In This Article Geography of Industrialization

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Pioneering Foundations
  • The Industrial Revolution: Why Europe, especially the United Kingdom?
  • Creative Destruction and Long Waves
  • Catch-Up Strategies
  • Resource-Based Industrialization
  • Labor Markets
  • Industrialization and Environment
  • Population and Urbanization
  • Deindustrialization

Geography Geography of Industrialization
Roger Hayter
  • LAST REVIEWED: 16 December 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0027


Industrialization broadly refers to the transformation of agrarian-rural societies to industrial-urban societies that are dominated by manufacturing and services. The beginning of this transformation, conventionally referred to as the industrial revolution, is typically traced to the late 18th century in England. Although the term has broader usage, “industry” is often equated with manufacturing, and industrialization specifically with the growth of manufacturing within the so-called factory system that began to proliferate at this time. The new factories featured mechanical power and the employment of specialized, waged labor to operate machines to supply large volumes of standardized goods to markets mediated by the price mechanism. In the UK, and subsequently in many other countries, the onset of industrialization featured the textile, iron and steel, machine tool, and coal industries. More generally, industrialization is seen as part of the Great Transformation that features the rise of market-based forms of exchange and rapid economic growth based on deepening divisions of labor and economic interdependencies across economic sectors. Indeed, industrialization has involved co-evolutionary changes in agriculture, energy, transportation, and service sectors, as well as in manufacturing. Globally, industrialization has been led and dominated by the capitalist or market economies of western Europe, their New World offshoots, and Japan. The Soviet Union, eastern Europe, and China emphasized industrialization within the framework of centrally planned economies during the mid-20th century; but they have since accepted market forces as the principal means of organizing the production and exchange of goods and services. Similarly, the recent rapid economic growth of newly industrializing economies (NIEs), especially in Asia, and the transitional economies of eastern Europe, has been led by the development of internationally competitive manufacturing sectors. Market-led industrialization is remarkably dynamic and both creative and destructive. While generating vast wealth and facilitating massive increases in human population, industrialization features structural crises and has imposed formidable problems of inequality, poverty, social cohesion, and environmental degradation. Indeed, on a global scale industrialized and rich (i.e., powerful) nations became synonymous with each other (along with poor, non-industrial nations). This connection between industrialization, broadly conceived, and economic growth is modified but not disrupted by the idea of post-industrial societies that are dominated by service sector jobs. Thus, these jobs are themselves highly specialized and many linked to goods-producing activities within increasingly globalized value chains. For 250 years industrialization has exerted massive impacts on society and economy that are now often discussed in the context of globalization. Moreover, the challenges of industrial transformation are incessant: leading countries and regions constantly search for new forms of growth, while laggards seek to transform agrarian-rural societies to an urban-industrial base and “catch-up” with the leaders. The generation of wealth needs to address issues of its distribution; and the imperatives of growth and efficiency cannot be divorced from social and environmental concerns. Over time and space these challenges are connected and different.

