Defining Industrial

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Through portrayals in books, film and documentary media the term industrial has come to signify a certain type of activity – usually invoking images of large complexes of faceless workers churning out thousands of the same item every day. However, in its proper use in economic terms, industry refers to the “production of an economic good or service within an economy”(1).

Proto-industrialisation was “the rapid growth of traditionally organised but market-oriented, principally rural industry. It was also accompanied by changes in the spatial organisation of the rural economy.”(2) Proto-industries innovated by drawing on the existing labour market deficiencies – that is, that the labour force were largely employed in seasonal agriculture – and utilised that existing labour force when it wasn’t involved in its traditional activities. This limited regional industrial growth, as the returns were poor and workers did not make a lot of money; but entrepreneurs were able to accumulate the capital they needed to begin the mechanisation that would lead to full development of industrialisation. Proto-industries altered the agricultural economy as they created spatial divisions of labour – some regions becoming producers, whilst others grew through providing staples to the proto-industrial regions. This caused population movements (precursors to the urban migrations of the Industrial Revolution) and created rapid population expansions that would provide the labour forces for the later industrial stages.

Industrialisation did not sound a death knell on handicrafts and cottage industries. Rather, the small size of these industries allowed them to continually adapt to the changing environment. Over time, the activities of these small operations came to be recognised as light industry - so called, because these activities use less resources (usually only partially processed), require only a small space to operate, consume relatively small levels of energy and have less environmental impact than is seen in larger activities.

Such larger activities are usually referred to as heavy industry. This is not as easily defined as light industry; but may mean that the products of the industry are heavy or large, capital investment to establish the industry is relatively large, the space required to operate the activities of the industry are considerable, the raw materials require more processing before the industry can utilise them, or the environmental impacts of the entirety of production are considerable.


(1) Wikipedia. Industry. (accessed January 10, 2012).

(2) Mendels, Franklin F. “Proto-industrialization: The First Phase of the Industrialization Process.” The Journal of Economic History 32, no. 1 The Tasks of Economic History (1972): pp. 241-261.

--Beth Kicinski 11:25, 10 January 2012 (EST)

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