In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Industrialization

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Resources
  • Journals

International Relations Industrialization
William J. Ashworth
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0116


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term “industry” probably originated from the 14th-century French word industrie and initially meant “intelligent or clever working; skill, ingenuity, dexterity, or cleverness in doing anything” (Oxford English Dictionary [2012], Industry). The word industrialization appears to have been first coined in 1906 to describe “the process of industrializing or fact of being industrialized; also, the conversion of an organization into an industry” (Oxford English Dictionary [2012], Industrialization). The connotation and denotation of the term still embody perceptions of knowledge and levels of skill and loom large in the history of industrialization. In the early 21st century industrialization is explicitly associated with the movement from a predominantly agrarian and handicraft economy to centralized production and machine manufacture. Great Britain was said to be first to experience this transition between c. 1760 and 1830. The British Industrial Revolution has long been seen as the spark to modern industrialization and the commencement of sustained economic growth. In the early 21st century there is far from a consensus over what triggered this revolutionary leap into the modern economic world, but the ghost of Britain’s manufactured past still haunts the halls of economic development, from the type of institutions and culture needed to an evangelical promotion of free trade. In concrete terms this means the need for some form of elected parliament, a national bank, protection of property rights, a limited state, and an emphasis on individualism. However, accompanying the rise of the newly industrializing East there has been a movement away from an Anglocentric focus on industrialization to a much more global emphasis and the underlining of contingent factors.

General Overviews

Numerous texts purport to explain the process of industrialization, but the main divide is between those that emphasize an alliance of free trade and free minds and those that underline state protectionism and regulation. For a clear overview of these central issues, see Chang 2002 and Reinert 2007, both of which provide a balanced account of the contradictions of the early-21st-century economic policies being thrust on developing countries and the historical strategies that originally defined Western industrialization. For a good comparative history of the industrialization taking place in various parts of the world, see the collection of essays in the edited volume Horn, et al. 2010.

  • Chang, Ha-Joon. Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective. London: Anthem, 2002.

    Chang is a Cambridge University economist who approaches the industrialization of developing countries from a historical perspective. In this book he shows how the history of industrialization and capitalism in general has been totally rewritten to serve the interests of the rich developed world.

  • Horn, Jeff, Leonard N. Rosenband, and Merritt Roe Smith, eds. Reconceptualizing the Industrial Revolution. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010.

    This volume of essays situates the Industrial Revolution in a global context and demonstrates its international origins. Usefully, the work has a strong comparative component showing the role of factors such as ecology, natural resources, technology, transnational skilled labor, population pressures, and culture.

  • Reinert, Erik S. How Rich Countries Got Rich . . . and Why Poor Countries Stay Poor. London: Constable, 2007.

    Reinert is a Norwegian economist who believes that mainstream interpretations of industrialization are historically unfounded and that early-21st-century economic axioms have an incredibly adverse effect on countries trying to industrialize.

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