In This Article Industrialization

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Pioneering Foundations
  • The Industrial Revolution in Britain
  • Catch-Up Strategies
  • Manufacturing as Engine of Growth
  • Industrial Agglomerations
  • Location Dynamics
  • Resource-Based Industrialization
  • Labor Markets
  • Industrialization and Environment
  • Population and Urbanization
  • Deindustrialization

Geography 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, often referred to as the Industrial Revolution, is conventionally traced to the late 18th century in England. Industry is also more narrowly equated with manufacturing, and industrialization is specifically associated 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 its broader sense, industrialization is intimately connected with economic growth based on deepening divisions of labor and economic interdependencies across economic sectors and among and within nations. Globally, industrialization and the associated deepening division of labor has been dominated and led by capitalist or market economies, and the centrally planned economies that developed in the mid-20th century in Europe and China have themselves accepted market forces as the principal means of organizing the production and exchange of goods and services. Market-led industrialization is remarkably dynamic, generating vast wealth and massive increases in human populations while also experiencing structural crises and formidable problems of inequality, poverty, social cohesion, and environmental degradation. Indeed, on a global scale, industrialized and rich (powerful) nations became synonymous with each other (as did poor and nonindustrial nations). This connection between industrialization, as broadly conceived, and economic growth is modified but not disrupted by the idea of postindustrial societies that are dominated by service sector jobs. Thus these jobs are themselves highly specialized, and many are linked to goods-producing activities in increasingly globalized value chains. Meanwhile, in the late 20th and early 21st centuries the rapid economic growth of newly industrializing economies (NIEs), especially in Asia, and the transitional economies of central Europe have been led by the creation of internationally competitive manufacturing sectors. Since the late 18th century 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, laggards seek to transform agrarian-rural societies to an urban-industrial base and to “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

In a vast, rapidly escalating multidisciplinary and to some extent interdisciplinary literature, a few “heroic” studies have comprehensively embraced the evolutionary dynamics of global industrialization since the late 18th century, since what is often labeled the Industrial Revolution. In particular, Bairoch 1982 and Maddison 2007 are key starting points that incorporate original quantitative, global, and national estimates of economic growth and industrial production. Thus 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 2007, a magnum opus, focuses on national estimates of gross domestic products (GDPs) complemented by many other statistics, such as population size, employment levels and structures, export levels, and commodity stocks, and by per capita and rate of growth measures; it provides especially rich datasets for the 1820–2003 period. In addition, GDP estimates are provided as far back as 1 CE for various world regions. Maddison 2005 provides a succinct, readable anticipation of the same trends. The estimates and interpretations in Maddison 2007 and Bairoch 1982 reveal differences, for example, regarding when Europe overtook China in terms of standards of living. However, both studies confirm the intimate connections between rapid industrialization from the late 18th century (Bairoch 1982) or the early 19th century (Maddison 2007) with rising national incomes and the global dominance of Western capitalist countries. They also recognize the resurgence of Asia, especially China. Related evolutionary studies recognize industrialization as wealth generating, crisis prone, and highly uneven in its geographic economic and social consequences, and they emphasize the role of innovation. For example, Freeman and Louçã 2001 argues that the profound transformations in the industrial structures of leading nations since 1760 have evolved through various technoeconomic paradigms driven by innovation and productivity changes in technologies and institutions. Stearns 2013, an examination of global patterns of industrialization, highlights technology, economic organizations, and differential patterns of development while giving considerable attention to social consequences, especially in relation to family and gender. Allen 2011 also offers a concise global economic history that outlines the rise of the West based on considerations of technological change, national policies, and geography. Piore and Sabel 1984 portrays industrialization (and innovation) as a clash between mass production dominated by big business and flexible specialization dominated by small firms. In ideological counterpoint, the Marxian-based analysis in Mandel 1999 portrays “late capitalism” as occurring since 1945, following earlier phases of competitive and monopoly capitalism and dominated by multinational corporations, global product and labor markets, and the power of finance capital.

  • Allen, Robert C. Global Economic History: A Very Short Introduction. Very Short Introductions 282. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

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    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 11.1–2 (1982): 269–333.

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    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 Revolutions to the Information Revolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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    Interprets economic growth since the Industrial Revolution based on “reasoned” history that emphasizes interdisciplinary perspectives and the role of innovation. Recognizes different eras or technoeconomic paradigms that feature clusters of technologies and associated institutional conditions.

  • Maddison, Angus. Growth and Interaction in the World Economy: The Roots of Modernity. Henry Wendt Lecture Series. Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute, 2005.

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

  • Maddison, Angus. Contours of the World Economy, 1–2030 AD: Essays in Macro-economic History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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    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. Verso Classics 23. London: Verso, 1999.

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    First published in English in 1972. A Marxist interpretation of capitalist development since 1945 that helped stimulate interest in the idea of long waves of economic development.

  • Piore, Michael J., and Charles F. Sabel. The Second Industrial Divide: Possibilities for Prosperity. New York: Basic Books, 1984.

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    Argues that industrialization in Europe and North America has involved a confrontation between the forces of mass production and flexible specialization. The “second industrial divide” refers to the 1970s, when the authors argue and hope that the latter model started to reemerge, having declined since the Industrial Revolution.

  • Stearns, Peter N. The Industrial Revolution in World History. 4th ed. Boulder, CO: Westview, 2013.

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    Defines the range and scope of the Industrial Revolution, why it happened when and where it did, and its global diffusion.

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