artifact. Yes, it is an exercise in social forecasting, but it was and is based on a faulty premise as to the neutrality of science, science-based technology, and information of all kinds.
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