General Overviews

Several studies provide a comprehensive understanding of the geo-evolutionary dynamics of global industrialization with particular reference to the transformations generated by and since the industrial revolution of the late 18th century. Bairoch 1982 and Maddison 2007 provide key starting points as they incorporate original quantitative, global and national, estimates of economic growth and industrial production. Bairoch 1982 estimates the shares of global manufacturing production for leading countries, and as a whole for “developed” and Third World countries from 1750 to 1980. Maddison’s magnum opus, Maddison 2007, focuses on national estimates of gross domestic products (GDPs), complimented by many other statistics such as population size, employment levels, and structures, export levels and commodity stocks, as well as by per capita and rate of growth measures, and provides especially rich data sets between 1820–2003. In addition, GDP estimates are provided as far back as AD 1 for various world regions, while Maddison 2005 provides a succinct, readable anticipation of the same trends. The estimates and interpretations of Maddison 2007 and Bairoch 1982 reveal differences, for example, regarding when Europe had overtaken China in terms of per capita wealth. However, both studies confirm the intimate connections between rapid industrialization from the late 18th century (Bairoch) or early 19th century (Maddison) with rising national incomes and the global dominance of western capitalist countries. They also recognize the recent resurgence of Asia, especially China. In an earlier widely read study, Rostow 1967 summarily interpreted globally uneven development in terms of a five stages of economic growth model in which the propensity to innovate and the realization of economies of scale were important drivers, for him culminating in the stage of high mass production and consumption in 1960s America. Without the teleological implications of Rostow’s stages, Stearns 2012 is an insightful history of industrialization that emphasizes its rise in Europe and subsequent spread around the globe up to the 21st century. Similarly based on considerations of technological change, national policy, economic organization, and geography, Allen 2011 is another concise account of industrialization from a global perspective. With particular reference to the role of innovation in economic development, Freeman and Louçã 2001 argues that the profound transformations in the industrial structures of leading nations since 1760 have evolved through various techno-economic paradigms” whose path-dependent trajectories are shaped through the interplay of science, technology, politics, culture, and economic history. Meanwhile, Marxian-based analyses of industrialization, such as Mandel 1978 and its portrayal of “late capitalism” as occurring since 1945, following earlier phases of competitive and monopoly capitalism, have been invigorated by recent global crises, highlighted by Piketty 2014, a widely read interpretation of European and US economic history that emphasizes self-reinforcing patterns of income inequalities.

  • Allen, Robert C. Global Economic History: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1093/actrade/9780199596652.001.0001E-mail Citation »

    Explains global patterns of income inequalities since 1500 in terms of the interplay of geography, technological change, and economic policy.

  • Bairoch, Paul. “International Industrialization Levels from 1750 to 1980.” Journal of European Economic History 11 (1982): 269–333.

    E-mail Citation »

    Documents and interprets the evolution of manufacturing activities for leading nations and major world regions from the beginnings of the industrial revolution. Based on original estimates of manufacturing output.

  • Freeman, Christopher, and Francisco Louçã. As Time Goes By: From the Industrial Revolution to the Information Revolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

    E-mail Citation »

    Interprets economic growth since the industrial revolution on the basis of “reasoned” history that emphasizes the diverse factors shaping innovative behavior, and the nature of path dependencies. Recognizes different eras or techno-economic paradigms that feature clusters of technologies and associated institutional conditions.

  • Maddison, Angus. Growth and Interaction in the World Economy: The Roots of Modernity. Washington, DC: AEI, 2005.

    E-mail Citation »

    A handy summary anticipation of Maddison 2007 that in four parts explains why the West became rich, explains Europe’s transformation of the Americas, looks at interactions between Asia and Europe, and gives an outline of African development.

  • Maddison, Angus. Contours of the World Economy: 1–2030. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

    E-mail Citation »

    A lucid explanation of how the world has evolved economically for the past two thousand years particularly with respect to income growth among nations and world regions. The study is based on quantitative estimates of gross domestic products, population size and related variables.

  • Mandel, Ernst. Late Capitalism. Translated by Joris De Bres. London: Verso, 1978.

    E-mail Citation »

    A Marxist interpretation of capitalist development since 1945 that helped stimulate interests in the idea of long waves of economic development.

  • Piketty, Thomas. Capital in the Twenty-first Century. Cambridge, UK: Belknap, 2014.

    DOI: 10.4159/9780674369542E-mail Citation »

    Drawing on extensive data, especially tax records, Piketty argues that returns on invested wealth on stocks and land grow faster than economy as a whole, providing the basis for growing income inequality. Emphasizes the need for income redistribution policies.

  • Rostow, Walt W. The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto. London: Cambridge University Press, 1967.

    E-mail Citation »

    This book seeks to simplify (model) economic development by its recognition of five “arbitrary” stages: traditional societies, conditions for take-off, take-off, drive to maturity, and the age of high mass production and consumption. Written as an alternative to Marxism and especially Communism.

  • Stearns, Patrick N. The Industrial Revolution in World History. Boulder, CO: Westview, 2012.

    E-mail Citation »

    Defines the range and scope of the industrial revolution, why it happened, when and where it happened, and its global diffusion to all parts of the world up to the 21st century.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.